Robert R Ward grew up in the North Santiam valley foothill country east of Salem, Oregon. Hard-scrabble years, followed by a hitch in the US Army. In 1966 he moved to Seattle, Washington. Except for an educational hiatus from 1983-86, he has been employed in various aspects of Bio-Medical research since then. In 1985 he received a Masters degree in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Washington; the senior Professor on his thesis committee wrote of his thesis: "There may be an active intelligence operating here, but…" With his English degree and an inquiring mind, he found employment with the Sleep Research Group, part of the University of Washington’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, where he continues to work.



Who Defines the Limits of Abstraction?      A Great Circle Does Not Define the Intersection of Two Spheres        Every Good Ending Contains Another Beginning        An Atlas Is A Collection of Maps        Some Memories Lie Beyond the Edge of Any Map        Definition Is More Than Drawing In the Edges        Every Action Implies a Similar If Opposite Reaction        Coordinate Systems        Current Theories Remain an Inadequate Explanation of the Data        Complex Magnitudes Are Relative To the Distance of the Observer        Principia Mathematica        Surprise! Once Again White Rabbits Have Invaded Your Dreams   






Vertical iron bars and horizontal straps

interlock, form a grid, rectangular


and intractable. This quadrilateral surface

intersects another at right angles, two

planes defining a space, a coordinate


system within which, with proper

indexing, every point could be precisely


located. The tiger pacing behind those bars,

whose feet, the size of saucers, silently

measure, step by step, a universe


almost too small to be mensurable,

yes, the silent tiger, has identified


all the points within the empty solid

of his space and waits. He knows,


this memorable tiger, in the deep truth

of his heart, that dense trees still


drape limbs over dusty trails leading

down toward water, sweet and cool


in the late afternoon. Were he to rest

his supple bulk on such a limb,


a thirsty roebuck, unwary in the mild

light might stray beneath.


Slowly the tiger's eyes close, slowly

open. The man standing before the cage,


watching, blinks. His wary smile is wry

as he remembers: once, on an October


afternoon twenty-five years before, high

up the headwaters of Ollalie Creek,


he had met a mountain lion, a cougar,

eye to eye, without intervening









Together, each night, we go to bed,

ships adrift on sleep's intangible


ocean; a tiny convoy crossing territory

unmapped, unknown. Moving west,


always west, following the sun

toward a distant sea, a wagon crosses


a sea of grasses, a milk cow tethered

to the tail gate, a brass bell tolling


every fourth step. Or, earlier, smaller

wagons moving west toward a smaller sea;


bright wagons, these, and the dark, dark-

eyed men who drive them dangerous,


the knives at their belts having drawn

many souls. These men know steel, learned


when their fathers' fathers' fathers walked

in the deep valleys beneath the Himalayas,


when wives learned the Threefold Way:

illusion, number, and truth. Their knowing


might be shells from a long dry sea,

dug from a mountain top: still they whisper


of ancient winds stirring banners,

the bright brassy hue of battle. And so,


to Damascus and beyond, until the great

Western sea, whose most western shore


is the east of all easts, is reached

and the great circle comes closed. And every


night we now sail outward, pushing

toward territory that might give landfall,


memories of brass and steel our compass rose.









Across the incalculable desert, whose high

vacant wastes drink up the unwary,


a caravan moves carefully; horses,

camels laden with evident goods, take


one steady step after another. Brass bells

laced to their harness make small music,


harmonize with the heated winds;

to the south and east, great peaks


support the sky, their jagged fingers

ripping scant clouds to shreds. Silent


men, robed and dark, ride the horses,

watch the unfolding terrain with eyes


that cut through every pretense. They

carry weapons worn with use; the birds


that circle high above their steady progress

have sharp eyes too. Day after day


they ride in silence; their journey long

and tempers short, death already too likely,


they avoid everything but the obvious.

