Wednesday, February 5, 2014


The change of light 
that flickers your shining eyes from amber 
to ink black
as you alter your gaze 
as you notice me staring,
thinking I've caught you in prolonged consideration,
and instead find that you are longing for the harbour
over my shoulder,
or aching for a moment of the waiter's time
to ask for the bill,
has travelled through urgent eons to arrive here and meet you, 
before discretely catching my attention
to describe something that has long ago been decided,
something anyone could see.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

wave shoaling

Two years ago, I watched The Tsunami crush Japan
live from an Al-Jazeera helicopter.

Until that moment,
So few people had seen a Tsunami
and lived to describe it
that we had forgotten why we call them tidal waves.

It wasn't a wall of water,
No sudden surge in amplitude
as the wave entered the shallows.

Just a tide that wouldn't ebb
rising faster than
they could run,
or drive.

Those few survivors from history
were right:
smaller than we cared to imagine
-- but relentless,
smashing a delicate coastline,
pushing a boundary ever inwards,
synthezising everything into
one burning wave.

Friday, April 12, 2013

In Focus

“You’re wonderful,” you said to me
once, resting your head
against a tabled book after I said something
or other that made your bright thunderhead
eyes crinkle

And I recalled a child's astronomy lesson:
That once, we were one flame
- a brilliant stellar roil -
now collapsed into these countless discrete forms:

The book, and
the things in it that troubled you.
The scarf that
you folded and slipped under
my cheek as I slept in
the library.
The current that coursed through
the filament that illuminated
you and me.

Though I only smiled dumbly,
forgetting how to speak.

These passing familiar fragments
somehow converging here
again. Meeting, as if never separated
by this long trajectory.
An eternity to spend drifting apart
interrupted, for only a moment,
by your head tilted in passing recognition.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Some days, the blankness of my sheets of paper 
(their texture and sound as they slide across one another their sharpness 
and smoothnees under my fingertips) is so striking that I feel 
as if all I can do is



a pop
snaps the too-fine graphite tip against a

how did that happen?

So much idle energy
So little to show for it
So much time
Spent shuddering
blurring my perimeter


I feel it ebb and flow, rattling back and forth
desperate to escape in ways my body fails to correctly interpret

Somewhere there must be a solution
a transform to describe this seasick oscillation
a phase
an amplitude
a frequency

all in flux
desperate to match
desperate to couple to the wave of some activity, some task, some path, some 
place where it can be still in motion

Monday, April 1, 2013

Tomorrow, in a Year (Part whatever)

Earlier I said that Tomorrow, in a Year isn’t really about Darwin and Evolution, and is instead about grief and time and brilliance and change, and it’s fair to ask why, exactly, I think that.  It’s time to get some close reading done, and that means examining what, exactly, is being sung.  Strictly speaking, the words “time”, “sea”, and “age” occur frequently, though “time” refers both to a duration and an incidence, and thanks solely to “Mountains” the most frequently used word in the libretto is “white”.   This isn’t terribly helpful.

I mentioned earlier that Tomorrow, in a Year is both about and not about Darwin and Evolution – you can tell because neither word is ever spoken (this is, admittedly, a cop-out, since “Charles” is mentioned twice, but when the time comes, I’ll argue that there’s an important distinction between the use of a given name and surname.)  Also conspicuously absent: God, nature, creation, and all the other words a North American audience would expect from a work dealing with Evolution, since that word is still an issue over here. 

So what we can establish is that if Tomorrow, in a Year wanted to be about Evolution and Darwin in a proximate sense, it may have done well to actually mention either of those things, but it actually seems to go out of its way not to.  What it chooses to talk about instead is time, from it’s title on down, and much of the time it doesn’t speak about anything explicitly.  So what are we talking about when we talk about time?  We examine fossils and strata of rock: “layer on layer, life embedded in stone” is the line used elsewhere.  What we’re looking at, then, is the way living things change over time, and not the growth exhibited by a single organism, but the glacial, relentless change shown over generations and eons.

