What is Rain?

Poetry as a way of thinking.

In college I took a poetry seminar, not because I had any interest in poetry, but because I thought it would be easy. (Not that it’s important, but I was right. There was no homework. We didn’t even have to write poetry.) The professor’s name was Ryan Tucker. He was an adjunct, I think, and couldn’t have been much older than I am now. Often he’d begin class with a video or a song, sometimes to illustrate a point, but also because he apparently thought learning should be fun, a virtue I would appreciate long before I came to recognize it.

What I liked so much about Ryan was that he taught poetry not as a craft or an art but as a way of thinking. He’d ask us questions like, What is a car? And we’d answer something like, A car is a vehicle. And he’d say, Yes, but what else is a car? And we’d say, A car is a mode of transportation.

Yes, but what else is a car?

A car is an expensive necessity.

Yes, but what else?

Eventually we’d give up. Then Ryan would come out with something like, A car is a chair with four wheels.


It was like he was a magician, and had just performed the most wonderful trick.

We’d go home and come back the next week hungry for more. We’d listen to Ryan’s song, or watch his video, and await the question. And then it would come: What is rain?

Every object, every concept, comprises layers of somethingness. A car is a mode of transportation, but it is also an expensive necessity, but it is also a chair strapped to four wheels and an engine. Ryan was teaching us to peel back the layers.

Whenever I’m thinking about something, I’m really trying to answer the question, What is rain?

Rain is water that falls from the sky.

Yes, but what else?

Qs & As

Q: What is a circle?
A: A circle is every point that is equally far from another point.

Q: What is writing?
A: Writing is thinking on paper.

Q: What is a person?
A: A person is a story that tells itself.

Mining and Refining: The Two Modes of Writing

You're either digging for coal, or pressing it into diamonds.

There are two modes of writing: mining and refining. You’re either digging for coal, or pressing it into diamonds.

When you mine, you search for raw material. That might look like brainstorming, it might look like research, it might look like eavesdropping. It might look like nothing. You’re watching a movie and it sparks a notion, you write it down.

That last example is a little different from the others. It feels passive. You weren’t looking for the idea; it came to you. But you had to notice the idea, and you had to write it down, and that requires diligence. So mining is never passive. Just sometimes it runs in the background.

When you refine, you take your raw material and shape it into a story, an essay, an article, etc. In film editing, you collect hours of footage, then stitch them together in the cutting room. The writing process is the same. You collect reams of notes, ideas, and disparate scenes, then piece them together in the word processor.

Refining might look like reordering chapters or scenes, it might look like reordering beats or rewriting a sentence. The process is the same at every level.

As you write, you switch between modes. You mine some ideas, start in on refining them. As you do that, your brain’s still mining, so more ideas come to you, and you catch them as they fall. That’s spontaneity, and writing is spontaneity codified.

The Gift God Left

It's up to us.

And now
taken by the urge
I will create.
I will create ruthlessly.
I will call forth from the depths of imagination
a world
and creatures big and small to populate it.
I will force the breath of life
down the throats of peaceful sleepers
who did not ask to be woken.
Their heads will turn at my Word.
Their mouths will open at my behest
and they will proclaim my supremacy.
They will call me Lord and King and Creator
and spread their arms like wings
and try
and fail
to embrace the totality of me.
In their futility
they will prostrate themselves before me
and weep.

I will love my creations
my people.
When they are obedient
I will grant them Good Fortune
and make miracles happen.
When they are starving
I will make manna rain from the sky.
When they are thirsty
I will make water spring from solid rock.
Some of them will see my works and rejoice.
Some of them will ask
Why did you allow us to starve in the first place?
Why did you allow us to thirst?
They will be right to ask
and I will punish them accordingly.

I will love and hate my creations
as they will hate and love me.
I will make them good
and then tempt them to evil.
When they fall for temptation
I will take punitive measures against them.
I will expect more from them than they can give.
I will not forgive them for being imperfect.
When they err
I will beat them down with thunder and famine.
The earth will open beneath their feet
the waves will savage their seawalls
the tempest will rage against the levees of their souls.

