A little more of less, please

Writing is a good life metaphor.

typewriter.jpgThese are interesting days. I approach my life much as I do the page, with contentment but with trepidation. The clumsy plasticine oozing from my pen leaves me a bit numb. A little bored, to be honest. A stultifying sameness guards the words from taking on a life of their own, of actually taking anyone on any kind of journey.

This is especially true of poetry. Ironically, I find my greatest enemy to be the stronger, more captivating work of previous years. It is the equivalent of creative shadow-boxing, a grasping after one’s own ghosts. It is to hide from the potential of my own gifts. The glory days, whether in life or art, can straight-jacket us right out of good days now.

Life is often this way. In creative-artistic terms, this is so commonplace as to be ridiculously cliché. This haunting of the present by an elusively successful past can choke the life out of bold, new ventures. Even the very desire to try is rendered impotent. A sterility can only be achieved by writing. Shit, but still writing. When acedia takes hold it keeps me from even getting that far. Writing poorly is still better than writing nothing at all. Bad sex is still better than no sex at all!

frustrated writer.jpg

Does this call into question my dedication to word-craft? Do I need to turn in my lit-card? Have I become less a writer and more of a word-ler (word burglar)? I suppose the creative struggle can be compared to dieting. One can lose weight through amelioration of already good habits-in-stasis while destroying bad ones. But, for it to “take,” a completely different way of living is required. Sure, lose thirty pounds, buy new clothes, take a thousand selfies on a new, air-brushed social media persona. Eat McDonald’s and chocolate cake for a week or two afterward and one’s previous successes merely mock present realities.

“Look how well I was doing,” we crow. “The effort really paid off,” we chirp. “It’s about bloody time,” screams our waistband. We gaze with fondness and well-earned satisfaction at our accomplishment only to groan with the recognition that that was then and this is now. Shit.

It can be genuinely depressing to read poetry or other bits and bobs of writing from even a few years ago when I had over-weening confidence in an under-developed, largely self-indulgent output. Now, possessing some measure of success, a proven track record in this whole letters enterprise, I find confidence a bit shaky to say the least.

Perhaps this is a case of art imitating life. Never have I been so content with so little. Not that I have little. I have in fact considerably more of everything than I could ever use. But my requirements are far fewer than ever. My writing is undergoing massive change right now, too. It’s not as clever-turn-of-phrase-y as it was, relying instead on that which, though simpler, might actually say something. I guess I’m losing my desire and, frankly, the need, to write for the academy – words for lovers of words. Insider talk.

Now, I write because it acts like a shower. My soul gets buffed up a bit more. My heart gets a jolly good brushing and I feel refreshed. And, I want to tell people about it. I want people to know who I am so they can meet me here. A welcome mat more than a Hadron Collider of complexity. There is a loneliness in creating something only a handful of erudites with too much industry-speak in their tool-belts can enjoy. And by “enjoy” I mean quietly compare to their own far superior material. Ha! Rightly so.


I guess to live better, we must learn to live on purpose. Correspondingly, to create better means to engage the process with trembling tenacity, even in the face of overwhelming self-doubt in one’s own ability.

I want to be the best writer, poet, musician – person, I can be. But it appears that what that means is a whole lot less words and a lot more conversation. Less erudition, more simplicity. Less academy, more living room. Less library, more kitchen table. Less bookstore, more backyard barbecue. Less thinking, more doing. Less of someone else, more of me.

Well, how about that. I just wrote myself out of my own funk. I rest my case.

bathroom mirror conversation

Wait. What are these words

etched so blatantly in this fog-ged mirror

beside the shower

curtain of immodesty;

before me yet beyond my senses,

in ears endampened, engrossed, entombed-

like my murmuring heart?

Skin awash, adazzle;

insides asleep, awaiting…

There, there I see on glass, smeared,

perhaps by finger, nose, or shoulder –

condensation wiped from misty mirrors

word for word what I most misunderstand

and least fathom.

Traces left, glances of a face

revealed yet indeterminable; known, un-strange;

but surprising now, and terrible

soft and fearsome, lithe but

too big to hide even

in the darkest corners of my indirection.

Droplets dive to swim and speak

the intangible peace of this lilting voice.

Like an eyeball widget

refusing to stand still, darting to and fro,

never seen straight on,

just out of focus,

you write this tale, shrouded

in the vagueness of a loving stare,

adroit and sharp, a repeated repetition,

repeating yet again the same words:

“I have made you clean.”

Still, I know this face.

It is yours, subtle One.

It is mine.

It is ours.

of winter

perforate my insolated heart

with rock and stone and bits of branch

that scratch the earthen sky

with its insistent icy gaze

latch yourself rock, stock and thicket,

the budless arms of winter, skin and bone

wrap themselves around the icier heart

of my discontent

cry with wonder at my lack of wonder

this chill stream of unconscious boredom

alive in its deathly hold

we, together, sleep.

where once I stood

brazen, half alive but sure

of my surety finding

none but rockbed nourishment

in place of deeper food

but I refuse to dig.

in this time, non-colored

void of spring’s lithe dance

or summer’s lazy strolls,

only still

lonely, stilled,

stillness alone.

so be it,

come, sweet winter

come, bid me bid goodnight to my childish fears

hypnotize me, embalm and embranch me

let the stark, new life of death

feed this wafer-thin soul.

kiss me with frozen resurrection

till snow becomes dew

and we both


A short poem from last summer.

Yakima to Ellensberg

July 21, 2010

Mottled and tustled blows

the Spring lint of fields;

hills blown dry in Summer’s bosom.

Little drunk parch-ed promise

whispers her secrets.

Moving over the gentle curves of

her brown back, full-breasted,

bloated not from watered spring

but gloating in perpetual want –

satisfied with less; less than satisfied

having drawn her drink from wells unseen.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills…

Thoughts from the beach…

Thoughts from the beach…

To commemorate a beach walk with my wife.



Beauty.  Random squalor in effortless

Wave deposits her treasure

In our efforts to build that which

Hand could never grasp we trade

Quintessential.  Queer.  Quiet for

Quantifiable.  Quick.  Casual.

Oh, such grand wordless words-

Wonder, World-watched prayers


That which is unseen – now

I see.


Wind-soaked beach-stained

Dark; darker still where waves

Kiss the sand of my imagination.

Flat boards float on round earth

Plays with my finitude and finer still,

Fills my earthen breath with

Deeper wind.


Dare she flits on so light a wing,

Fading into vastness, blue

The sky and water, one.

Where one defines what much cannot

In so many syllables contain

The vast smallness of it all.

May 12, 2003

Over Scotland

I love poetry. I used to write much more poetry than I presently do. I feel bad about that. Consider this part one in rectifying this. This poem was written gazing out from an airplane window while flying over Scotland in 1989. It was finished in 1991, the next time I was in Scotland.

High flying, window glass reveals tattered floor-

Pristine heaven greets eyes open to curving planet yonder

Stretching, reaching, sky-borne, we soar.

Place of kings bringing wonder to hearts that wonder.

Stipple green, ground richly steeped in lush, purple hue-

Woven pattern of road-cut scenes moves closer,

Sky meets peripheral sky, horizon’s hazy blue.

Shadows run as daylight comes.

Well-fermented scenes from ancient dreams-

Walls of stone, hearts of flesh, eyes of steel,

Pageantry in motion, all is as it seems.

Like God in man, surreal kisses real.

Robert Rife © 1991