“Letter to Henslow” and “Shoal Swarm Orchestra” are instrumental pieces, depending on how you define an instrument.  “Letter to Henslow” is a fantastic mashup of human voices mimicking bird songs and bullfrog roars. In the artists’ roundtable discussion, they mention how much fun this track was to make. There are probably entirely convincing ways to imitate animal noises, if you really need to, so let’s assume that the artifice is part of the art.

There’s a rhetorical path we could tread down here that would invoke the simulacrum, but since I’m really tired can we just agree that a simulacrum is an imitation of something that didn’t really exist to begin with?  Our formulation of nature operates almost exclusively in this mode.  

“Shoal Swarm Orchestra” evokes a storm, and the story behind it involves Olaf Dreier spending some time in the Amazon rainforest with a tape recorder.  It’s a lush digestion of an environment’s sound, and if you wanted to you could probably argue that this may have been something that Darwin heard while travelling to wherever it was that he went, but that may be a hard rhetorical row to hoe because it sure as shit wasn’t the Amazon.

 Since this work is all about growth and development, “Shoal swarm orchestra” doesn’t remain static. Something like a distorted string instrument picks up recurring tones and hunts for a melody.  Maybe “hunts” isn’t the right verb, maybe it is; anyways, a storm obliterates it before it manages anything too sophisticated.  Other synthetic noises emerge from the storm but before long they too vanish, and that’s about the time when I realize that this is exactly the same trick that “intro” played, only with a more sophisticated seed. 

So what we have then, are two songs: the first is are human voices mimicking bird calls and bullfrog roars, and the second is a digesting (present tense, ongoing) recording of an exotic wilderness – in the industry we call this a dialogue, and the order is really, really important, because this is where that order changes.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Paladin's Manifesto

Do you remember the first time you chose?

Of course you do. It was the first time that you knew that something was wrong. It was the first time that you watched an injustice, saw the strong harm the weak, saw the wicked harm the pure. It was the first time you knew good and evil.

Of course you remember it. You knew an evil that you could stand against, and felt the fire fill you. It was the first time you felt strong.

But that's not why you remember it. Those things can fade among other outrages and joys, they can pass unnoticed, they can be dulled by time. The thing that you remember, the thing that you can never forget, the thing that you will never forget, is the choice.

There's no power in this or any other world that can compel you to make a moral choice. That's the point. Becoming a paladin (or whatever you want to call it) isn't a compulsion, or an obligation, it's a choice.

The power that taps you in that moment - the power that asks you to stand your frail mortal form against an evil that can no longer be tolerated - that power does not want slaves. You can always say no. There's nothing wrong with saying no.

Saying no is the easiest thing in the world. That's also the point. You either choose to refuse the fire, or you choose to take it into yourself. You make it a part of you, let it warm you, let it eventually consume you. Just you and the fire, burning bright.

Saying yes or no is a choice that you make every moment of every day from the moment you first knew good and evil until the moment that you die.

I've met many other paladins (or whatever) in my travels -- we always recognize one another at a glance -- the fire always shows through. We find ourselves drawn to the same places. It's never an easy feeling to find the brothers and sisters who burn like you do gathered in numbers. It means death is coming.

Some of us are hard and sharp and pure. Some of us are kind and gentle and loving. Most are both.

It's a luxury we are afforded, to be the person we want to be so long as we continue to burn bright. There's only one real rule: whatever is placed in front of you, no questions asked.

You have to trust. You have to trust that the places you find when you wander are the places where you are needed most. You have to trust that the power that taps you and guides you will not waste the choice that you have made.

But most of all, you have to trust those others that you meet. Selfish or selfless, free or slave, wretched or righteous, if they stand against darkness, they stand with you. They've made their choice too, and there they are, at your side, every inch as holy in deed as you whether they let themselves believe it or not.

So, do you remember the choice now? Of course you do. Once you've known good and evil, you can't unlearn it, you can't forget, and you will never escape the first time you decided to let the darkness pass unchallenged.

It's okay -- that choice will come again.

And again

And again

Until you say yes.