White Noise


Listen. How the wind whispers our secrets.
How a light rain will speak any language.

–from American Fractal
first published in Poetry Midwest

American Fractal


We are like two chasms,
a well staring up at the sky
          –Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

two mirrors face each other            my hands over my face            the

porcelain soap dish            an angel’s wings & a mile of its offerings           

pink on pink on black tile            I’m in the bathroom            close the door

shut the light            down the hall the tv too loud            bob barker & the

price is right            shut that out too            I’m on the other edge of

something            of adulthood            of a gulf            a canyon            looking

down down            no vultures circling picking bones though            no

heaped bodies to climb over            no fall to cushion            or to be

cushioned            not the body that matures this time            just this

hollow wooden door            the lock my parents could pick with a belt-   


hook at any moment            the hot glare of the vanity lights making

my pimples glow        I said shut the light            shut the light            the tv

too loud mother won’t get up            get up!            the friend visiting

from florida            her baby james sucking grapes            he wouldn’t eat

anything else            just the grapes            the seedless orbs like eyeballs           

sucking them            each green globe with a little pop            a little giggle           

wouldn’t take the formula            wouldn’t take the mashed carrots &

peas            brown mush from a jar            the rubber spoon an airplane           

but still nothing            a silent protest maybe            maybe reading into

things too far            we fed him grapes for three weeks            he kept               


giggling            sleeping in my bedroom            a crib of blankets in the

cedar hope chest at the foot of my bed            grapes & grapes & the

husband flying up finally to take him home            to take her home           

a quiet man            a mustache            all five-foot-five of him fumbling           

down the hall the showcase showdown            the systolic bleep of the

wheel slowing to rest            a dinette set            a new car            flashing

lights            cheers & screams from the audience            mother’s best

friend in the intersection held her baby            cat-walked the dotted

yellow line & then sat down            the baby crying            the headlights           

horns            she sat down            then the police call at midnight            do you           


know the father?            then driving home holding the baby while my

father shifted & swore            the soft skull            the soft neck            way

past bedtime            past due            stay up!            stay up!            his head so

heavy            mother on the couch again won’t get up            won’t blink           

a crack in the ceiling holding her there            mesmerized            like the

root of that word something animal            doctoral            doctor mesmer

on his glass armonica            the women in tubs of glass powder           

iron fillings            the magic of the wand            relax relax            my sweet

baby james            singing from behind the curtain            go to sleep            go

to sleep            they had words for it back then            hysteria                                           


distemper            the doctors in the waiting room more mysterious           

more clinical            we had clinics now            post-partum depression           

they said            bipolar disorder            they said in their white robes           

behind their stethoscopes & clipboards            their shoes so soft they

moved soundlessly down the long hall the price is right on a

television hanging from the ceiling            I sit down in the bathtub           

how can you blame them for sitting down            things getting so

heavy?        for what do we hold onto eventually?            eventually

what don’t we hold onto?            mother in the living room            on the

couch            shake her shake her            wake her up            & father            at the       


bar he says            late at work he says            & the bathroom with its

cheap lock            that convenient clasp            & the light on            & the

light off            & the mirror into mirror into mirror            that silver-

backed glass            looking like her            looking like him            the images

playing off    themselves in the glass            divide            divide            & how

could they know            each one            each image into infinity            how

could they know?        each image one moment behind the last           

catching up & catching up            until the last            & finally letting go

the last            like a leap into no faith            letting go    that smallest star           

that grain of sand            that simplest & finest point of light                                       


–from American Fractal
first published in Runes



Love is a horse, all sweaty suede and lean
muscle, heart bigger than its head. Love is a

dark horse, the unexpected silhouette, the anti-
man’s empty field—no shadow unattached

as darkness clings to light like a dead horse.
Look: I can make a dove with both hands. Now

a dog, a horse, an elephant. I can make love.
Love is a horse sound the throat makes when

it’s sore. I gurgle, I gag on a horse pill. But love
is an easy thing to swallow. Love is just horsing

around; it leaps like a wild horse from my chest.
Thank God love wears this simple shoe, and I can

nail it to a wall for luck. They say close only counts
in love. Lead love to the river; love might drink.

