Aliesa Zoecklein

Last Days

Again and again the sequins fly off, fall.
In the wheel of a half-dream, she says, the body longs for fuchsia—

bruised petals, crushed berries, this dress that shimmers even in shreds.
If she could sew herself inside the dress, if she could hold

herself at the horizon line of just that color—
the tremble, the tunnel, the mouth.

However beautiful, however homely, the day’s dress
she knows she must tear, scratch, claw until it becomes

something else entire—a heap of sequins,
stray flashes of light at the edges of the room.

Better to love a rent sleeve over there where hot stars
mark the body she remembers inside

that dress, a god-light telling her to repair the story—arrange
the photos, wordless, for another beginning is about to begin:

her sorrowful hair, her cheekbones sharp in a wing of moonlight,
her suitcase of dresses, packed and waiting by the door.

Overheard Answer to an Unheard Question

Well that depends on whether you’re asking
about the recent or the long ago past.
I would say strawberry with a hint of sour
on the pale side, not fully ripe.
Tiny seeds persisting in the mouth
but nothing to overwhelm the burst of berry.
Further back in time, only meat, frozen
thawed, frozen and strong like venison.
I ate because I had to eat
but I’m telling you I tasted only fear,
a startled on-the-run taste.
I learned to feast on the tender dread
of my imaginings. Some days there were bees
circling in a crown, or flies.
Ever since he died and I almost died but didn’t,
I nibble those sweet berries.
And I endure the hoof beats of grief
pounding a narrow path that permits only one.

Kidney-Shaped Swimming Pool

From above, a jewelscape of embedded glittering,
zones of affluence, confluence, a rivering wealth
that pools in places. Down here, birthmark, blunder,

curve of obfuscate, seduce. Creeping fig, coleus,
and the wet curve, again. This biomorphic slide,
so sensate, so secret I forget: the sealed edge

was opened once, a soil crypt, a mud hole, days
of torrent and repair. Before that, decades of chemical
weathering, accretions, intermittent leaching.

A crush-stone sub-base and then rebar, a tensile melt
of refrigerators and auto bodies. “Steel Bones,”
said the men bending the basket of the deep end.

All this for a curve that signals no threat, no threat.
Still, the slender message of amplitude, of woven light
swivels a liquid lapse of better judgment, what every

watery child in us fails to understand: spall, improper
set-up of the slope line, the microscopic split that begins
and begins and begins. Beyond every convincing curve,

there’s a gate-latch moment when the stranger arrives.
Study the shape again. The pool swells with itself as if alive,
the deep end stretches from shallow, a cell preparing to divide.

Aliesa Zoecklein won the 2014 Peter Meinke Award for her chapbook At Each Moment, Air. Her poems have appeared in Pleiades, Water-stone Review, Peacock Journal, Cimarron Review, and The Lake among others. Aliesa lives with her wife in Gainesville, Florida where she teaches writing at Santa Fe College.

Devon Wootten

Five Poems from Gimme the Pretty

This is sufficient.

See also, perhaps—
see also,
the names of certain rivers.

Possible cognates.
A somewhat similar form.

Reader, it has been suggested.

*

Reader, mark this diffident tone — is and has.
Is and has and what thoughts I’d’ve…

Reader—
a slip.

*

Would that you were & would that you had—

This is the barest of commitments.

Reader, let us suppose
(You’re underwhelmed—I get it.)

a truly epic volta.

*

So this is where we find ourselves.
Suggestive metaphor.
Slow retrograde.

I’ll tell you what. I can manage throve.
I can manage probable.
Iamb.
Purgative.

 

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In the same sense, a reduction,

the first

a long lone (I meant) a long line
unattested,

elemental — what’s not sensical,

i.e., a parent, predicative—
keep, stay, etc.,

except when noted,

any stretch of water

of sufficient depth.

Not sinking, not aground.

*

Reader, make fast what calms and fogs oblige.

