Rules Of Thumb

Originally posted 9/11/2010.

A study has shown that when it comes to popular proverbs,
laws of physics, rules of thumb, common knowledge,
sensible notions, and given assumptions,
exceptions are becoming more and more the norm.  

Geometry is shifting. 
Angles, never before provably trisected,
now regularly fall into neat triplet piles. 

Shelter is losing its place in the hierarchy of needs.  
Soon, it will be forgotten entirely. 

It appears to knowledgeable observers
that knowledgeable observation is becoming a lost art
akin to alchemy and divination by gut of pigeon and pig. 

If there are ghosts, they wear visors
and lean deep into ledgers
with our very dimensionality at their calculating mercy. 

Nymphs, fauns, and revenant Pan himself establish Websites
and collect scores of followers 
who fondle tokens of their avatars while staring at doorknobs,
thinking of the potential for rattling entries in the dark.

There are suspected reserves of container ships laden with butterflies
who are waiting to change the world’s climate.  

My love, this world is slipping away into an immeasurable mystery. 
Nothing we have known to be true is certain.  
We should sleep with our eyes open now, scanning the dark for signals. 
When we think we have seen enough, it will be up to us how we choose to live. 
What we choose to measure. 
What we count on. 
How we refine and define the terms.

If a butterfly comes close, hold your breath. 
If a god possesses you, count rapidly to one hundred seventeen. 
If the door rattles in the night, we’ll cast a cold eye on it,
pass through the walls,
and escape carrying nothing with us –
not even the meaning of love, or of home. 
We will come back for them later,
or make new ones
while holding up our thumbs to plead for rides to new places.

Our thumbs –
once the measure of punishment, as the story goes –
will become our transport.
We will have to depend on each other to carry each other.

Eventually, we’ll forget the evil source of the term and say:

a “rule of thumb”
measures the distance you were carried from your point of origin
before you decided you could live where and how you are living right now,
and is only fixed until the next departure.

And then we’ll say:
Love is the vector of human travel. 

We’ll say:
Home is the fare humans paid for the transport. 

And when we say human, 
what we will see is aluminum pie plates — 

when full,
flaky and soft centered;
when empty,
easily flung into flight,

shining as they fly.


Originally posted 4/10/2008.

The word “gunstock”
sends the listener into a maze,
evoking as it does

from the anticipation of a fast run 
down the New Hampshire mountain which bears that name, 
powder surging around the tips of your skis,

to the feel of oiled walnut against your shoulder.

There’s anticipation there too
of the sound coming a split second late,
the long whoosh of the bullet drawn out into the air 
just ahead of the punch of the blow to your shoulder.

You cannot know much of the reality of either of these things
until they have happened to you,
so if you have not skied or shot, 

the word “gunstock” is a theory at best.

It is a gate that may lead you to contradictory places,
or at least to places that bear little resemblance to each other
until you decide to cut through the walls of the maze 

and see that in truth,
“gunstock” always means
“rapid movement”
with a related meaning of
“potential death.”

That “joy” is also operative in each of those meanings
may not be apparent until you cut through the green walls
that define the maze established by the presence of the word.

Learning which of the meanings is operative
changes the nature of the maze.

Holding all of the meanings to be true in all situations
is a key to cutting the maze down.

From The Front

Originally posted 1/6/2014.

He looked nervy,
currents tripping 
up and down his bare arms,
sparks in his mouth.

He had a lot of nerve
to dare to come in here.
It was our home and we
scare easy. He must have known that.
He must have been cold and
not cared. 

We watched him settle into
the back of the cruiser.  The cops said
that during cold snaps
when sleeping outside is a suicide mission,
they get more than a few calls
about someone breaking into 
somewhere warmer to sleep.

“At least he’ll be warm in jail,”
I told the family.  Everyone
tells their family that.
We tell ourselves that
and whatever else works

when the truth is that seeing his cable arms
and their electrical sketchy twitch skin,
his gun-blue cheeks and his jaw set hard,
reminds us of how close to us the war rages.

We know it shames us 
to have to admit
we don’t care as much for him as we do
for how close he got to us,

and to admit that we wish
that however cold he was,
he’d just kept it to himself.

Spell For Poets (Let Words Small You)

Originally posted 9/23/2011.

Let words alone
small you,
then large you.  Let
such derangement
of language
fold and unfold you. Let wings
furl, legs curl,
let fetal charms
take hold, then let yourself
be reborn. Let yourself
emerge to serve 
not merely that new God
made in books —
instead, let yourself fall
into loose embrace
of that older One
who dwells
between possibility
and its enactment
in that place where all
is always ready to be born.
Let yourself
remain so liquid to the world
that you bend and surge,
large and small as needed
to be present in both the largest
and the smallest;
let words
adjust you, change you, pour you;
let the words
make you one
with them.