This circumspection proceeds from common


sense: the sword is a powerful

argument for civility. At night, in safe


camp, they drink bitter coffee,

talk of the stars, the sea; sometimes


travelers share tales, information;

imagination will father other caravans,


press out toward continents rumored

and rich. These men value many


currencies, not all carried in a jewelled

purse and they have memorized many


maps. When, at journey's end, in the towns

and bazaars, they trade their goods, they then


walk amidst tables of goods, pyramids

of oranges and lemons, silk in brilliant


bolts, brighter than the rare birds, whose

stellar songs ring above the shrieks of vendors,


amidst the fruits of their labors, their eyes

seeing everything. They return home


thus, lay their swords within reach

and sit with their children, sleep in the dark


glowing eyes of beautiful wives. Water falls

through a fountain, a breeze stirs; time


and they hold themselves, for a moment, still.

But the desert air never rests, nor imagination:


the last journey, the last map will never be made.








Dark streets form a grid

where anything can happen; splintery


neon shows up broken faces, shattered

illusion; quick movements there startle.


Predators prowl alleys, canyons, even

shallow channels, illusionfish


swim alone, even at night. When highways

probe into the foothills, pass through


the abrupt mountains, their rising turns

are carefully calculated. Raw stone weathers


slowly, its sharp edges always a reminder.

Stretching and stretching, roads reach out,


find one place or another, beads along

a string, then end in the oddest places. Almost


all these roads lead away from home, but

a mindful traveler can make his way


back. Bearing enough burden, a pilgrim

carries no more than he needs; he sees


the hawk, the sparrow, and in the tender

fields, the flocks of sheep that slowly graze


before their trip to market. How often the noisy

bazaar riots with color; spices cling to heated


air, dance above grills. Just come in from

a far country, a man in white thinks


of his mother's kitchen, the place that is home.









The world lies at one end,

or the other, of the road that passes


your doorstep. High mountains, strata

buckled upward like paper crumpled


in angry fists, wait out there; forests

replete with stunning birds whose feathers


would ornament the true love of your heart,

match her eyes' silken green, the red


pulse of her blood. Still, you take awkward

notes, pretend that your atlas has been


stolen, or mislain. Not fear exactly,

of course not, and anyway, the atlas,


its mere existence, proves that all

the necessary roads are known, destinations


all too commonplace. Perhaps this is true.

On the other hand, when spring first


comes fair, and tulips make their spear-

headed assault on the sun, the running air


often carries a hint of spice you

do not recognize, smoke from a wood

not found in the neighborhood lumber

yard. The lawn needs mowing; the car

could be washed, but, you have even dreamed

of a spring in the foothills to the east,

a spring that wells up through broken stone, spills

down a mossy rock face, whose bright water restores

memory. Perhaps you will remember having drunk

there before; if not, you will find the road there

still leads both back to, and away from, your door.









Empty, a desert void, the sea sweeps

away to a horizon as precise as the curve

of a microscope's lens, leaving the small


ship to follow. This ship, its sails straining

to hold the wind, has sailed so far

that it has fallen off the map, could be


near the end of the world. Sailors tanned

by wind, sun, time, walk carefully, listen

for roaring water, a nearing abyss.


They have sailed beyond every known

territory, beyond imagination, fear; this

vast openness has become the shape


of everything, the stuff that forms dream.

Only their hearts hold true declination,

wife and daughter, lover, become the rose


their compass traces and so they go

on, following a heading that may lead

some place, and will, they hope, finally


bring them home. The sun rises and sets,

but their food supply is the only clock

they need, landfall or starvation,


sunrise or sunset. And when the horizon

cracks apart, reveals an island, or some

unknown continent, they will smile, rest


their hands on one another's shoulder

momentarily. Then they will think of home:

fire on a hearth, and winter barred beyond


a door; a daughter or wife, the dark-

haired barmaid at The Three Bells, a

tankard of October ale, and so


thinking, they will reprovision, fill the water

casks, prepare to sail again, eventually to

home, back onto the map, bringing


with them charted waters, found land;

this way blank spaces are mapped, voids filled.









Engaged by mathematics' clear

and supple constructions, the mind


turns inward, follows a logic's linear

reach, a road which never diverges.


In this the moon almost agrees; ever

circular, her center follows a path no ant


could trace, an arc flying across

the night, never-ending. No mean


feat, the moon's memorable returning

month by month, one shape recalling


another. Or the sun. As a small boy might

swing a blue-green ball on a string, the Sun


holds each planet's tether in its wide

turning, round and round, filling


the long void, steady as light's sweet

sweep through space. The whole of it


can be held, night and day repeating

and the turning years gathered,


as a thought, one thing containing the other,

or given as a smile, a flower, any


gift whose giving is not calculated.