& if ever,—
if ever a body’s

unseeming
whelves what makes you whole — reader,

we are almost only literal.

Almost,
& in every way unsound.

Thou kyndlest, &
thou setst a flame.

Reader, we are borne unto & brim-full —
havened in what likens
& in what we cast aside.

 

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Reader, I’d’ve left this undone, gainsaid.
What mis-occasions & what kins us whole.

*

Reader, I could not stay the sea —
the sky’s
belikened visage —
source and recompense.

*

Reader, I’d unalloy.
I’d belacken.

Reader, I’d although desire in you.

*

Reader, what is not to love.

Believe you me.

Some say a rite reversed leaves nothing
&
that wonders reft of wonder fail.
I say

what thisness does, undid, beguiles
& you —
you’s a binding,
o’erwrought.
Reader,

*

You know from tides. You know from wake & whence.

That one should be until & to such extent.
This trues, this lightens, this fills the sails.

 

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This respite
[Wait for it.]

I supposes.

*

Reader, you’ll’ve noticed then’s implicit.
From one, the other
& all’s gone pear-shaped.

Reader, what’ve you said that’s made me so?

*

A taking-stock—
cedarandearth

she said,
will this end up in a poem,

& she said,
I am rift.

*

Reader,
unsaying’s not a thing.

& when’s no less a becoming.

So
call it back.

Call now’s unending & what

ceaselessness betides
as unto you a song.

O, stark evermore.
She’s the distance.

She’s that what that belies & more—
Reader,

everything has at least one definition.
& is this supposed to comfort me?

 

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Reader,
let’s neither of us fuck this up

or,
let’s to the fullest extent—
either’s

in keeping.

Reader, either’s the white peaks

& uh,
what’s beyond compare—

*(<———— cowardice, duh.)

If nothing’s as readable as something,
then where’s the slip—
then where’s the loss.
Reader,
this is what you came for—
realer done right.

(finger the break /
what’s broke in twain)

What I could not say & the moment before—
goose-skein & what ends ever-leaming.

Reader,
every poem’s the first poem—an O cast whenward.

*

You can’t have it both ways—
what’s cast’s as good
as thrown & I—
I’s a knowing un-done.

Reader,
what’s order but the light in lightlessness.

Devon Wootten teaches at Whitman College. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in BAX 2018, Fence, LIT, Aufgabe, Colorado Review, Drunken Boat, Octopus, and RHINO, among others. A former resident of Yaddo and Anderson ranch, he is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Montana. Devon lives with his wife among the wheat fields of southeast Washington. He also curates bestamericanyouand wikipoesis.

Patty Seyburn

The Important Parts

Head, shoulders, knees, toes

The first mention in The Milwaukee Journal, July 18, 1961: troubadour-teacher Janet Novotny, who played an accompanying accordion (making it hard to breathe from the diaphragm), traveled from playground to playground.

There is a tavern in the town.

Phrenology studies the relationships between a person’s character and the skull’s morphology. Austrian physicist Franz Joseph Gall (1758 – 1828) was the father of the science. Aristotle thought the brain a secondary organ.

When the cop pulled me over, I cried on the shoulder of the road.

There is a ——- in the town.

We do not kneel in daily prayer. “Nor shall you install a kneeling-stone in your land, to bow down upon it” (Leviticus 26:1). Visiting Jimmy in Joliet, I kneeled when I went to Easter-mass. I ate lamb-cake. His grandmother muttered something in Polish that earned her a shushing. It did not bother me.

The most generous conjunction: she’s in love with me, and I feel fine.

There is a ——- in the ——.

When you ride a longboard, and the tail is in the wave, you can walk, side-stepping, out to the front, and put your toes on the edge. Do it slowly, or you’ll end up in the soup. Watch for men in grey suits.

I could not see the board, was diagnosed by Dr. Magder (of blessed memory) in his office, just over the Canadian border in Windsor. We took the Ambassador Bridge and sometimes, the tunnel, which threatened endlessness, each time.

