After Virtue

The most striking feature of contemporary moral utterance is that so much of it is used to express disagreements; and the most striking feature of the debates in which these disagreements are expressed is their interminable character…they apparently can find no terminus. There seems to be no rational way of securing moral agreement in our culture.

–Alasdair MacIntyre, 1984


There comes that phase in life when, tired of losing, you decide to stop losing, then continue losing. Then you decide to really stop losing, and continue losing. The losing goes on and on so long you begin to watch with curiosity, wondering how low you can go.

–George Saunders, 2006

“Swift Thoughts”

That’s how we thought once, those of us who had been born in the twentieth century. We looked to stories and parables, to plays, films, and poems as a mirror-universe in which we might better see ourselves. Literature, in all its expanding forms, was the very heart of our culture, where we might share disappointments and sorrows, judge and reverse all wrongs, celebrate joys, even take revenge, and express hopes for the future. And this too, remember, is a story I’m trying to put before you, a self-justification that will help me escape the torment of what was once called “narrative dysfunction,” the inability to piece together a story about one’s life, as if connectedness was some kind of salvation.

–George Zebrowski, 1995

Loki’s imprisonment

You can hear Max in the background of this one. Sarah said it was “one of your more disturbing ones”. I’m inclined to agree. I think I wrote this one when I was reading a lot of Norse mythology. Loki kills Baldr–a guy everyone likes–so he gets hunted down and imprisoned with his son’s entrails. (Nice!) They put a snake over his head so the poison drips down. Combined with my admittedly messed-up headspace at the time, it seemed like the perfect time to write this poem:

Memory IV

“Too true, too true,”

she whispers in her cold way,

her boiling old way, her true-blue and sold way.

“Too true…”

And I, I am like a quivering daisy chain,

full of green and yellow anticipation.

I strew, or no, link my self’s mind together;

Dixie Blues are clinking on an old player piano.

Seeing her slow eyes again, I rinse myself with spices—

for the blood-boil—

and put this old scrumptious dalliance on the slow burner,

thick potatoes and carrots swirling in the brew.

“But this between us will lead us only to more

and deeper dripping poison and despair.”

“Too true, too true,” she whispers.

I hold up my arms

and let myself be tied with snakes to the bedpost,

paying penance to the old gods.

As she holds the cup to keep the venom from dripping on my face,

all that remains is my trickster’s voice,

words spilling out over my silent body:

“Listen to me:

“Hear and understand

“these cold words of mine

“that will glitter and sparkle off the end of my tongue

“when my foes unchain the wolf, the dragon, the hungry maid:

“the children of my soul’s revenge.

“But they haven’t yet let loose—have patience!

“I keep waiting and sighing and spying and clicking and spinning and wilting and weeping:

“now there is nothing but my silence,

“my wicked silence that hurts you so…”

Too true, too true and her eyes are leaking tears,

my body burns and aches at her touch

but I feel pity only for myself.

“Wicked? No not wicked, that goes too far, too

“too far. Far beyond the reasonable, far beyond intuition and of grief.

“Far beyond the boiling hams and bouncing tree fairies.”

I wonder if I actually said that, for she hums in a pleasing way,

and places her tight lips upon my face. “Too true,

too true.”

“Replace wicked with frightened and old. Or tricky:

“that’s the silence you have.

“I have. Me. A frightened old silence.

“A tricky frightened silence.

“It’s time you listened and heard my silence truly.

“Truly, for what it is.”

She seems to be hearing me,

her tongue is dripping slow circles along my chest.

I can feel her cold fingers drag shivers down my side.

She stops. Looks long into my eyes:

“Too true, too true,”

and cuts my tongue between her teeth.

“Ahh. You’ve lived too long in a short space,

“I think your ends want to outgrow the short space of time,

“but they shrivel instead. It’s time you…

“it’s really time you…

“it’s got to be time you…

“thought it’s not too late you…

“Ahhh… it’s past time you danced your new self back into being

“so that those dear ones, those frizzled and delightful

“loves may hold you close once more

“spiral you around with glee, laughing in the sun.”

“Too true, too true.”

I feel this bodybody thrumming from head to foot

as her breath rushes slowly in my ear

and she finds the all-center of my desire.

Sharp pain lances through my wrist,

up my thin and withered arm

unto the throbbing hollow in my chest.

“Look… ahhh…

“You gaze too long into this tiring, soul-gutting

“mind-splintering gulf. Please.

“No. Please. Wait.”

This is too… I can’t… I didn’t think…


I am gone.

She is gone.


Venom splashes on my face.

The snakes wrap tighter about my throbbing arms.

Oh Pure and Radiant Heart (3)

Between the invention of nuclear weapons and the turn of the twenty-first century the U.S. spent over five trillion dollars building and maintaining its nuclear arsenal–about one-tenth of the country’s total spending since 1940. In America, annual spending on past and present military activities exceeds spending in all other categories of human need; approximately eighty percent of the national deby is estimated to have been created by military expenditures.

The so-called “military-industrial complex” is thus…the single largest consumer of the country’s resources.

–Lydia Millet, 2005