–from American Fractal
first published in Spillway

Fractional Brownian Motion in Multifractal Trading Time

Since the book came out, it’s been a real treat trying to explain to friends and family what a fractal is.  My grandma says she understood it one afternoon a few weeks ago, but can’t remember how it made sense at the time.  Most people just assume it has something to do with fractions and leave it at that.  The truth is, I’m not even remotely a mathematician (although it might have been my best subject in school), and don’t understand enough about the interactions between computers and modern mathematics to really understand fractal geometry, either.  I find fractals fascinating on a metaphorical, poetic level — the concept of recursive symmetry, the interplay of order and chaos — but if you asked me to create a Mandelbrot set, I wouldn’t know where to start.

As I’m forced to talk about the book more and more, I feel like I really should become more comfortable with the geometry itself, so whenever I come across a link to anything fractal-related, I read it.  I found two yesterday.  The first is really just a teaser for the longer article, reprinted from a 1999 issue of Scientific American, which the journal is hoping you’ll find relevant today.

How Fractals Can Explain What’s Wrong with Wall Street” was written 10 years ago by Benoit Mandelbrot himself.  I’ll summarize, so you don’t have to read:  Traditional models for maximizing portfolio growth ignore the chaos inherent in the market, because it is, after all, chaotic — you can’t predict it, so why bother?  Mandelbrot recognizes that the market time-lines — those line-graphed cliffs in the price indexes we’ve been seeing on the news every day — display fractal geometry.  Just looking at a graph, you can’t tell if the time scale is an hour, a day, or a year — no matter how close you look, or how far you stand back, the fluctuations look the same.  So he proposes using fractal models to shock-test your portfolio.  You can’t actually predict what’s going to happen, but you can run your money though a chaos generator over and over again and see what the odds are of it spontaneously combusting.

Here’s a metaphor:  Your stock portfolio is a ship on the ocean.  You know it can handle 6 foot waves, because that’s all you’re used to seeing.  But how big could the waves get, and how fierce would they have to be for your boat to sink?  Traditional portfolio theory can never answer that question — but Mandelbrot can run the numbers through his algorhythms, and tell you how risky your voyage really is.

Apparently no one actually did this 10 years ago, or else we wouldn’t be in this mess, right?

This has been your monthly lesson in the uses of fractal geometry. Tune in next time to see how we can graphically model strike rates at a bowling alley…

Cooking Dinner


Spring again. Its warmer breeze. Open screen door.
Another war buds up, pliant and green,
thick spores of restlessness
like pollen in the air–you could sneeze with it;
your heart could stop beating in a moment.
____bless you, you’re whispering.
                                    ____bless you.
As if a soul could leak like steam from its
            cellular prison, as if words alone
could draw it back–white light, white light,
a sheet, a flag.
Every day more words to be wary of, that space there
in the blessing, that monotone
on the radio with its figures and dates and facts
and facts that rattle on long after
you’ve pulled the plug, glued shut
                        your ears, rattle on,
rat-tat-tat like something you won’t say
while you drown yourself in a cold water bath,
pry loose your silver fillings
because you’ve heard that story–oh yes,
you’ve heard it before,
but maybe it’s your whole body that’s
transmitting their signals this time, that subsonic
                        headache drone, your bones
the antennae, your marrow electric,
pulsing, mortar crumbling, bricks
knocked free, windows smashed, bits of glass
like blue gravel, tires and dumpsters
            on fire with looting, the whole world
coming loose, thin thread being
pulled and pulled, wound tight
                                    around your_____.
But there she is over the stove.
            Relax, she says. Just relax. She’s cooking
dinner. Egg noodles and mushroom soup.
The kitchen dizzy with steam. Her apron
stained from years of fancier meals, wasted
energy, messes not worth
                                    cleaning up.
Not coming loose, she says,
                        been loose. A grocery list
of wars, holy wars, hunger.
These pots just boil with their watching, is all.
Out on the porch the clatter of a small animal,
                        a neighbor’s cat. The faint stir
of last year’s dried-out leaves against the fence
            finally being looked at.

from American Fractal
first published in RATTLE #22