Some spirits will be broken.
In their brokenness
though it will be of little comfort to them
they will serve a noble purpose:
to convey one Truth of life.
Other spirits
rain-battered and seared by rage
will harden into a bulwark against my love.
Their resolve will calcify as hate.
Many of these will claim that they no longer believe in me
and to that I will say
Who is it then that you are hating?
In their confoundment and loathing
they will reveal another Truth.

In the face of the devastation I send against them
my people will come to depend on one another.
They will shake hands
and help each other to their feet.
A man will brush the dirt from his neighbor’s shoulder.
A woman will tend to her neighbor’s wounds.
A child will offer his friend the last slice of cake
and he will do so not because he thinks he has to
but because he understands
without understanding
that kindness is just the way we do things around here.

And just when it looks like my creations
might be figuring some things out
I will abandon them.
I will not mean to.
It will just happen.
I will have other things to do
other people and worlds to create.
I will leave
though I will not have gone anywhere.
I will be here
where I have always been:
inside my head.

Though they will look for me
my creations will not be able to see me.
They will call my name in the darkness.
Some will do it loudly
others from the deep
desperate quietness of their hearts.
I will answer none
if I hear them at all.

But I am not heartless.
Before I go
I will leave my people with a gift:
the hope that I will return.
It will sustain them for many seasons
my gift
but in time
hope too will fade.

Then it will be up to them.

The First

A different theory of strings.

In the beginning, it wasn’t, and then it was, and it has been ever since. It is, was, and will be, the First.

The First knows some things. It knows, for instance, that there is no here or there. Rather, the nature of there is to not be here. And there, here is there, and there is here. The First also knows that there is no such thing as chance. All things that could be, are. It knows that a question is its own answer.

The First floats where there are no streams. It is ushered along by currents of a different kind, with which it does not have the will nor the wherewithal nor the desire to contend. Here, direction exists all at once, its countless facets having yet to diverge. This is the place between places, between cause and effect, between a moment and the moment before a moment, where potential rides the endless ripples of inertia forever, until it is reached.

As it drifts, the First grasps errant cords of spacetime and pulls them taut. One strand at a time, the fabric of reality tightens into structure. The First grips these strings the way a child grips those of a balloon, and no less than the child does the First want them to slip away. So it opens a space in itself and draws the strings across it. With a needle found in a dream, the First sews the ends of the strings to the edges of the opening. Then the First plucks the strings, and one shiver, one ripple, one falling domino at a time, reality creates itself.

The First does not know where the strings it holds end. It cannot follow them, or they would go slack, and things would fall apart. You may assume, and reasonably so, that the First is at—or is itself—the center of the universe. You would be right, in a way. Everywhere in the universe is the center of the universe. Everywhere in the universe is a knot of strings being plucked.

If you listen carefully, you can feel the very same vibrations in the molecules that comprise your kitchen table, or the glass of water that sits on it; going forth, going back, going up, coming down. If you close your eyes in the quiet dark, you will feel them inside yourself; in the buzzing between your ears, and in the sort-of hum that tells you where your legs are even when you aren’t moving them.

These are the undulations of life. As you listen, you will realize you are not so unlike them. You push forth and are pulled back, you climb up and you fall down, over and over again, for your entire life, until you return to the earth, which, of course, you never really left.


This story originally appeared in The Collidescope.

Tales and Canards


Some reproving tongues wag
about tales and canards
only to return to their parlors
and bedrooms
and other shrouded places
and lap up the scuttlebutt
like so much sweet ambrosia.


I don’t write poetry much, but I do enjoy cadence, and if I ever did become a poet, that would be why. This poem came out of a horror novel I started last year. I abandoned the novel but kept the poem. I thought it captured some of the spookiness I was going for in the original story.

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