The Christopher Guerin Photo Suite

A number of the sonnets in the work, My Human Disguise, are based on my
own photography. They are collected here.

The Figure-Ground Illusion, Sonnet #373 

Nothing is only one thing. Nothing.
An egg is both a womb and a prison,
A screech owl a hunter and great horns’ prey.
Funerals are gatherings and parting,
A thought both an act and a vision.
The sun is the start and the end of day.
In this shadowed bark we see a face,
Stern, discerning, a bit oblivious,
Contemptuous of all that’s obvious,
Stupid, loveless, cruel in the human race.
I see a bat fleeing a predator,
A cat or weasel nipping at its tail
(The eye being a restless editor) —
The man smiling because his cat will fail.

Stone Formation, Sonnet #367

The experience of enlightenment
Is the arrangement of a few beach stones
On an old wooden deck, not an event,
Not a vision, not a handful of koans.
Ikkyu had this moment of insight
On hearing the song of a soldier's slight
That drove two girls into a nunnery,
Leaving their general his gunnery:
“Sixty blows from my master’s stick would serve
As well to achieve what I don’t deserve.”
These four stones have been carelessly arranged,
Each chosen for its one flat edge to rest
And have in wind and rain remained unchanged.
In their presence I’m an unwanted guest.

Note: Much of Ikkyu’s life is apocryphal, though
the story of his enlightenment upon hearing the
blind man’s song about two women ill-treated
by a general is a central part of his legend. The
quote I attribute to him is consistent with the
legend, though partly my invention. 

The Cricket Eclipse, Sonnet #365

He chirps beneath our crabapple tree all night long.
The cricket’s krrrr is a two, three and four beat song,
Random and loud. He stops when a voice from afar
Seems to answer, rasping the same note bar for bar.
(The cicada’s bright buzzing in the August sun
Is lovelier, but isn’t meant for anyone.)
I do not understand the cricket’s existence,
His urgency, or his athletic persistence.
He fills the humid summer night with his griping,
Yet stops at the first pre-dawn robin’s sweet piping.
I’ve never heard him make a sound during the day,
Until today, when the air went from light to gray.
As the sun’s eclipse spread its mockery of doom,
I heard all the crickets in the neighborhood boom. 

Tiger Lilies, Sonnet #304

For Ruth

They lined the country roads in Illinois.
Great banks of red-orange blossoms, green stems,
And pale pink tubes waiting to splay open --
Our courting flower, this remembered joy.
I drove those roads to see you most weekends
In the battered Mustang I had back then.
Fifty miles of lily-lined road before
I reached the highway, with fifty miles more,
Until I kissed your lips and took your hands,
And walked with you on Lake Michigan sands.
Now the lilies open every July
In our back yard, and up and down the street.
They are one answer to our loving's "why."
Their scent is faint, but unearthily sweet.

Note: The spelling of "unearthily" is not
strictly speaking correct; I'm combining
"earthy" with "unearthly."

Ars Poetica, Sonnet #300

For Michael Antman

Here is one way others might have put it --
Others, each most certainly a poet:
"A poem is not voice, not It, not words.
A visage stuck on a tree trunk with eyes
That see a face in every disguise,
A barking, one more ring of the absurd."
This face of wood had a blank beginning,
But I see him in the middle of things,
Resigned, but not unconscious of his state.
The light in his dark eyes says, "I am here,
I and no other, and I've seen my fate,
So I have something to say, come nearer."
MacLeish: "A poem should not mean, but be."
No, a poem should be a beam of me.

Note: The Ars Poetica, or poem about The Art of Poetry has a long
tradition going back to Horace. The most famous 20th century
Ars Poetica is by Archibald MacLeish. It's a lovely poem in many ways,
but I've always hated the concluding couplet. I wonder how many 
bad poems have been written and published because of those two lines. 
A well-known critic recently said, by way of advice to poets, "What you
have to say is rubbish. It's how you say it that matters." Rubbish. How 
you say it is important, but if you have nothing to say, or nothing worth 
saying, or what you say is rubbish, then what's the point?

Mr. Burl, Sonnet #292

I call him, comically, Mr. Burl,
A cancerous growth on an ancient oak,
And though he's funny to my little girl,
He is an alien evil. No joke.
For millennia the trees have captured
Invaders and frozen them in bark
And cambium, (their faces enraptured
Or agonized), inescapable arks
For all creatures from the limitless dark.
Sometimes an arm or ear is all that's left,
Arrested by constricting branches' cleft.
The oldest trees are often body casts
Of whole monsters, stifling their vicious blasts --
Our sentinels while the invasion lasts.

Clouds in Late Fall, Sonnet #276

I have never seen anything in clouds
But a mirror of my unruly mind.
Up there, my interior is being signed
By the gestures of blind and deaf-mute crowds.
There is nothing I do not recognize,
Yet can't name, or vaguely realize,
Because the mind is only a disguise.
I'm not a thought or feeling. I am eyes.
So why did I choose these raked clouds, the skies
Beyond visible, irises blind and blue?
Where I stood the too-close cars rushed past.
The camera trembled, a cold wind blew.
I couldn't find what I'd stopped for -- the view
Had changed -- so I took what was left and last.

