baby birds


What good is a rock
if the people fall, if truth

remains but no one
hears the long grass

rattle, and words
burst into flame

and gas, and life
poisons itself with

greed and the deficit
of compassion.

No body exists to bury.
I am trying to return

to a place of open
mouths, of nests and

groves left standing
despite their value

to the market. Which
pocket do I empty,

what song do I leave
unsung. Tomorrow

always becomes
yesterday, and today

flakes away into chilled
ash, carried over

rooftops and clouds,
never to be seen again.


Ghazal of the Bullwhip

Ghazal of the Bullwhip

Who hears braided tongues lashing the glare still?
The language of pain writhing through white air, still.

Or herding cattle you pop and crack above the horizon,
pastoral and flowing. But sharp, a sonic nightmare, still.

You ask how love blossoms through decades and more.
That look, a caress, the perfect words – all quite rare, still.

Oh to be a larks head knot, strengthening when used.
Delicious hitch, unmoved water, tight square, still.

I fall, you fall. We fall together in pleated silence.
The inevitable loop of the captive’s bright snare, still.

No gods today, but voices trickling through my skull:
Bob, Bob, they say. Not again. Even you should care. Still!

* * *

In response to a comment, Daniel Schnee dared/challenged me three days ago to write a poem about a bullwhip. To make it interesting I decided to combine his theme with my latest enthusiasm, the ghazal form.

Tuning the Beast

Tuning the Beast

I prepare contingencies for all outcomes. No.
I’ve prepared for this: a body. A key. As if

that cloth draped a leg. Not a leg
but the representation of a limb.

Another fragment, brought forth and opened.
Not a limb, an arrow, perhaps, pointing to the sea.

An oar, brought inland and unrecognized
for its purpose, directed or aimless. No, not an oar.

A neck, polished, and a chamber, with strings.
Repetition, fixation. Position. Intent.

I pluck and strum, pick and stroke, maintaining
space, steel above wood, bending notes,

moving sound in time, purposefully, from
this place to that, the left hand, creating,

conversing. The right, reasoning, controlling,
burning its past to the present, allowing,

preventing, rendering beat, consistent
motion, shaping only this moment, this now.

“Tuning the Beast” was drafted during the August 2015 30-30 Challenge, thanks to Sunshine Jansen’s sponsorship. It subsequently appeared in The Blue Nib in September 2016.



The Logic of Tinai in Akam Poetry

What little I know of Tamil poetry, I learned from Nazir and his blog. Here he discusses the concept of “tinai,” which resonates with me. So much to learn, so little time…

Nazir Ali

Image result for lord murugan in palani

Picture courtesy:

The Tolkappiam, in Porulatikaram, begins by identifying seven tinais out of which the middle five (“naduvan aintinai”) constitute the “world rimmed by the sea” (“padutirai vaiyam”) (Verse 1 and 2). These five tinais become known as kurinchi, mullai, palai, neidal and marutam. Then it goes on to make magisterial pronouncements designating the time and place as mutal, meaning first. The gods, the food, the animals, trees, birds, occupations, the musical instrument and melody, the flowers, the water source are the karu or things embryonic to the mutal. The human mood appropriate to each tinai is the uri. The tinai, identified by an emblematic flower and sharing certain specific geographic features, becomes a vehicle for the mutal, the karu and the uri. In other words, the tinai encapsulates the mutal, the karu and the uri. By doing so, it becomes a spatial, temporal, spiritual, gastronomic, biological, occupational and emotional…

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Laolao Pavilion (after Li Po)


Another attempt at adapting Li Po. A note on stated “at this time, the breaking of a willow twig was part of formal leave-taking.”

Laolao Pavilion (after Li Po)

Where do more hearts break under heaven?
This sad pavilion, where visitors part,
the spring wind whispers bitter goodbyes
and willow twigs never mend.

Transliteration from

Heaven below damage heart place
Laolao see off visitor pavilion
Spring wind know parting sorrow
Not send willow twig green.


First posted here in June 2014.

Letter from Insomnia


Letter from Insomnia

Accepting Li Po’s tragedy,
apocryphal or not,

we embrace her imperfect
rippling in the breeze,

but manage to surface.

I once thought I would name a child Luna
and she would glow at night

and like Hendrix, kiss the sky.
But that was whimsy

and only candles light this room
at this hour
on this particular day
in this year of the snake.

And what fool would reach for a stone orbiting at
1,023 meters per second?

There are clouds to consider, the stars
and the scattering rain

and of course wine
and the possibilities within each glass
and the drops therein.
We must discuss these matters

under her gaze, where smallness gathers.

* * *

This originally appeared in Middle Gray in October, 2013. It was written in response to a poem my friend Michael sent me, replying to this poem.



Video: The Story of Zero

Fellow numbers nerds: A great little video about zero! It also fits in quite nicely with my poem “With These Nine Figures,” which I posted last week.

Vox Populi


This short animated video produced by the Royal Institution of Great Britain illustrates the history of the mathematical concept of zero.

Today, zero signifies an absence of value as well as being a number in its own right. But this dual role evolved gradually, and zero still doesn’t act like other numbers. Can you divide by zero, for example? With animation by Andrew Khosravani, Dr. Hannah Fry explains how zero came about, from its origins in ancient civilizations, through the resistance it faced from the Roman numeral system, to being the cornerstone of calculus.

Email subscribers may click on the title of this post to watch the video.



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