——- is a ——- in the ——-.

Tommy, can you hear me? Can you feel me near you?

When a man looks at your mouth, either lean in or back away from the bar.

——- — a ——- in the ——-.

My favorite perfume blogger trumpets a brand called Herr Von Eden in slate-grey flacons, and their three new scents: Euterpe, “the pleasure giver”; Eros, the god of love, and Eclipse: absence.

Hasbro made a game called “Go to the head of the class,” which has entered the rheumy realm of nostalgia.

——- — a ——- — the ——-.

My brother dislocated his shoulder playing basketball in high school, making the socket an unreliable home.

My daughter tore her Medial Collateral Ligament, a band of tissue on the inside of the knee, connecting the thigh-bone to the bone of the lower leg.

——- — – ——– — the ——.

We are, in tissue and bone, broken and flawed.

The debate rages: whether eyes are soul-portals, or, infinite in extremity, toes.

——- — – ——– — — ——-.

Aspirational Animal Spirit

I am a fan of the great families
particularly the swan, Anatidae

(sub-family, Cyninae).
The mating for life, overblown—

one will take up with another
if one dies or if a “nesting failure”

occurs. The black swan particularly
mean, your fingers are appetizers

and a Ph.D. in gliding. Middle name:
surreptitious-stealthy. The rara avis

even has a theory: something about
anomaly. It never picked up steam

and when we pleasure-boated past
in a Colorado pond, I straightened up,

elongating my neck, mimesis overload,
though there is a swan-neck deformity

of the finger I may soon suffer
that will cause me to beckon you

(eternally).

Patty Seyburn has published four books of poems: Perfecta (What Books Press, 2014), Hilarity (New Issues Press, 2009), Mechanical Cluster (Ohio State University Press, 2002) and Diasporadic (Helicon Nine Editions, 1998). She won a Pushcart Prize for her poem, “The Case for Free Will,” published in Arroyo Literary Journal. She is a Professor at California State University, Long Beach. She grew up in Detroit.

Robert Okaji

At Work I Stand Observing My Diminished Self

1 (reflection)

Six iterations, alike but lessened in sequence, and always in pairs:
front and back, oblique, the two mirrors becoming four, then six.

A perfect mirror reflects and neither transmits nor absorbs light.

Tilting my chin, I accept reflectance according to its distribution.

Retina as transducer, producing neural impulses.

The images consume no space but the effect is of distance.

Vision is not simply the retina’s translation
but counts inference and assumption among its influences.

The sum and product of its parts: 1 + 2 + 3, or, 1 x 2 x 3.

Angles achieve distinctions apparent at each adjustment.

Turning slightly, I detect movement in each replica.

A six-door cubic cage depicting the bondage of sense and elements.

It is possible to withdraw from this frame.

2 (answers)

Does the weaker eye perceive less.
Who conceals the shadow’s death.
Is a distal truth a lie or merely implication.
How do you rid the mirror of its ghosts.
What resonates in the echo’s decline.
Did the light switch subvert the blackened image.
Apparition, projection or visual representation.
When do waves not disturb.
At what point does belief transmute sight.
What fixes the mirror’s image.
Who closed his eyes and saw light.

3 (prosopagnosia)

I sip coffee and gaze out the second-floor window.

More light enters my neighbor’s office than mine.

Calculate the difference between illumination and glare.

Looking ahead, I claim no face and recognize no one.

The eye converts a signal from one form of energy to another.

Accepting light from external objects, I perceive reflection as the true arbiter.

The dissected path impairs transduction.

Face as identifier: to make, to do.

Translation: imperfection: diminishment.

Blink.

Pleasure in Absence of Ending (Ensō)

Thoughtful, proposing not end, but process.

In this noon’s grayness I disclose my need.

Which is a lotus floating in your pond, a clutch of zeros
blooming in moonlight. Last night’s missing sleep.

An ending, by definition, concludes.

