Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Anatomy Lesson

as pink as the eraser
on your Ticonderoga pencil.
the size of saucers
or so they seem against the
round and jolly as can be
with extra chins (just in case).
finding blankets, hair, lapels,
and ducting them all to his
bearing a look of surprise
because the world is new
and grand,
especially when you are only,
after all,
three months into it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Cuts made clean
and level.
Corners tight
and a spotless pickup truck
(among many other things).
HO-scale trains (from a long time ago)
and Aladdin lamps
unused for ages
but still at the ready.
The model of HMS Titanic
lying half-built in its box
throughout my childhood to today
- I guess now it won't be finished.
The books of ships
and trains
the beauties of the age of Steam
loved as an architect would love them
for form (not as I
his son, an engineer, who
thinks in stress-and-strain-and-speed).
And over and around all these
his house
designed and built to
wrap around my mother and his sons,
a home to keep and care for
(now the longest-kept of all his homes,
he was a builder, after all, and that
has some prerogatives).

I have a pistol, bright and blued,
just a little target twenty-two,
and when I hold it I am once more
a child, unsteady,
with a Grandpa at the ready,
to teach and guide its use
(he kept it in the nightstand -
I never knew - for years, a guard at hand
to watch his home).
He was a builder, too,
he and his son, my father,
their two clean Chevrolets
(one tan, one blue,
the old straight-six half-tons)
parked here and there
around the neighborhood,
at work, together or apart,
or at the homestead
on the grass between the cabins
at home among the trees
and huckleberries where
Grandpa's Grandpa had once farmed.

Perched upon my bookshelf,
squished a bit by paperbacks,
two leathern volumes sitting side by side,
a book by Bowditch built for boatmen,
such men as my great-uncle whose it was,
and by it, thinner (fewer logs and bays),
a book on drafting from a simpler age,
with platens clean and careful on the page,
heavy (so that it may lie
open while you work
hunched at your draftsman's table),
full of lines and clarity,
a side I never knew
of Fred, the nice old uncle
who built boats
(I never wondered how).

A dimmer recollection
(I was young)
I have of mother's dad,
my Grandpa Bud,
but still I have a few
snapshots in my mind
of Hood's Canal and rocky shores
of clams and a small pickup truck
(blue, like my first one)
and from a different time
before vacation homes grew up,
Grandpa kept a garden
- damn those deer! -
I have the little rifle he would use
to pepper them with shot
(just little pellets and a little powder,
not much more than a swat)
and how that fouled it so!
When first he gave it
to my folks (I was, as I have said,
quite young) though not allowed
to shoot it, I could clean,
just like my dad,
(though on a different type of tool -
he never did like guns)
and clean I did
until the bluing shone
and where the wear had taken it away,
the steely gray perked up
and I was proud. 

But now my father,
Grandpas both, and uncle Fred,
the men that I admired
all are dead.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


A young mind shaped and honed,
from eating milk then solid food,
from crawling
to walking
to running;
eyes trained on rich life and beauty,
and then death,
and their causes;
ears which have heard men speak truth
sing songs and tell tales,
but also lie
and evade;
this mind will balance on the scales
the lightness and the weight of men,
and make slow judgments swiftly accomplished;
this mind (this man) will know
the beautiful from ugly
the true from false
the wise from fools
and love from lust.

Our culture demands sexual maturity without emotional maturity.  It offers instead the promise of promiscuity for the bold-minded, or the quiet shanty of pornography for those not up to the chase.  Is this all there is?  Is there not richness in man as image of God?  May we not be an intricate emotional mandala?  Shall "What a piece of work is a man!" be exchanged for lewd tweets?

    So teach us to number our days
        that we may get a heart of wisdom.
    The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
        and whatever you get, get insight.
    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
        fools despise wisdom and instruction.


Lemon-yellow trickles up
into the paler and paler blue
edging over crisp corners of my morning mountains
sprawled eastward along the horizon
black and backlit now
and waiting for another day
of dusty yet effulgent glory.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


I had scrambled for an hour up the loose scree of a gray hill, two steps up, one slide down; I paused at a small ledge in real, solid rock, my chest heaving and my knees shaking.  Looking up after a moment spent clutching my knees, I saw an old man sitting Indian-style and peering at me.  He smiled.

