Tenney Nathanson

from Ghost Snow 2 (Unwinding: 2010-2022)


In the world of form, we differentiate substances and images;

in the world of sound, a horrific cacophony of serpents and sewage pours out of the emperor’s mouth, the stinking words sting and yes

we distinguish music from noise we say but

In the embrace of the dark, slime drenched, it seems

good words and bad words are the same, and the hashtag for Shitou is shit stains now.

but still:  in the embrace of the dark good words and bad words are the same :

in the bright morning light in mid-November chill

we divide trees from rocks, blue from the matte brown mountain looming up in front through cracks in which the soft dawn peeks like

clear speech recalling us

from confusion. “The nation is destroyed; rivers and mountains remain.”

The four elements return to their natures, for now,

like a child to the mother earth turns     where, to what?

Fire ravages scorched swaths of coast rushes inland jumps highways and the trade in big oil

is hot    the winds blow embers into your neighbor’s house & into your own house next time maybe and

water is wet, the earth solid, yes, maybe so, while

The eye sees form and phantasmagoria

The ear hears voices and chittering echoes now stop it :

the nose smells fragrance, the tongue tastes salt and sour. punctum :

everything that is


on your unrepentant tenderness

its root : well what is the source of no : don’t know

spreads out its leaves, flowers lightly in this light wind, and burgeons

both falling and rising, sinking and still, nowhere, right here, perilum and punctum :

roots and branches yes, rage, squalid detritus, set endless heartache to rest, waffle cones, wind, pumpkin pie, methheads, kensho, pécan pie, affable dopers or is it pecán pie, my father in the long gray coat coming to my school your grandmother died today, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, screeds, Beowulf, Rudy Guliani, chicken fried steak, my mother I made it to her bedside the evening before she died, the Toronto Blue Jays, Chic-fil-e, the twin towers pancaking down, The Cantos, Abu Zubayda waterboarded 83 times at Guantanamo & also chucked into the stress position confinement box, the Toronto Mapleleafs, turned out it was just a mistake never mind, the Toronto Rapters, Soviet Jewelry, rapists and pedophiles, other assorted raptors, Rappaccini’s Daughter, George Steinbrenner, Rappaccini, Frank Perdue, Giavelli and the protagonist of The Birthmark, last summer’s faux monsoon, Donald Trump’s hair, Manjushri, Raid Kills Bugs Dead, shoes outside the door, Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin, dark wind over the cliffs over the Pacific, Billie Holiday, one’s a born liar and the other’s convicted, I tip my hat as I pass, wine dark sea, “nothing to leave behind, nothing to take away, just one body,”  it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken, the enormous Freddy Laker Skytrain circus tent you waited in line three days flirting with young girls and holding each others’ places or wandered out to restaurants or the WC, my beautiful dog Maggie (dead), Russian Easter hocus-pocus in the big Orthodox church on Second Avenue, irascible spellchecker ogles  “Cristos vas Kres,” the mouth-watering smell of searing steak wafting through the open sliding glass doors of the dojo on  East Sixty-whatever street during very fast Rinzai Kinhin, borscht, zucchini carbonara, my beloved teacher Joan, (“Christos voskrese!” take that), hold the bacon and eggs, televised Roller Derby the Brooklyn Bombers were the bad girls, spellchecker still cheesed “off,” the heartbreaking pathos of The Pisan Cantos, Rohatsu & O’Hara said I jacked “off,” their unrepentant horror no I mean the horror of their utter lack of repentance, ersatz neighbor home-made canoli in Tucson (wrong filling), Old Ez on something street in the  West Village right near Sharon’s method-inflected acting classes, Dostoyevski’s meditation on Jesus dead in the tomb, beats (An Actor Prepares not earphones), Julia Kristeva’s meditation on Dostoyevski’s meditation on Jesus dead in the tomb, a fully loaded Sonoran hotdog, old Ez folded his blankets, still something came right up out of the earth and opened his heart in the tent, the mind swings by a grass blade, the soft breeze the light washed in light, the tower to the left of the tower, ch’e intererisce, seen through a pair of britches, the Pangolin cult, undying luminous translucent and what you depart from is not the way, olive tree washed white in the wind, the deepest taboo again (Pangolin : keep forgetting Sade), then walked back into the village in the morning light having eaten the meat of the ritually killed taboo anteater to observe the normal dietary laws of the little village, “to live an ordinary life,” eat pangolin = covid 19, QED, the sunlight on her hand holding a fan in the marketplace I forget what teacher that was or maybe light shining somehow through her hand as if the hand were translucent, it wasn’t a poet who invented Roach Motel,  but Mary Douglas was onto something crucial, startling dawn light waking space to define the big reincarnated trees, Nathan’s of Coney Island, Katz’s Delicatessen, the beautiful walk along the East River leaning down over the railing right over the water, roaches check in but they don’t check out, boats, Alex Katz cutout of Frank O’Hara, why does the Hudson River flow south to the lower bay, and on and on and on and on and on all things