But what occurs in a circle’s body, or infinity’s border?

Imprecision acknowledged, I sip wine and gauge distance.

Take comfort in the disorderly.

Starting at the top, the brush moves down and right,
clockwise, then rising in opposition, halts.

Drifting, incomplete, I step back.

Some leave a gap; others do not.

That Number upon Which the Demand Lieth

Overcoming duality, yet binding: the trinity.
Beyond the contrast of two, it initiates the concept of many.
Albertus Magnus claimed that three lives in all things.

Becoming; being;
disappearing.

In Old Saxon, the month of May is named trimilki, season of three milkings.
Number as quality depends upon the visual field.
The ancient Egyptian sign for the plural requires three strokes.

Points; lines;
angles.

Lao-tzu said the triad produces all.
Acronyms, sports, and traffic lights reflect our ternary culture.
The devil may appear in the form of a three-legged hare.

Witness; testament;
tribute.

Representing the unknowable: I, you, and the beyond.
The figure of completion, the number of the cube.
A Sumerian number sequence began “man, woman, many.”

Curse; liturgy;
blessing.

The scale as a succession of thirds.
Imperfection implies the concealment of perfection.
Shiva’s number, his eyes, his braids, his place.

Root; third;
fifth.

The triangle in Euclidean space.
I walk the three roads to the commonplace, preferring rhetoric.
Three to through, it penetrates the personal, unhinges that door.

The law; the land;
the world to come.

Robert Okaji is a half-Japanese poet living in Texas with his wife, two dogs and some books. The author of several chapbooks, micro-chapbooks and a mini-digital chapbook, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Eclectica, Crannóg, The Lake, Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art, The Mantle, Wildness and elsewhere.

Stephen Paul Miller

Poem

          —after Frank O’Hara, “Poem [Lana Turner Has Collapsed!]”

Hillary Clinton has collapsed!
I’m half asleep in my car.
My air conditioner is on and
the radio says it is hot but
it’s not hot and
I’m in a hurry to
read on Fire Island and
and I’m late and
suddenly I hear
HILLARY CLINTON HAS COLLAPSED!
It is hot at ground zero
but not that hot
I’ve been tired
and nearly dozed off
but never passed out
oh Hillary Clinton you’re going to lose get up!

Stephen Paul Miller’s seven poetry books include Being with a Bullet (Talisman) and There’s Only One God and You’re Not It (Marsh Hawk Press). His scholarly works include The Seventies Now (Duke University Press). He’s a Professor of English at St. John’s University in New York City.

David Lehman

Poem in the Manner of “Poem” by Frank O’Hara

          —for Stephen Paul Miller, who wrote “Hillary Clinton has collapsed!”

It is 12:25 in New York a Monday
and when the street rises to meet me
the sun sneaks out between a
pair of clouds splitting like forlorn
lovers and I’m in a hurry for no
reason other than I’m a New
Yorker it’s my nature to walk fast
and besides I want to meet you
whoever you are that’s when
I pass a newsstand and pick up
the afternoon paper and get
on the subway where for
once in my life I get a seat and
read “I’m a Fun Person” by
Hillary Clinton which I doubt
she wrote but hope she will
forward to her friends with
the one-word comment: “Humorous”

David Lehman’s most recent books of poetry are Poems in the Manner Of (Simon & Schuster, 2017); New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013); Yeshiva Boys (Scribner, 2009), and When a Woman Loves a Man (Scribner, 2005). His critical works include A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Schocken, 2009) and The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (Doubleday, 1998). Lehman is the series editor of The Best American Poetry and teaches in the New School’s graduate writing program.