Thomas Behind The Wheel

Originally posted 11/29/2011.

Eyes burning from wind
through my open window
at eighty miles an hour
past the darkened power plant. 

Cars peel off behind me,
exiting until the highway’s
empty. No one
is going my way. 

The city
still forty miles ahead.
The sky painted orange
over deepest black.

Rumors of riot 
and fire all day.  
It’s the end of the world,
some say, but no one wants proof

except me. How can they
just curl into a ball and die
or hide in the boondocks
without seeing for themselves

that the world
is indeed ending?
In fact, how could anyone
flee such a thing when you consider

the world we’re in?  Maybe
that’s the best
of all possible pyres
up ahead.

I gun it.  I go.
I’ve always been
the one
who has to know.

Stuck my fingers
into wounds once
to prove to myself 
that the world wasn’t ending

after all. Why wouldn’t I
do this, considering
what happened
last time?


Dimes And Pennies In Paper Rolls

Originally posted on 1/31/2010.

Dime by dime and
penny by penny
you fill paper rolls
to try and make
the empty spaces in the rent
as you dream of folding money
piled in drifts you’ll need to wade
to get through the door between you
and what you call
real life
as the rattle 
of the old windows
mocks you 
scolding that you’re not going far
with cold feet and thin socks
cheap shoes and a worn coat

Here’s news for you
This is a real life

Success here is found in making do
and getting by
seasoned well with lovemaking
at odd hours and rough moments
when there’s nothing else to do
because the cable’s unpaid
the phone’s shut off
the gas might go at any minute
but you draw together and laugh
at the way your breath comes faster
as you kiss on the broken bed
and push against the gritty walls
of bargain paint
Faster and harder than poverty can smash your mouth
you smash your mouth on love and hard want
and softer than the cold wind can slip under the door
you slip into the good sleep of afterwards

Those who dare to make things work
make them work rich or poor
So don’t lie alone
until the day you’ll be rich
as it may never come
Bring yourself to joy
with pennies and dimes in paper rolls
and embraces
in the always generous night

Meditation #2

Originally posted 4/1/2009.  

There’s a thing, “30 Poems in 30 Days,” that a lot of poets do in April.  As I regularly did that many poems and more in a given month back when I was writing new stuff,  I always felt I had to buck the tide a little and either do more or do something else entirely. That year, I wrote 30 poems in 3 days.  This was #2.

Pay attention
to what the cat sees in you;
stop worrying
that your failures have made you 
into a werewolf.

No point
in wasting the whole day waiting 
for nightfall and its heavy moon
to fool you into horror at your changed self.
Stop treating yourself to absolute guilt.

Look, he’s rubbing your leg,
asking for food
or a thorough scratch.
He believes 
in love and order,

and when you respond, 
reaching down 
from your desperate seat on the couch
to lift him up 
and offer what he is asking for,

you are that.
Trust him. 
He knows
more of the truth about you
than you allow yourself to know.


Originally posted 4/14/2008; original title, “Cryptids.”

So, there’s this website where you click to spin a wheel
and it tells you how to make a life decision
based on you doing what a unicorn would do
if a unicorn was in the same situation you’re facing.

I spun the wheel this morning
and it said i should
“whinny and rear.” 

Well, I do this all the time so it didn’t seem to be a huge stretch.
I was glad I was not advised to nuzzle a newborn or frolic in a meadow.
I was hoping that I’d be told to impale evil things 
but I confess I’m not really in shape for that — 
good call, wheel.

So: out the front door on my hind legs,
waving my arms around.
My voice has too much tobacco in it for a solid whinny,
but I made some sort of approximate noise
as I went forth.

At the gas station, the pump refused my credit card. I whinnied at it.
There wasn’t much space to rear since I’d parked too close to the pump,
but I managed something that didn’t look too un-unicorn-like
and fulfilled the prophecy.
I was becoming mythical!
Certainly, the pump’s refusal to honor my credit made that belief credible.

I drove out to the Tower Hills, just outside the city.
I knew I’d be the lone unicorn out there, since it’s not the season for the regular unicorns —
while they equally adore frolicking in meadows covered in snow or wildflowers,
the mud of a Massachusetts spring is something they’d rather not touch.
They go to Arizona, I think, in winter.

I pulled off the road by the reservoir
and found a trail there,
which I followed to a bar
in a clearing.

The bar was better furnished than I would have expected,
and the drinks were well made and cheap.
The bartender greeted me with a nod;
apparently I had been there before,
though it all seemed new.