must return to their origin

and so do respectful and insulting words, inshallah, shards,

the darkness is inside the bright, lodged right in the belly and breath, intimate, nothing and no one, serene,

but don’t look only with the eyes of the dark

The brightness will strike you blind (if you move it will break you in two at the waist). Glinting rock, sharp cholla spines haloed in sun, rattlesnake’s pissed off gunslinger whirr!!, dogs driven batshit by gargantuan javalina stink, wham! of the suddenly yellow-bloomed palo verdes, mouthful of x-hot Hatch green chiles

is inside the dark! damn!             



but don’t look only through the eyes of the bright.

Bright and dark are a pair

like you and your tiny calm dread of the coronavirus lurking unknown  unless

like fronting a cobra

foot startling back

and back foot stumbling in inauspicious ill-timed terror in the dusty desert gravel, aghast, you guess wrong & back right into another one, unseen hissing serpent that slithered right up behind you. if, as Pound says, Aristotle says to be master of metaphor is the hallmark of genius, well, you flunk. But just as it’s ill-considered to live out in the desert if you’re really scared of rattlers, so too if the coronavirus worries you it wasn’t a very good plan to live on earth. Take that, Aristotle, Ývor pipe down and lie quiet too. but a stellar score on the GRE Verbal Aptitude doesn’t make it so, if wishes were horses etc. ergo : you lose : back to the things themselves : back to the virus, thinking stops thinking and thinks. if the thinking man’s virus were a thinking virus it might think, might it not, of

walking through your front door hitching a ride on your package-laden hands or your grown-up sons and then your analogy (your trope here, dear reader) really rolls up its sleeves and gets to work. it’s only for your benefit honored one, it says in this little book. But

“Each thing by nature has the virus” isn’t logically entailed you shriek though shrieking will not earn you an “A” in the class or save your bacon, ass, or sportif attitude. who do you think you are anyway, and I do mean you. where are you?? Brooklyn? the streets of Laredo? what’s it           

Worth to disinfect the inside of the body with a kind of a bleach rinse, what’s it worth to have a president selling short, don’t you dare sell his perfidious capacity to sell you short short, who wears short shorts, what’s it worth to live in Hoboken where I spied a young cowboy all lonesome and blue, we wear short shorts, these are examples, but of what? thinking won’t save you, still it’s possible thinking will save you. it’s possible it won’t. let’s skip the Four Propositions and the Hundred Negations for now, ok?. “Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you.” hey Tenney: were you hoping to hang with the living in springtime’s profusion a little while longer?were you? are you? will you be?. as if it were all just grammar, a condition contrary to fact. here’s a fact:.“a person doesn’t see very many springtimes” said Bernard who wasn’t sick he died suddenly a week later, out of the blue, in the midst of that year’s really gorgeous, tender burgeoning, maybe 1974?, under the blue spring sky, then he was out of the blue. Please put this poem down right now. Go read the soul shattering passage in The Education of Henry Adams about the agonized death of his sister, from lockjaw, beset by  the spectacular Roman spring. Back again? OK then, to resume:

But we noticeyellow, red, and pink intense tight packed buds opening on prickly pear pads now, & white yellow pink buds, softer, on the row of newly planted azaleas one block over, out walking under the bright pandemic sky : when the doctor comes to me he says

it is good to gaze upon but not to eat those lovely buds and leaves, he’s talking about the oleanders, he’s waxing poetic, Della Primavera Trasportata al Morale, POISON, big pasted skull and crossbones, synthetic cubism, waxy leaves, no when the doctor comes to me he says no thing and no idea but

shaped by its circumstances. We pause in our walk to consider the viral sky the air infinitesimal concentration we presume to breathe deeply, we breathe deeply.