Cal Freeman

Trumpeter Pen, Mean Black Eye

—for Kevin Cantwell

You find a Paper Mate with a chewed
cap on a scarred classroom desk
and think of how in “Epistle”

Kevin Cantwell tells the story
of taking a drive through Peach County
with Larry Levis and discussing

the mystical properties of the ink pen—
how it knows the right from the left hand;
how the poem is in the pen &

the pen is the tongue of the hand…
Which gets you thinking
about these latest remediations,

how nobody would say that the poem
is in the touchscreen and the cursor
is the tongue of the hand. How if the pen

swan swimming in dirty river water
turns its obsidian mask toward you
and your dog on your walk tonight, it is

neither curse nor blessing. If the pen
is a trumpeter, the clogged-spit-
valve honk means something akin to,

“Don’t fuck with me.”
If you see yourself as you are
in an avian creature’s dark eye—

bent pale neck, slouching walk,
leashed terrier doing the work
of scent and sense beyond your scant

abilities, you with your crooked nose
and ever-ringing ears—
and see a swan’s mask in black ink

on vellum, you might call it poetry,
realizing the terrible affront and tacit
threat your presence constitutes

for every seen and unseen creature
in this poisoned watershed.
Then you might be tempted

as the thicket mutes before you
and the rookery of starlings lifts off
to call the eye the leashed dog

of the mind, the pen the throat
of the village reprobate, your words
the troubled footfalls of the cursor.

My Father’s Namesakes

I ask my father why
he named his cat Boccaccio.
An owl perches on a five-story

gantry crane, and the island
belches holographic fire.
He speaks of interference

and diffraction. My father
speaks of the river’s black,
the black river like a bowling

ball with scratches of halogen,
moon, and starlight, and not
a river, he argues,

but a dredged-out creek
that pours into a river.
A willow’s hair floats

atop the current. My father
says my bitterness is a hologram
without a reference beam.

I tell him it’s a wonder
anyone Downriver speaks
given how much is only

partly answered, how little
is confessed, and how few
have the agency to hear

confessions. Boccaccio
scratches out a canto
on an impervious pane

of glass. My father reads
the interference pattern and
paws his snowy head.

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I keep asking my father
if his cat Boccaccio is dead.
Even living cats have stone ears

that turn inward when they hunt.
The willow’s hair floats
atop the current, opaque,

brown water, I keep asking
my father if his cat Boccaccio
will paw at the water as it flows.

Refractions trouble deep
blanks in the riverbed.

I ask my father

why he named me for his father.
Boccaccio made the canto
out of dust and wind,

but it’s only an approximation
of our breaths. No one knows
what to measure or how;

a cat is its own prosodic lesson.
I ask my father
why he named me for his father.

It was an obvious name
for the scruffy little beast.

I ask my father why

he named me for his father.
Human it is to have compassion
on the unhappy,
he finally says.

Cal Freeman is the author of the book, Brother Of Leaving (Marick Press) and the pamphlet, Heard Among The Windbreak (Eyewear Publishing). His writing has appeared in many journals including New Orleans Review, Passages North, The Journal, Commonweal, Drunken Boat, and The Poetry Review. His second collection of poems, Fight Songs, is forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing in Fall, 2017. He currently lives in Dearborn, MI and teaches at Oakland University.

Robert Farrell

Meditation on the Body — After Anscombe

I’ve already forgotten what I said The people
you see here are not here are ghosts and they
are here and we are not A closed door is a door
I run against I made the door from wood and run
against it I run not until it opens for it’s closed
but until I open In the absence of a door a tree
will also serve I have forgotten what I said What
I said: the people you see here is here is body
and so we are here and too are bodies that want
to run against things and so need friction

Meditation on the Body — Against Information

There are barns and there are barns and around them
there are cows There is you and there is you against
information and your eyes see past information see
beyond measure even past the Walmart greeter All
that happens in nature is transitive regardless of what
occasions it The gods help mankind in every possible
way even when hiding even today and in horror The
same uncalled for things call us face to face with an
earth that loves rain with orange trees that love sun All
things hang together even lives that meet their natural
ends