Oak in Snow Shower, Sonnet #274

The oak won't grow straight or narrow.
Its parsing of three dimensions
Is like an exploded arrow
Or skeins of galaxial suns.
Time is the drifting down of snow.
Some men cut down a dead willow.
For the first time I can now see
The oak out of my front window.
It beckons to the breath in me.
I once compared bare trees to screams.
A stupid metaphor. "Spacetime,"
Too, renames what is with what seems.
Look closely. The oak's branches rhyme
With all we are, as we sublime.

Moon Jelly, Sonnet #249

The moons of Earth and Jupiter
Move in space pierced by meteor,
Comet, radiation, asteroid.
All dead things exist in a void
Full of other dead things that fly
Day by day at infinity.
One cannot love the moon jelly.
They're as empty as the word "why."
Instead, we fill them with ideas,
Those bits of us we understand,
That drift along in conscious seas,
Never once in sight of land.
They vanish and then reappear,
Vestiges of another sphere.

The Black Tree, Sonnet #247

I saw the black tree from a gravel road.
I could not help stopping to stare.
I saw clearly, believed it was not there.
It hid, a mystery, all code.
Were its branches burned, kindled by lightning,
Or blighted by some insect borer,
Choked of light by foliage tightening,
Or stripped bare by some unknown horror?
I opened the window hoping to hear
Loud birdsong, joyous, unconcerned.
The silence fumed like gases slowly burned.
How could a dead tree evoke fear?
I took this photo, quickly drove away.
I will climb down from it someday.

Wildfire Sunset, Sonnet #254

In Canada, wildfires have burned
For weeks, staining the sun with ash.
The drear boatman Charon has earned,
Demanding the obulus, cash
Payment for transport of the dead.
What can I buy with suns so red,
Molten gold poured into a mold
Of sky, minted without a date,
Because sun and I are too old
To have value at a fair rate?
The fires to the north are a hell
Of sorts, but I will not go there.
I've pocketed the sun, our share
Of the day, which none ever sell.

The Wave, Sonnet #253

I dove and dove into the next crest;
Then, dizzy, with my spine wrenched, I floated,
Face down, standing when sand brushed my chest.
Each wave yearns, its will pure and devoted
To reaching the afterlife of the shore.
As it thins to wash, there is nothing more.
I've thrashed and pummeled the waves, throwing
Myself, breast and head first, for an hour,
Unthinking with laughter, gulps of knowing,
Loosing myself into the wave's power.
I know, not every one dies on the beach.
Those farthest out tip high and flatten out.
I swim well, but they're beyond my reach.
New waves will rise and peak beyond doubt.

Gibbous Moon at Sunrise, Sonnet #226

Change speeds. No scales, no balances remain even;
They tip, totter, weighing innumerable me's.
A morning so cold I wonder if pupils freeze.
The waning moon runs from the invisible sun.
A bare tree passes on its light from limb to limb,
Chipping away the orb's disintegrating rim.
I stop to take this picture (though I'm late for work)
Of a moment when, through clutter of trees and murk,
The exhausted, retiring moon beckons and winks,
Before, like reversed syntax, into earth it sinks.
Two days later, at precisely the same hour,
I returned -- the sky empty, the air ancient cold.
You must, I thought, do everything in your power
To stop the need to see clearly from growing old.

The Eye of Light, Sonnet #184

The eye of light is a spectrum of irises
With two dilated pupils, like binary stars,
Slightly blind, in need of Man's eyeglasses,
Its cornea a matting of translucent scars.
Light is a god, as consciousness is a god,
Illuminations we require to survive,
And each is useless, like a cracked divining rod,
Without the bird in flight or a bee-boiling hive.
The eye-beam that threw a rainbow on my ceiling
The sun sent minutes ago to find a prism,
Like the brain turns sensation into feeling,
Near purity, a benign astigmatism.
A man is godly then, in part, without being
A god, though he can often go blind with seeing.

Crystal Pyramid, Sonnet #154

A crystal pyramid, faceted creation
Of pressure, heat and imagination,
Frozen purity, a trap for light with five sides,
Where reflection upon infinity resides.
In total darkness it sleeps in oblivion,
But a single candle ignites a refraction,
Carving light into color in serrated planes,
Only as rigid as the stillness of the flame.
But a camera flash, like a blast of insight,
Will bury color at its heart and leave a blight
Of vacant lines as each facet locks to the next,
Like pages in a closed book obliterate text.
Let the sun burst it red, orange, yellow and blue,
Then open your eyes, take your time, and think things through.

Broken Oak, Sonnet #120


Am I what I think more than what I see?
An obvious thought and pernicious truth,
It seems; thus, we have made a mess of things.
A broken tree is just a shattered knee.
The logic of zealots, rampaging youth --
The loner's automatic weapon sings.
The smaller trees surround the fallen trunk
Like children appalled by their father drunk.
We teach them to love our wide-eyed blindness,
To rationalize even one's kindness.
The painter's tree is no truer than mine.
We see the same, sad ending of a life.
But all of his splintering is a sign
Of unnatural and murderous strife.