I knew no one else,
at least by their faces,
though I recognized them by their traits –

gryphons whose wings had been stolen,
chimeras with odd parts from random plastic surgeries,
basilisks who could turn you to Corian with a single glance.

I joined my fellow cryptids there
and we indulged in our fortunes
for many, many hours
until I was drunk on the dizzying rhythm
of my whinnying and rearing.

I came home flecked with sweat
and exhausted. I dreamed of virgins 
seeking me, I dreamed of eluding capture –
and then I woke up — here. Again.

I’m going to return
to that website with its majestic wheel.
It tells me old stories 
that make me feel like I’m not alone 
in believing that there’s a greater purpose. 
I know it’s supposed to be for amusement only,
but it’s a joke
that has led me to the place 
where I feel most justified,
and most at home.

The Idea Of Television: A Fable

Originally posted on 8/14/2009; original title, “Travis Benson.”

the story of how we became so sad
began on that infamous night
when the world watched 
the first-ever stream
of live images
from inside the mind 
of one travis benson,
who had managed 
to insert leads into his brain
that had been tuned
to a frequency of light
that allowed 
the visual display and broadcast
of his thoughts.

before that day, travis
was a virtual unknown
who labored in a basement
in some undetermined city
to bring his vision to fruition.  
at first only a handful of esoterically inclined 
and wired aficionados
on the fuzzier edges of experimentation
had been aware of his work,

but certain governments
had sought him for some time. 
in gray buildings
on the outskirts of capitals worldwide
geeks and goons stood ready 
to track him down when he came on line,
as their masters imagined
a future bonanza for intelligence work
if the technique worked as rumored. 
the possibilities, it was thought,
would be endless: 
the passive voice of a spy’s mind
revealing all the intricacies of espionage, 
the names and places
of deadly deceits and plotted assassinations…

had waited eagerly for this, 
hoping to see

the threads of desire
exposed in the bright storm anticipated
in travis’ skull.  
what possible masterworks
of commerce
would be spawned
from the crannies of the genius
who had created this?

at 2315 GMT, travis benson’s mind
went online.
screens went dark all over the world.

at first, the images were confusing: 

a forest of eyes. a field of small birds
feeding on germs. a city
where the streets are paved
with children’s bones. 
an immense fall of leaden water
salted with the hearts of mice.

as the viewers — millions of them,
billions perhaps — 
began to sort through
what they were seeing,
the images on the screen begin to shift
into a story of disjoint and ripple,
unremediated rejections
and leftover resentments. 

in india, there were those who swore
they saw kali charming them;
american racists saw nothing but black teeth
gnawing the arms of white women;
a businessman in caracas
imagined himself in the grip
of apes with scimitars. 
a child in new york city
ran screaming to her mother 
demanding that new doll, 
the popular doll, 
the one she saw on TV,
the one that pounded and fretted
while calling the child’s name.
the pope,

secretly hoping 
for some proof of the divine, was startled
when jesus appeared 
wearing a wedding ring. 
countries lost their nationalism, their memories
of past wrong and glory; companies
had no secrets and no marketing left to give;
and although everyone turned the broadcast off
at the same time, the damage was done.
the world had taken his dreams 

and lost their own.
though no one saw what anyone else saw,
everyone knew their pasts were over and done,
subsumed in the wave that had surged
from travis benson’s head.

travis benson destroyed his machine
that night and vanished,
became a villain and a curse,
something to scare children with.

they hunted him then as they hunt him now.

memory till that night
was a creature of habit.  

dreams were its only food
and it fed in the same places
and it would have done so forever
as it always had
if nothing had changed,
but something has changed,
changed forever:
our trust in the frequency of light.
our belief in our own lightness.

we cannot forgive
what we cannot forget
and we cannot forget
how we all tuned in to watch.

The Trail

Originally posted on 9/9/2013.

gray figures that once beckoned me
onto this trail

with encouragement that was sometimes 
indistinct but always necessary

gray figures I imagine are there for me
in my worst moments 

gray figures now so cloaked
in routine’s amnesia

that on the good mornings
when I see one or more on my periphery

I stop in deep surprise and gratitude 
wherever I am

to nod and acknowledge them gently
and swiftly so as not to slow my progress

before returning to the trail with
increased confidence

for that day
at the very least

to those gray figures 
I owe a debt still unpaid

for their direction on the trail
I salute them though I only know them

as glimmers now
and now and then 

it is (madness to think it) almost as if
I had directed myself

with dreams alone
to this real moment

A Madman In The Fabric Store

Originally posted 4/27/2012.