Meditation on the Body — Stoic Advice

Listen be all things to all people whatever they need
and there is need for all things for all people whether
it’s the sound of water poured into glasses or the sound
of stakeholders falling together and listen to these and
other sounds laughing at pain to the same question being
asked but know it’s not the same question and you are not
the same that heard it know to hear with new ears is to
remember what and how to forget is to remember what and
how not to forget with every game of softball with every
picnic falling more deeply into place to wander happy and
mistaken

Meditation on the Body — After Hala Mohammad

Swallow I am in your spring a vehicle into
into a vehicle into the experience of a pleasure
as agreeable as the movement toward suffering
as the movement toward a woundability that
takes up residence in the lungs that oppresses
voice like the miracle of sea air I am a vehicle
even the gods want us to be happy

Notes

Meditation on the Body — After Anscombe

“It is important to me – speaking of closeness and distance – to recall here Kierkegaard’s stress on walking as the gait of finitude; and to note that for a similar cause walking is a great topic of Thoreau’s. Wittgenstein’s passage continues in German as follows: “Wir wollen gehen; dann brauchen wir die Reibung.” Professor Anscombe translates: ‘We want to walk; so we need friction.’ I would like to suggest that our wanting to walk is as conditional – I might almost say as questionable – as our need for friction: If we want to walk, or when we find we are unable to keep our feet, then we will see our need for friction.” Stanley Cavell, This New Yet Unapproachable America, p. 55

Meditation on the Body — Against Information

“The disagreements concerning friendship are not few. Some posit friendship as being a likeness of some sort and friends to be men who are alike; hence the sayings ‘like as like’, ‘birds of a feather flock together’, and other such. Others take the contrary position and say ‘two of a trade never agree’. Still others seek causes for these things which are higher and more physical, like Euripides, who says, ‘parched earth loves rain, and lofty heaven filled with rain loves to fall to earth’…” Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, Book 8, translated by Hippocrates G. Apostle.

“All things are woven together and all things are undone again; all things are mingled together and all things combine; and all things unite and all things separate; all things are moistened and all things are dried; and all things flourish and all things fade in the bowl of the altar. For each thing comes to pass with method and in fixed measure and by exact weighing of the four elements. The weaving together of things and the undoing of all things and the whole fabric of things cannot come to pass without method. The method is a natural one, preserving due order in its inhaling and its exhaling; it brings increase and it brings decrease. And to sum up: through the harmonies of separating and combining, and if nothing of the method be neglected, all things bring forth nature. For nature applied to nature transforms nature. Such is the order of natural law throughout the whole cosmos, and thus all things hang together.” Zosimos of Panopolis, On Excellence III.i.4, quoted in Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 13: Alchemical Studies.

Meditation on the Body — After Hala Mohammad

“Oh, Swallow / As you depart our spring / slow down. / In the wood / burner’s exhaust pipe / as the firewood came inside, / you forgot your echo.” from Hala Mohammad’s “The Swallow.” Available at Writing Without Paper Poets of Protest series

Robert Farrell lives and works in the Bronx, New York. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Brooklyn Review, NOON: journal of the short poem, REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies and elsewhere. His chapbook, Meditations on the Body, is forthcoming from Ghostbird Press. Originally from Houston, Texas, he’s a librarian at Lehman College, CUNY.

Lauren Camp

Someone Says the Black Things

Alarmed by the wonder
of guests never invited, I’m up late
with the crumple

and space of what a stranger said.
Leave me to it. The rant
in my inbox is many

fresh-fallen failures
masquerading as failures. How can I
thousand the deviance? Outside

a tempest, a second
or third cursive night in a row. Before
and after. If I weren’t bewildered

I would write an answer
to mirror my signature, but
I don’t any longer

want to tell my true things
with two fingers, to work the wind out
of its stiffness. Still, I’m spilling forth.

Nightmare

To escape into drooping is to flare the night shelled
on that cotton sheeting. The salty room ends

in the flange, and residue crams
with repeated days of thorn. In the middle hatch of hoarded hours, the scrapes

again! Now, again
with a sharp tang

in the tone of head
where I hold my sorrow. My avalanche

of blades, what widened graves.

