Temple Example

The mind doesn’t do what we want it to do.

Mine plays speed Scrabble; it sifts pages and pages

of pictures of shoes. Palmyra goodbye. Temple of Bel not a pun

but a ruin. A ruined ruin, a ruin sent to oblivion

on purpose. Who cares if I fold up at my desk

a heap of angry sorrow. Not any candidate,

no ambassador. Sign a petition? Email some senators?

I make nothing happen. I make

nothing but orders, seven-letter words, coffee

with the hard water from the oleander-pierced pipes

with their roaches and mud. A temple

stood for twenty centuries and today the New York Times

shows us its new life as dust. Baal is how they spell it.

A neat aerial square of nothing now. The world wants

what from us in reply to the hatred of the mind?

I should say “soul,” I know, or “history” or “culture”

but probably only the mind can thwart destructions.

In America, the mind is also hated,

by whosoever sells us shoes and phones. We are subtle

here, give lots of money to the arts.

Annus Mirabilis


In retrospect there is no side to choose:
in math, Newton was earliest to make the formulas contort and yield
but never told a soul; and Leibniz, a little later,
did the same startling calculations somewhat differently,
and published them, as was his way:
wishing always to improve the world.

What they had in common:
dead fathers
rigorous, enormous curiosity
sitting for hours at a stretch in one chair, thinking
not sleeping enough
never marrying
the abandonment of alchemy
bureaucratic service, which made science and philosophy a hobby
dying out-to-pasture, genius-wise

Isaac, though, was born three months after his father died;
he did not have Leibniz’s jolly family years,
no father teaching him to read history both sacred & profane.
Isaac arrived small enough to fit in a quart pot.
Everyone expected him to die.
His mother moved away when he was three:
remarried, gone until she was a widow
for the second time. A seven-year indoctrination
into solitude. At age 19, he made a tabulation of his sins
including, threatening my father and mother Smith
to burne them and the house over them.

Curiosity an oblivion to be embraced,
an opportunity for fearlessness, for vanishing.

Why publish?  That makes a self instead of losing one.




Insight must be joined to fervour.




Fantasy is helped by good air, fasting, and moderate wine.




Curiosity a place to live, a battlement,
a universe.  And they were not ashamed of it.




Electric pace and heady certainty and otherworldliness—
a definition of pleasure:

Leibniz, who’s always earnest, usually full of pomp,
it’s hard to imagine him entranced. So well anchored to the world
that he could always get the fervent insight down and pass it on.

Then Newton, hungry, refreshed, a little tipsy:

what kind of fantasy? the undulant many-colored circles that roamed
before his eyes after staring at the sun.

So matter-of-fact, so self-contained.




There were two years, actually:  anni:
Newton had fled the plague away from Cambridge,
to the farm at Woolsthorpe, in the prime
of my age for invention. Calculus, optics,
machinery . . .  on his own land,
the heir, the patriarch:
i.e.  whole days to spend alone.

What is a self but an experiment—
one among many . . .  but what it finds
may rise above the viscera








the made propels, eradicates the maker.

People of New York

I know you are dying
as always, even you big ones
from Queens, or from Nyack,
and I’m in the habit
of checking the clock,
midnight again. Again no
phone call, no lungs
expanding and contracting
with some machine
for a brain while the hospital
empties and a family consents
and either in person or over the phone
offers up the life left
in the life that is leaving them.

My father asleep in his bed.

People of New York
New Jersey Connecticut:
I was born there, and he was,
and we lived there and married
and drove to the sea.

They can come from as far
as South Carolina; the doctors
say motorcycle season
is often a good time of year.

Thank you, you bikers.
                       Be careful, be

We’re eighteen months into
the eighteen-month window.
They’re dying, I know it,
B+ tall guys
whose lungs vanish
into a furnace, into the ground.

People of New York:
I wish you long lives.
I have no sense of coming
before you, but I know
you are dying as always.
Can you please check the box—
through the DMV,
through the registries?
Have you said, Make me useful,
if the time comes? Dear?