The only thing sadder, or so
the saying goes, than a washed-
up whale carcass, the body
plopped on the beach like
a slimy, meat-stuffed puppet,
is a dozen whale carcasses
fanned out in some apocryphal
testament to the accidental
power of chemistry and greed.
But by that logic a couple dozen’s
worse, et cetera, ad infinitum.
And maybe it’s not so much
that I don’t care about degrees
of suffering—as if each flavor,
shade, make, model, and stink
deserves, no, requires some
specialist with two decades of
experience in a field utterly tan-
gential to the pulse behind
the human condition—I’m just
never sure which way my head
should turn, which stories most
need my funneled sympathy.
Tonight I’m reading about
Alzheimer’s, how research pins
a rare protein which spreads
along the brain’s tangled neurons,
and though I understand how
little I comprehend not only
the impact of the study, I’m at
a loss when the nuance of nothing’s
at play.  Times like these lead
me to think I shouldn’t use my
brain on itself.  Forgive my new
apathy—one of my life’s few
remaining joys.  It’s easier than
arguing against the Amazon’s
deforestation, hell it’s even easier
than eating a light meal during
labor, the nurse scolding you.
Not that it’ll do you any good,
but the way I think about nature
and how it’s always been killing
itself, even before it started using
us to do it, is the same way
I hold apathy and sympathy at
equal weight: just cross your
eyes but focus your vision,
learn to catch the same arrows
you shoot.  Or, let’s say a pit viper’s
pumped venom in your ankle,
and as you’re stumbling back
to the trailhead, your vision blots,
and your leg already blacked up
and swollen, right before you
keel into your mouthful of dirt,
you realize what’s killing you is,
or so you remember from reading
the news, a key ingredient in
a new gel which closes wounds
in seconds. And in that moment
right before death when you make
the most meaningless connection,
you feel a joy that swallows you
like a pint of whiskey swallows
a man.







I keep trying to draw the stars into
a pattern that suits us, but there

is no north star, only words to confuse us.
It’s easier

to stand before a governance of mirrors
but pretend that we are faultless.







and trumpet some kaleidoscope’s
fandango all glisten and gauze

all shine and rust spit and polish
you might say I focus too much

on the negative or you might claim
I don’t know the difference

between a shit sandwich and a shit
sandwich with jelly but when I

come here all I care about’s this
flimsy aorta and making sure not

only that you see it but that you
cup it till you feel how it’s slippery

as a wet water balloon with a bell
inside till the beat makes sense till

the harpoonery of crucifix seems
excessive because all you need is

that burnt glow in the clouds at
sunset in the park among strangers

all visors and leggings and sneakers
and grit as they jog by or jerk leashes

or stumble along holding hands and
grinning at each other as if nothing else

could matter more than this moment
because nothing does or ever will again

and this is exactly what it feels like
to know precisely how to proceed







They’re already walking streets
with electric prods—they brand
us: Pepsi logo on my stomach,
Microsoft on my neck, the Poetry
Foundation’s Pegasus on my chest.
You understand, sorry.  I need
shoelaces, belts, bungee cables
to tie all of the doors in this house
to each other.  Here’s the ribbit
of my existence:  I want the dawn,
strapped to each of this house’s doors,
the place quartered at their opening.







The best situation involves us
in a nursing home that’s paid for
by some kind of government

assistance and when the orderlies
push us down in the shower and
when the nurses rifle through our
drawers looking for a ring or a watch

we’ll look back at what we thought
were difficult times and realize we
were lucky

and then the cigarette burns
will begin







for Joel Swain


When I call you have to talk for twenty
minutes about the immigration situation
in Europe and how trade regulation bleeds
the American farmer while minting Brazilian
pockets how cotton sold for sixty-five cents
a pound a hundred and fifty years ago and
yours will fetch fifty eight at harvest’s end
in the next few weeks and how even though
it’s the first year in five you’ve had a crop
worth a crap it’s also the first year you won’t
make your bank note which you say hits
a man harder now with the wife and two kids
than I might expect with the future for all
of you bobsledding a labyrinth of each four-
forty-five wakeup each second on under or
between tractors the hours where boredom
itself blossoms into different shades and
residues with the sun and sky pulling out
every drop of moisture from your skin your
eyes your lips and all of it every magnetic
wrench fumbled down a steel-lined well and
the hours wasted retrieving it hours wasted
on problems you say most people don’t run
into each dinner skipped or warmed-up hours
later how all that everything rides on the cost
of diesel and that fat-splat sporadic rainfall of
a climate not-so-slowly turning desert you
tell me how you sling tarps over your combines
these giant tractor-trailer-sized cotton blocks
that line the highways awaiting pickup not just
to keep the wind from cotton-dusting the roads’
shoulders like some unmeltable snow but
more to prevent spontaneous combustion
how not much else can twist you into snarls
like watching something you grew all year and
harvested torch for no reason never mind
dollars lost to the huff-and-puff into that
ceaselessly bright and interminably open sky
because even though money’s always bottom
line in a moment like that right there with both
your past and future laughing at you in a wide-
ning crescendo of sizzle and flare and you
with nothing but helplessness and hundreds
of miles of flat empty nothing in each direction
at your side as you watch your bunched crop
blacken like pillowy hickory and night come on
like a habit so bad the world won’t ever shake it
money despite the way it seems the heart of
the matter ceases in that brief instance to matter
at all you talk about another friend from west Texas
who’s fighting with the Peshmerga and though
we both know why I’ve called both know I want
to say I love you because I’ve just heard about
your cousin’s brain tumor big as an egg the docs
say and how they don’t expect her to outlive
the year and how fucked up it is what else can
I say of course we all know life’s not fair but no
one expects their thirty-year-old cousin to have
to plot out all her deep forever goodbyes but be-
cause we can’t ever get to what we mean to say
at least not right away it takes us a while to reach
the part where you talk about how much you hate
to look at and lie to someone you love and right
to her face how that’s the last thing you want but
we agree for her sake the truth isn’t always best
that sometimes the particular wrinkles and con-
tours of situation necessitate a certain kind of
blindness without which that slivered hope each
of us needs to keep going slips into the void
and I don’t hear the rage I expect rather
some variation of acceptance with the deadliest
undercurrent of calm I’ve heard in ten years
riding in the tone the kind you might expect
from an airport passenger who suddenly discovers
via flat-screen TV that his country and everyone
in it his wife his child his mother and all his cousins
aunts and uncles vanished behind a door forever
locked in a past with not a single key but when I
tell you I love you you tell me you love me too
which is seemingly-over-the-top grown used to
over the past two years a truth dodged by most
west Texans that special shade of ornery stubborn
beyond mule with that snap-happy rationality
unafraid to claw and bite and though we’ve moved
beyond it and maybe even learned a little how love
and kindness are the strongest and most useful
forms of power I’m still convinced by the way it
takes you twenty minutes of talking the drain
how you circle any and everything else before
landing on what you do and don’t want to talk
most about that your mastery of delay and avoidance
are precisely what I’m trying to unlearn but then
you tell me to hold on and in a few seconds you’re
back saying you’ve spotted some Mennonites
robbing your neighbor’s barn and when you call
back in an hour you’ve got a whole new story
that takes precedence but the point is that story is
damn good I’m sure of it