If a tree falls in the forest....the old saw goes.
That cliche has become the source of all we know --
The answer being the answer is no answer.
Our consciousness is a kind of benign cancer,
Creating forests by invading their silence;
By dying we wreak universal violence.
Consider the wreckage where each tree broke apart,
The sundering of sinew, the breakage of bone,
The surrendering of structure to mere air, blown,
By what, all in the creation of works of art.
To see, to think, to know, to make, and then unmake.
To discover, to climb and fall, and then to break.
The happiest man revels in uncertainty.
We are the tree-makers or we are the tree.

The Kraken Tree, Sonnet #168 

My daughters called it the Kraken Tree
And said it had dived from deep space
To make a new home of rich earth
Being fed up with the bottom of the sea.
Its tentacles, both thick and frail as lace,
Were thrust aloft by its mantle's girth.
They claimed it snapped at voles and moles
With its beak and had plenty to see
Peering into burrowing animals' holes.
In summer the beast is covered in leaves
And becomes a home to nesting birds.
I ask if either daughter still believes
In the Kraken. "Dad! It's not just words!"

So, I find the Kraken Tree on my daily walk.
Sometimes the naked trees around it look like shrieks;
In frigid cold the rubbing of the branches creaks.
A rookery at dusk, here a hundred crows squawk.
The tree stands next to a frozen river that floods.
When it recedes it leaves shelf ice around the trunk.
It's March and the tentacles begin to grow buds.
Suckers sprout just above where the squid's eyes are sunk
Into grassy, leaf-scattered dirt, blinking and blind.
The swaying of its appendages stirs the breeze,
Playfully: the sea creature has some game in mind.
He'd have me believe he's just one of many trees.
I walk on, unconvinced, for I have touched his skin,
His living bark, and sensed the consciousness within.

Elemental, Sonnets #161 and #162

There's an idea (fake as this pyrite ball is gold),
That these shapes possess some elemental structure --
"A pyramid breaks into triangles and square."
My New Math teacher once, patiently, told
Us a plane held infinite points. I wasn't so sure.
I asked, if I take a sharp pencil to paper
And make a million dots the paper won't turn black?
It's a concept, he answered angrily, not fact!
Cube, sphere, prism, octahedron, and elliptic
Palm stone -- some machine cut, some grown, some nature-made --
Arranged on my highboy, formulate a cryptic
Code of concepts curiosity can't evade,
Though we examine them without penetration.
Their rigid simplicity mocks contemplation.

Simple. Elemental. Basic. Fast. Essential.
Are these the bricks and mortar of the universe
Or the toys and pastimes of a collective mind?
It's true, some find them holy and reverential,
Expressions infinitely eloquent, yet terse,
Or like paintings, not quite finished, though signed.
Do lines along two axes meet only to end
Or pass on into a negative world designed
To balance everything, or do all lines there bend
And nothing here is ever perfectly aligned?
The mind, like gravity, tends to make things rounded.
Ideas are circuitous; words circle, spiral.
Convictions are light trapped in a mirror-lined ball,
But no line stops a line; no thought is unbounded.

Harvest in the Black Hills, Sonnet #102

I've wondered how they kept the blades that sharp
For such cutting when they struggled with scythes.
Hay is tough, dullness only plucked it like a harp;
Why some men left the harvest to their wives.
Today, machines can cut and bale a field
Within hours, but can't increase the yield.
The flung bales crush the serried rows
Of severed stalks, but scattered straws
Defy the yield like impudent scofflaws,
Yet to be turned under by the plow.
We keep our distance, merciful and shy,
And dare not bend a stalk with shoe or eye.

In memory of Lucien Stryk, poet, teacher, and friend.

Natural Sculpture, Sonnet #82

The sphere predominates the Milky Way,
As gravity shapes the interstellar clay.
But on the earth it's relatively rare:
Birds' eye, the water droplet in mid air,
Eggs, scat, and pebbles on the beach,
All oblate; less so the orange and the peach.
But what to make of these sculpted stones?
Sentiently, Noguchi could have carved each one.
I found them, years apart, on the Michigan shore.
In summer I waste hours looking for more.
What two hands with a few tools could create,
Took wind, fire, earth, and water to generate.

 The Whiteblood Vine, Sonnet #26

By this cinder track, a whiteblood vine
Entangles a towering sycamore
In mockery of human error.
The parasite winds the tree’s spine,
Cleaving to rigidity it lacks,
Like a mind, faithful to facts.
From rooted stem, slim tendrils twine
Up and around every limb,
Grip a higher twig and climb—
Twig to limb, then twig, in stair-step line.
The creeper spreads its mesh;
Greenery sags, desiccated flesh.
The vine and sycamore combine
To create what they undermine.

1 comment:

Frank of Woodridge said...

I really like the Harvest in the Black Hills!