"What brings you here, my son?"

His voice was soft, almost lilting, and as I caught my breath I saw his eyes.  They looked through me, each a whitened, cloudy orb set deep in its socket, unseeing, penetrating.  I wiped sweat from my mouth.

"I am resting, father, on my climb up this mountain."

"Ah, I see."  He smiled at his own joke.  "What do you suppose is at the top, my son?"

"Nothing, but I am told that from there I can see." After a moment's pause, I asked "Do you know, father, what may be seen from the top?"  Immediately I blushed.  Perhaps he had been born blind.

"Yes, my son, I know what may be seen."  He sighed, and his smile and eyes flattened at the edges.

I waited several moments, studying him.  At length, I ventured to ask "What may be seen from the top, my father?"

His smile fell further.  His eyes turned their blind beams to the earth below his knees.  "More of the map, my son."

Taken aback, I pressed further, "What map, my father?  What more does it show?"

He smiled again, but it was no longer kind.  "The map to get out."

"Out of where, father?"

"The map, my son.  How to get out of the map."

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Thought Experiment

Imagine a long, skinny prison, composed of a single row of cells, oriented East-West.

Each cell has two doors, each door opens into the adjoining cell.

The prisoners know that Westward lies the exit, Eastward lies the dungeon.

Not every cell is occupied, but some randomly-distributed fraction of them are.

In a cruel twist, each prisoner is also the warden for the person East of him.

There's our setup.  Now, the rules:

Every minute, ALL of the doors open instantly for ONE SECOND.  There is JUST time (if you choose) to slip into the Western cell, IF it is unoccupied.

There are now two variants of the game, escape-oriented or capture-oriented.

If we're playing escape-oriented, then IF the Western cell is occupied, AND that occupant is NOT CURRENTLY TRYING TO ESCAPE, then you cannot move, and in fact, have to trade cells with the person behind you (no matter how far back they may be). If the cell is unoccupied, you get to move up.

If we're playing capture-oriented, then IF the Western cell is occupied, REGARDLESS of what that occupant is doing, then you cannot move, and in fact, have to trade cells with the person behind you (no matter how far back they may be). If the cell is unoccupied, you get to move up.  In the event of a stacked capture (ie, many contiguous people try to simultaneously move up), then the one first in line swaps with the nearest un-caught person behind him (ie- propels some lucky soul way far forward).

We may assign a "riskiness level" to the prisoners, either randomly distributed among them (as in a general population), or uniform across them all (as might happen in a soul-crushing Gulag).

How long does it take for "n" people to escape from a prison of "N" cells if they look "F" fraction of the times available to them?

I suppose a variant question is "What is the optimum level of riskiness factor "F" for someone to escape as fast as possible?"

Of Clay

Does it give you pause?
That you exist atop a stack of wonders,
that you think, feel,
and move of your own accord?
Beneath these,
so poorly fathomed, the depths
of neurons, chain reactions,
streak lightening in your skull,
shocking muscles into action,
whether you know it or not,
and you breathe,
sweet, destructive oxygen
and iron, pumping here and there.
You self-replicating,
self-conscious Golem.
To what will you turn your powers?

Monday, January 6, 2014


Each year finds new
and varicolored
scales upon our eyes.
Some old ones have fallen away,
and left behind,
as though we were a snake
(as though we are not!).
The new ones nowadays have grown
from care and work
from stretching, and tiring easily,
and sometimes they are not so beautiful
as the ones they displaced.
Once upon a time the new was youthful,
furious to waste energy upon the world,
these were rosy lenses,
and we loved them,
lived through them,
and were oh so pleased
to have lost
the older old,
of childhood hopes
and shames
and dreams
the fears and tears that no-one understood
because speech failed us.
No, in youth we would not express them,
they were trivial,
like the plume of dust behind our truck,
just drive away (faster) and don't stop or it will catch us.
What is on our eyes today?
We'll see when they're behind us.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


If tomorrow,
you lost it,
all of it,
in one fell blow,
what would you do?

Would you sob?
Curse God and die?
Or reckon gain as loss
and things as dross
and Job-like sit and scrape,
let neighbors gape,
but say "The Lord gives
and takes away,
and blessed be
His name
(for his steadfast love endures forever)"?

And if,
you know the answer you should give,
how shall we then live?