Forever parallel, even in the sharpest

switchbacks, steel rails reach for a vanishing


point, abstract as a study in perspective.

The woman on the platform is abstracted,


her wide-brimmed hat invites the wind

to play; its slim band is the same cool blue


as her dress, coordinates well with her smart

jacket. She waits, listensWhistles


echo through the covered station; trains

select tracks, then move toward destinations.


The woman has selected a destination; her

ticket is in her hand; thereon a name


which she quietly recites to herself, calling

forth images of falling water, trees that sedately


comb the air for arrant shadows, and peace. Parallel

tracks stretch from where she now stands to the place


she intends to visit; this can be diagrammed,

made into a map. What cannot be mapped:


her destination will be her vanishing point;

the tracks come and go; she will remain, and go


on into an infinite distance, so far from this

place, that, finally, her perspective will extend


beyond parallels, encompass meeting points.







Even the densest atoms hold little

more than nothing at their core;


those tightly bound nuclear particles,

definitive hadrons, exist only as intersections,


extra-dimensional knots in an unfolding

process we perceive as space-time.


Planets are hardly better, all that

solidity an illusion, cool wisps


of a star that got the better of itself.

But think of that, the lovely redhead


whose wide hips exert an attraction that

could easily draw you into orbit


was once truly radiant, her light perhaps

the mark that alien mariners made


their course by in some finny past.

But for now, her smile is the brightest


beacon in your world. What does

it matter that four billion years


from now the sun will sweep every-

thing away with one cosmic wink?


The grass grows greenly, the sun merely

warm; her hand remains firmly in yours,


certain as the equation of matter and light.









Some maps are made only

for the mind: these territories are narrow


but very deep. In their complex existence

they appear as if both inside and outside, as


the strange spaces between atoms

and stars resemble one another; only


the curved path of light, the dense notation

of tensors link them, hold everything together.


When the geometer shaped the earth,

three dimensions framed river and mountain;


he found the day's round movement time

enough. Once numbers were unbound


they bred and bred: large, larger, small,

smaller until this multiplication overran


reason and territories outnumbered the possibility

of maps. But numbers never add up,


their sums fall short of sunrise,

the supple turning of a sunflower's heavy


head: numbers remain inside the mind,

cannot bridge the complex distance


that separates heartbreak and laughter.








How cleverly the hidden green grows

redder holding the summer close; full,


the fall looms, a gradual going when greens

have gone golden and beyond. The fall:


a sudden tilt into space, open,

dismaying. Distances, no longer planar,


become dizzying, dimensional; time compresses

into seconds, fractional and divisive,


when, once, the sun's slow arc

was distinctly fine. No bite can be unbitten;


fine white teeth will never forget the tart

juices' quick flow, nor the brain its


deft formulation, the thought that holds

the round rolling planets close, keeps


the tides' lunar balance. These are only two

coordinates, however, in a system complex enough


to hold both apples and Newton comfortably









The interior, numinal world entertains,

makes your dreams dance the quaint


arabesques of disinclination, dislocation;

you could not catch that white rabbit


if you tried. And as for the watch--

a ship's chronometer keeps perfect time;


the captain, or the first mate, one of the ship's

officers at any rate, shoots the sun


(not an act of hubris, but of sober and

calculated scientific rigor) with sextant


at precisely the right moment--oh! accurate

timepiece!--and everyone on board


knows, even in the hot dreamy dog day

doldrums, where he is at. Latitude then,


fixed as the movement of earth around sun,

inflexibly. Cruel chains. Galley slaves knew


a fixed orbit when they sat in one.

But the lions had it no easier, once


confronted with the idea of Christianity

(just think, all that masonry. those suitable


stones reaching upward, a babble of adoration)

they knew the veldt would never again be


enough. Taste. And time. Those ticks,

grains of sand trickling down a rabbit


hole, infinite, infinitesimal, so deep.

That's how it is with dreams: confused,


they ramble, climb all over the place

until the alarm goes off, and that first


cup of coffee sets everything right again.