Cornish haiku

where the dog threw up
at the edge of the road
early morning gulls


the incoming tide
a ground beetle rotates
on its back


through a gap in the hedge
as we flash past
a partridge and her chicks


village museum
retired fishermen gaze
at their old nets


rain in the campground
a girl hops back to her tent
on one foot


the sun comes out
a tiny spider rappels
from the brim of my hat


over there by the car park
a band practices songs
from World War I


in the still forest
one limb is swaying
boys on a rope swing


evening cottage
the whippet’s thin hind leg
glows orange in the sunset


listening to an owl
pale magnolia blossoms
as big as our faces

Existential museuming

The human genome 1

Who are we, really? The current exhibits at London’s Wellcome Collection provide several intriguing suggestions. I loved a photo of the neural network pulled from the body, which looked like some kind of fairy shrimp, and a photo of many pairs of socks shaped like chromosomes. But I wasn’t moved to pull out my camera until we got to a printed edition of the complete human genome. Each volume had a thousand pages, with type so small it was difficult to read without a magnifying glass.

Human-being-as-library is an attractive metaphor to me, not least because when I was growing up, I often visited my Dad at the academic reference library where he worked. Plus my Mom was a writer and our home was full of books.

Symbolical head

Reading was always a great way to live in my head.

Antony Gormley is famous for making casts of his own body. His art prompts us to ask deep questions about the meaning of human embodiment and habitation, such as, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could stand on the ceiling?”

galloping penises from Pompeii

But as some of the art unearthed at Pompeii demonstrates, people have been indulging in gravity-defying fantasies for a long time.

One of the sculptures I particularly liked was a human skeleton with the skull substituted for the pelvis and vice versa. Such acts of imagination strike me as essential to who we are as social and ecological beings, attractive as it might be to pretend that we are entirely scrutable — recorded in the Book of Life or programmed in the hard drive of our genes. Besides, 90% of the cells in our bodies belong to microorganisms.

a blown-glass sculpture
of the HIV virus—
loud children swarm past

London on five pounds a day

Millennium Dome etc. from a station of the DLR

The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) was indeed well-lit, and offered stunning views of the Millennium Dome and the towering steel and glass centers of global finance.

Thames barrier at low tide

It was low tide on the longest day of the year. At the Thames Barrier, we saw a cormorant and a curlew. House martins fed their young in an artificial cliff above the river — a concrete apartment building. Continue reading “London on five pounds a day”

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at the Tate

I was aperture, I was skylight. The knife-thrower’s blades ramified in the space around me. I was a white root swimming in the dark, Icarus falling into his own chest, a clown pried open by the red-handed crowd. I saw with a wolf’s blood-drop eye how horse and rider are imprisoned by the bars of a flag. The green world warped around an hourglass shaped like the symbol for infinity. Bodies flowered forth like bladder-wrack or sentient hands as life began returning to the sea. I saw a dancer dismembering all the space in a room and a blue nude curl into a backwards ampersand. When she stood up, her arms rose on either side like quotation marks. I saw Venus, freed of her scallop shell, expand into an isthmus between two oceans. My gaze became ambitious even as the butterfly collector’s net came down and I found myself pressed into glass, attempting still to dance on the head of a pin. My death led straight into the gift shop.


Some Facts About the Vikings

gleaned from a quick perusal of the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum

The Vikings were here, pillaging and minting coins.

The Vikings expanded in all directions when nobody was looking.

The Vikings were fond of bright colors and the whisper of silk against their hairy skins.

The Vikings steered their longships with special oars shaped like butter churns.

The Vikings filed their teeth for maximum impact when they gnawed on their shields like crazed Norway rats.

The Vikings invented tribal tattoos, gang signs, campfire sing-alongs and theoretical physics.

The Vikings’ chief deity had one eye and walked with a limp.

The Vikings were misunderstood loners who acted out violent fantasies of power.

The Vikings gave names to their swords and their shields, their boots and their favorite underwear.

The Vikings had female shamans whose magic staffs symbolically unwound the threads of fate.

The Vikings drank beer from wooden buckets and water—when they had to—from their pointy little helmets.

The Vikings dated yo’ mama before she got fat.

The Vikings selflessly contributed their DNA to the British gene pool.

The Vikings taught us how to say bleak and anger, glitter, ransack and egg.

The Vikings didn’t call themselves Vikings, but activist shareholders.

The Vikings were vertically integrated, and operated in all areas of the pillaging and slaving industry.

The Vikings exploited penalty charges on credit accounts held by most major northern European rulers.

The Vikings were directly involved in several major environmental and safety incidents, as well as numerous violations of human rights and good taste.

The Vikings were exceedingly fond of bling.

The Vikings employed poets to burnish their images and shape public expectations.

The Vikings disappeared in the 11th century at the height of their power, as the result of a leveraged buyout from Christendom Incorporated.

I wrote this today especially for an open-mike reading at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. It seemed to go over pretty well. It occurred to me later that presenting a freshly minted poem to a roomful of strangers is pretty much what I do here every day (except that some of you aren’t strangers, of course). It was an extremely well-moderated reading, with time limits strictly but humorously enforced and a great diversity of readers — an interesting counterpoint to a much more staid reading by professional, establishment poets I’d attended several days before.


I stare at the wall
without focusing
until it doubles.

From the neighbors’ unseen backyard,
snatches of an English
I can’t quite follow.

A snail comes out of
its banded shell, eye-stalks stretching
in two directions.

Canal haiku

bridge over the canal

It’s sandal season—
you bring back a blister
from the canal.


Light from the water
plays on the steel girders.
A train’s screeching wheels.


Leading a crew
of gnomes and potted plants,
the jolly roger.


After the canal boat passes,
the huge floating leaf
reverses course.


Lowering their heads in threat
again and again: geese
with a single gosling.


Where the high-speed
train will run,
the drillers’ four-storey screw.


Behind the supermarket,
the pigeons line up
for crumbs of bread.


You can find her by the ding
of bicyclists’ bells:
the deaf dog.


Leaning out over
the green water,
he paints the boat green.


destination for cars”—
and next door, stacks of tires.

London from Above

Its head is too large, out of proportion to the other members; its face and hands have also grown monstrous, irregular and ‘out of all Shape’. … A body racked with fever, and choked by ashes, it proceeds from plague to fire. —Peter Ackroyd, London: The Biography

Ten thousand red-brown
mouths of chimney pots
gape at us as we descend,
jet engines howling, into the haze—
a mutual amazement.
Here is the yellow air
of our to-and-froing.
Here are the housing estates
and the scrapyards,
groomed swards of a park
and chaotic allotments,
the circling traffic.
There’s the river and
its slick sheen of a carcass.
Plane trees all in a line
make faint, green gestures
with the stumps of their limbs.