I’m so wildly unprolific, the poems
I have not written would reach
from here to the California coast
if you laid them end to end.
And if you stacked them up,
the poems I have not written
would sway like a silent
Tower of Babel, saying nothing
and everything in a thousand
different tongues. So moving, so
filled with and emptied of suffering,
so steeped in the music of a voice
speechless before the truth,
the poems I have not written
would break the hearts of every
woman who’s ever left me,
make them eye their husbands
with a sharp contempt and hate
themselves for turning their backs
on the very source of beauty.
The poems I have not written
would compel all other poets
to ask of God: “Why do you
let me live? I am worthless.
please strike me dead at once,
destroy my works and cleanse
the earth of all my ghastly
imperfections.” Trees would
bow their heads before the poems
I have not written. “Take me,”
they would say, “and turn me
into your pages so that I
might live forever as the ground
from which your words arise.”
The wind itself, about which
I might have written so eloquently,
praising its slick and intersecting
rivers of air, its stately calms
and furious interrogations,
its flutelike lingerings and passionate
reproofs, would divert its course
to sweep down and then pass over
the poems I have not written,
and the life I have not lived, the life
I’ve failed even to imagine,
which they so perfectly describe.
–from Sea of Faith; first published in The Southern Review
D0 nothing and everything will be done,
that’s what Lao Tzu said, who walked
around talking 2,500 years ago and
now his books practically grow on trees
they’re so popular and if he were
alive today beautiful women would
rush up to him like waves lapping
at the shores of his wisdom.
That’s the way it is, I guess: humbling.
But if I could just unclench my fists,
empty out my eyes, turn my mind into
a prayer flag for the wind to play with,
we could be brothers, him the older one
who’s seen and not done it all and me
still unlearning, both of us slung low
in our hammocks, our hats tipped
forwards, hands folded neatly,
like bamboo huts, above our hearts.
–from Sea of Faith, first published in Poetry
Strange tubas in my ears and the fat
yellow light lolling across
the boardwalk doesn’t
exactly help and of course
through one’s thoughts
remembering where they
must go to die is not
the pleasantest of situations
either and the ocean
what can you say about it?
It hardly knows itself
but there it is the one
and the many waves all doing
whatever waves do, lapping
doggedly at the shore,
making a splash, lending
to human metaphor
the whole earth meanwhile
spinning through space
like a basketball on the tip
of an idle god’s finger.
People stroll by eating
hot dogs, heroes, corn-
on-the-cob, wildly purple
burst of cotton candy
and other members
of the colorful, hard-
to-believe food groups.
Well, some of us do a pretty
decent job of amusing ourselves
here where the land
meets the sea and music
empties the air
of silence. This is what
we crawled up out of
four hundred million years ago,
and this is what
we’ve become now that
we’ve dried ourselves off.
Creatures so fearful
of death we’ll actually
get on a rollercoaster
just to calm ourselves down.
This is the much needed
transfusion of the outer
to the inner world.
Elephants, tubas, fat light
falling across the bathers
asleep on the shore
of the Atlantic Ocean.
Their children splashing
each other in the freezing water.
–from Sea of Faith; first published in Poetry