Things fit together like virus and host. Linji said guest and host. Time for a word from our sponsor.  The vastness is the host and you’re the guest. The vastness is the guest you’re host. The virus is the guest you’re host, fooled you, the virus is the host you’re guest. The virus is the vastness the guest is the host, you’re the virus. Taking the long view.: bright dawn on the shithouse like the Pisan Cantos said:

boxes and lids : nel mezzo nel camin di nostra vita : midway on the road of our evening dog walk it says here because it’s written in American English, this latter day reprise or—these are the last days? “Reverend Moon bring hurry up time to all men” : those were the days : the name of every drink served in every tavern in America : as long as he’s good to his mother. Eric Clapton keeps singing I went down to the crossroads, we’re fucked (la diritta via era smaritta)

while the absolute “pierces us with strange relation”  : we’re in luck if this time it

is like saying yes: I say yes, I say this year’s springtime is like

arrows meeting in your heart, say yes, say mý heart, like noticing I’m unexpectedly

in mid-air      in sudden freefall.

When you let these words in

you encounter the ancestors.


be softer

in summer

get ready to be dead a long long time

I think that’s Faulkner

no matter

be softer

are you ready yet


straggled creosote drowsing a little a little awake, hopped in a little wind, & twinkling yellow burr buds

cloudless sky intenser blue        wha . . .  ?

    it’s a jackrabbit!    

sproings into the brush careens sharp right gone under the dragging mesquite cover kicking up gravel

O spellchecker fuck off


hunkered white cottontail     fuschia first buds on a couple small prickly pears up on Hohokum     corner of Montezuma     where the gringos planted their flags

Tacita Place

better put soap in your mouth

toilet breath

meanwhile the palo verdes thrash in wind

& some rocks  

the smallest sprout shows there is really no death

(your description here)

earwax samadhi    

lolled into the buzz on St. Dot’s porch, afternoon buzzing heat

and for several days thereafter, faintly: buzzing ears? faint faraway caw of a crow or a couple crows?

or ears? leading you down or out or in

to where there’s almost nothing, bzzz     zzz   zzzzzzz bzz

an ice cave a million miles thick  

or the summer re-run

bzzzz    I cannot see what flowers are at my feet     something something the pastoral eglantine

then the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves

please tell my mother and father not to worry

why don’t you tell them yourself


after great pain a formal feeling comes    then bzzzzz    zz    zz

and the  heart opens

don’t worry mom and dad

Case 341

or 778:      what deed is theirs

unto the general nature–

what plan

they severally—retard–or further    


then a couple other things

1     2     the night was blowing the stars around the sleeping bag

this is the story

I’d stepped out to pee under the night’s fierce sky 

like a giant invisible flapping tarp  

 “the wind was thrashing the stars around”   

we’re not fucking around here Tenney

I rushed back inside slid back in the bag to hide

but the wind and the scattered stars sneaked in there too

so I lay there inside along with the violent night

lie quíet Yvor

not feeling entírely exempt and protected

isn’t that how it is     you used to say

and : it augers incipient transformation

When Dongshan was leaving, Yunyan said, “If you leave, it will be difficult for us to see each other again.” Dongshan replied, “It will be difficult for us not to see each other.”

& another time

I don’t want to lose my dead mother I said

you said   :   there’s no place for her to go   : 

can you feel that

Tenney Nathanson is the author of Erased Art (Chax) and the book-length poems Home on the Range (The Night Sky with Stars in My Mouth) (O Books), Ghost Snow Falls through the Void (Globalization) (Chax), and Ghost Snow 2 (Unwinding, 2010-2022) (forthcoming from Chax in 2023). His books of criticism include Whitman’s Presence and a forthcoming collection of essays on American poetry. Tenney is a founding director of the Tucson poetry collective POG and the guiding teacher for Desert Rain Zen. He teaches American Poetry at the University of Arizona in Tucson.