A man who has found himself 
alone in the stacks of fabrics

is about to become a problem:
the abundance of corduroys, denims, twills,
crushed velvets, satins, and silks
is setting his trigger.  It’s too much,

he tells himself.  It’s all too much 
and simpler is better and clothing is 
optional.  It’s all flammable and vain
and anyway, who still makes their own clothes?
We are ordained by God
as consumers

and not producers,
just as I am ordained
as fuel
and not as torch…

he kneels in the middle of the store
with a lighter,
baffled by the choices before him:

should he light the tulle, the organdy,
the glittering 
green Spandex? 
Before he can choose

he’s tackled, driven to the ground,
brought down screaming
that it’s all too much, blah, 
too much to feel, blah blah, 
too many choices, blah, blah, blah; 
the same old blah, blah, blah we hear every time
from those
who somehow find being American 
too damn hard.


Originally posted back in July of 2011.  I lost the exact date in the revision process; was trying a new method of posting and it wiped out the original post.  Originally titled “The 112th Congress.”

We all know where this is going
Contentious volleys
The tensing of sword hands
Bloodied noses covered by
swing and miss journalism

What do they want to sell us
between the stage shows
and the sham of battle
We know they’ve sold us out
but we don’t mind
as long as we get ours

We’re watching the news
and shaking our heads at them
We know marketing when we see it
It’s nothing we care for
but it’s better than no country at all

Speaker gavels the chamber to order
This is gonna be good
They’re gonna read sacred texts
Unicorns are gonna appear
They love to sell unicorns
and jabberwocks a-burbling near nonsense
Anything mythic, really

and we sure do love to shop

Language I Don’t Speak

Originally posted 10/25/2013.

I don’t.

A word was here and then

Negative space?
Nothing there?
Not exactly, no.

A revelation through absence?
the figure
has no ground
so I don’t
ground, here.

No one here gets
how much swamp of


there is.

Must figure
it, figure out how I
may say whether 

there is 
to be found. See

I was fluent
an hour ago up until
those eyes, that 

I build a yes.
Make one from scratch.  Teach
my tongue what flash
means, what shared yes
is, how to thrill together with

what we put,
what we
what we set to flight.

How to mean what’s
in our mouths,

how to
pass it between.

God In The Ginger Ale

Originally posted 10/19/2013.

Sitting sick
with the ritual ginger ale
of sickness,
I consider offering God
a prayer for my own health.

Then I recall that
God is everywhere,
even in this ginger ale,
so instead of praying
I suck some down
and trust I will be healed.

Damn, but this is good ginger ale!

I wonder: if a sick atheist
were to drink this ginger ale
without believing in 
or noticing the portion of God 
concealed among 
the bubbles,
would there be healing? 

If  there were to be healing,
would it be enough proof of God
to sway the atheist?
Would God do it for the atheist
anyway, or would an apocalypse follow 
such unthinking consumption? 

The atheist would say 
nothing will end
as there is no God 
to manifest 
in ginger ale
no matter how good
the ginger ale might be.

I can’t imagine The God Of Ginger Ale
being so vindictive over such disbelief
that the world would end; maybe 
the atheist’s nose
would sting a bit more sharply
from the Holy Bubbles,
maybe they wouldn’t get well as quickly
as they might have.

I’m taking no chances
as to right or wrong,
world ending or continuing,
God or no God.  I suck down
a little more
of this inspired ginger ale,
this Titian altar-piece of Ginger Ale,
this Great Serpent Mound of Ginger Ale,
this Angkor Wat of Ginger Ale — 

whether God exists or not,
glory surely does.
This is glory in a glass.
I feel better already.

The Phoenix

Originally posted 2/17/2009. Original title, “How To Become A Phoenix.”

first, the right lighter. 
a plain steel zippo 
that’ll stay lit
when you let it
roll off
your fingers.

start with something
unwanted and shabby —
the roof
of your daddy’s shed, 
the rotted corner 
on an abandoned house.

stay away from occupied dwellings
unless you’re sure 
the occupants want to escape 
and have 
the skills and access 
to do so.

lift the lighter,
snap the cover
and the wheel
and hold that dear flame
against your choice
until it catches. 

once it’s rolling,
run like hell
then sit and watch.

do this
more than once. 
do it hundreds of times.
you will be interrupted, 
caught and tried,
convicted, caged, and freed.

a thousand years will pass 
until you are at last ready. you’ll be
in your home and the lighter 
will roll off your fingers
as casually 
as a basketball — and then,

o player, you will attempt to dance
a pick and roll
around your red opponent;
screaming for assistance, scheming paths
of fading resistance
until you can do no more.

then, perhaps,
you will rise, 
or maybe not.
it’s all
up to the fire
as to how this ends.

this myth didn’t originate 
in a human hand.
fire wrote this one, and when fire tells it
it’s not about rebirth — 
it’s a story
of the random one who got away.


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