Tao Te Ching #11: “Thirty spokes join at the hub”

Thirty spokes join at the hub: their use for the cart is where they are not. When the potter’s wheel makes a pot, the use of the pot is precisely where there is nothing. When you open doors and windows for a room, it is where there is nothing that they are useful to the…


Tao Te Ching #10: “Carrying vitality and consciousness”

Carrying vitality and consciousness, embracing them as one, can you keep them from parting? Concentrating energy, making it supple, can you be like an infant? Purifying hidden perception, can you make it flawless? Loving the people, governing the nation, can you be uncontrived? As the gate of heaven opens and closes, can you be impassive?…

Tao Te Ching #9: “To keep on filling is not as good as stopping”

To keep on filling is not as good as stopping. Calculated sharpness cannot be kept for long. Though gold and jewels fill their houses, no one can keep them. When the rich upper classes are haughty, their legacy indicts them. When one’s work is accomplished honorably, to retire is the Way of heaven. – Thomas…

Tao Te Ching #8: “Higher good is like water”

Higher good is like water: the good in water benefits all, and does so without contention. It rests where people dislike to be, so it is close to the Way. Where it dwells becomes good ground; profound is the good in its heart, benevolent the good it bestows. Goodness in words is trustworthiness, goodness in…

Tao Te Ching #7: “Heaven is eternal, earth is everlasting”

Heaven is eternal, earth is everlasting. The reason they can be eternal and everlasting is that they do not foster themselves; that is why they can live forever. For this reason sages put themselves last, and they were first; they excluded themselves, and they survived. Was it not by their very selflessness that they managed…

Tao Te Ching #6: “The valley spirit not dying”

The valley spirit not dying is called the mysterious female. The opening of the mysterious female is called the root of heaven and earth. Continuous, on the brink of existence, to put it into practice, don’t try to force it. – Thomas Cleary   The valley spirit that doesn’t die we call the dark womb…

Tao Te Ching #5: “Heaven and earth are not humane”

Heaven and earth are not humane; they regard all beings as straw dogs. Sages are not humane; they see all people as straw dogs. The space between have and earth is like bellows and pipes, empty yet inexhaustible, producing more with movement. The talkative reach their wits’ end again and again; that is not as…

Tao Te Ching #4: “The Way is unimpeded harmony”

The Way is unimpeded harmony; its potential may never be fully exploited. It is as deep as the source of all things: it blunts the edges, resolves the complications, harmonizes the light, assimilates the world. Profoundly still, it seems to be there: I don’t know whose child it is, before the creation of images. –…

Tao Te Ching #3: “Not exalting cleverness”

Not exalting cleverness causes the people not to contend. Not putting high prices on hard-to-get goods causes the people not to steal. Not seeing anything to want causes the mind to be confused. Therefore the government of sages empties the mind and fills the middle, weakens the ambition and strengthens the bones, always keeping the…

Tao Te Ching #2: “When everyone knows beauty is beauty”

When everyone knows beauty is beauty, this is bad. When everyone knows good is good, this is not good. So being and nonbeing produce each other: difficulty and ease complement each other, long and short shape each other, high and low contrast with each other, voice and echoes conform to each other, before and after…

Tao Te Ching #1: “A way can be a guide, but not a fixed path”

A way can be a guide, but not a fixed path; names can be given, but not permanent labels. Nonbeing is called the beginning of heaven and earth; being is called the mother of all things. Always passionless, thereby observe the subtle; ever intent, thereby observe the apparent. These two come from the same source…


In light of what happened in Charlottesville last weekend—and what is probably always seething beneath the life of the United States—here are a few lines from my Civil War poem, To the House of the Sun. After speaking with a few captured Confederate soldiers in Washington DC, one character has these handful of questions to ask. (While…

Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” (Forerunners)

Underfoot Poetry


While I’d like to say that after Four Quartets, I don’t know of another long poem from the last century that’s meant as much to me as Allen Ginsberg’s elegy for his mother, Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956. But it’s so powerful that even describing it as a poem seems silly: it really doesn’t matter what you call it, as it easily inhabits its own genre. Just as Joyce’s Ulysses has prompted so many forgettable experimental children, when in reality it was a one-off that only a single genius could have attempted, Kaddish eclipses all the bad confessional poems we are heir to, including much of Ginsberg’s other work, down to our own glut of verses that will never reach beyond our blogs. Nowhere else does Ginsberg’s infusion of autobiography, explicit sexuality, or personal or familial admissions of such intimacy or shame work as well as they…

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Week of the Bomb: Wednesday

Finally, voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When The New Yorker dedicated its entire August 31, 1946 issue to John Hersey’s Hiroshima, the editors wrote that they did so “in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to…

Week of the Bomb: Tuesday

Many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project had families in Europe, or were refugees from Europe themselves, and so the atomic bomb they were helping to make had an obvious adversary in mind. When Germany surrendered, however, many felt much less animus against Japan, and in part this conflict is narrated in…

Week of the Bomb: Monday

Impossible decisions remain impossible, even after they’ve been made. Following on yesterday’s post, here are the voices of those scientists and politicians who admitted the horror of the atomic bomb, but saw its creation and deployment as unavoidable; who felt caught up and even powerless in the equally inevitable march of scientific discovery; those who…

Week of the Bomb: Sunday

With the anniversary of the Trinity Test just passed, and the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki coming up, I realize the atomic bomb has been following me for years. The first book of poetry I ever owned was the anthology Atomic Ghosts, which featured dozens of poets responding to the nuclear age; and after I first…

Tim Miller (Bog Poems)

A sequence of new bog body poems, up at Underfoot. I welcome any thoughts & comments.

Underfoot Poetry


Their stomachs a bestiary only of grain
during a time of feasting and boasting and meat,
bellies a mush with the barely digested
gruel of barley and rye and buttercup,
goosefoot and hawksbeard, linseed and clover
and knotweed, with spelt and yarrow all a last
gnarl or bit of weight above the waist,
a feeling of fullness near midwinter,
a last meal before being dragged away.


My bones lasted down there, as did my skin
and my insides—but so did the stakes
that were hammered down to hold me in,
so did the weight of more branches belted
across my chest, and the same for a pile
of pointless clothes, since I was thrown in naked.
My hands were clean too, but my body pristine
and even plump from a healthy fifty years.
They didn’t dare to cut my hair
and I was…

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