As if to reduce the ear, the skin sapped
of its frenzy, he rubs my back in left-fanned circles, dangling small homes

with long boats on the handle
of this tarnished time. Despite hauling up

fatigue, I arrive to these proximities, the blank
and halved, taking what I’m owed.

God of the Clustered Night

Juniper berries are little prayers

or small ghosts

or blue sacks
that settle
like dust in our throats.

Under the house with no roof
people dance
in numb light.

Where bones chafe against dirt
others walk on fire
in circles of knowledge.

People crowd in with dissonant blankets
in the posture
of each other’s heartbeat.

Wind-churning sage
mixes with mercury
arsenic
rusted metal.

Desert clouds plump
then conjugate
all the pleasure for hours.

We avoid the cemetery
or go toward

its fragments of fossils
and wings strewn toward dark.

Let more coyotes walk us in—
guard the last disappointment.

Lauren Camp is the author of three books, including One Hundred Hungers, which won the Dorset Prize and honorable mention for the Arab American Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Slice, Boston Review, Third Coast, Diode, Nashville Review, Beloit Poetry Journal and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day. A Black Earth Institute Fellow, she lives and teaches in New Mexico.

Charles Borkhuis

Dark Side of the Room

there’s another room inside this one
an anti-room with anti-matter people
sleeping or screwing on anti-matter beds

every so often someone’s elbow or foot
breaks through an invisible wall
then slips back almost unnoticed

I glimpsed one of them once
staring at me bemused
like a reflection on a dark tv screen

some say the void is not empty
it’s populated by virtual particles
that pop in for a quick bite and run

perhaps you’re unaccustomed
to the world’s indifference or phantom lovers
who annihilate each other over dinner

au contraire it gives me a certain curious comfort
to realize that I’m inhabited by beings
about whom I know virtually nothing

Gummy Head

half-turned away
from the incessant buzz of factoids
those janus-faced insects
that swarm around the whirlpool
working their books of percentages

as if reality might be conjured
from an infinity of jumbled numbers
where sound waves cancel out signals
mistaken as trivia
faint glimmers in the trash
pockets of order in chaos
chaos in order projected indefinitely
at which magnification would you like to proceed

let us start with a fact
which is indisputably the case
the rock upon which all rocks depend
kick it down the road and set the world in motion

or must we pass through the eye of a needle buried
in a cliché and if so where to place the disappeared
those nameless lives in voiceless graves
water over stones mumbling to loved ones
left to wonder where exactly is gone

as if a bored creator might leave
a little gummy head on a stick and walk away
to play dice in another trending universe
as if to say one is left to pick up sticks
that cross and separate by chance
or interpret leaves at the bottom of a tea cup
and play through these migratory moments

Truth Game

the same room but different now
the mirror’s slight mockery of all that is
turn a millimeter away and a change of mood
spreads across the sofa and table
a series of words bubble up the curving stem
of a standing lamp
these could be anyone’s thoughts
moving from mind to mind
chair to chair

one creates an image
an idea of oneself that demands to be fed
so you may bluff your life away
waiting for the real deal
the card that may reveal you
for who you are or not

the truth
don’t mention it
in so many words
that which withdraws from the slightest observation
and splits into possible selves
so one is captured
by the magnetic draw of uncertainty
the nuanced realm of multiple lives

until all possible positions collapse
and you are called upon to act
to break the mirror’s hold
and step through your image
a simple yes or no will do

so a parallel world is created
in which you may be asked
to put your life on the line
facts break down still further
but that is not for us
now you get to play the game

Further Instructions

let’s say a body falls
head first into wave upon wave
of roiling voices a harsh hello here
a sweet goodbye there
it all gets tangled in the gurgle and foam
so many swarming targets
searching for the right arrow

each to his own amateurish speculations
reincarnation placed upon a shelf
next to a can of pork and beans
a logbook of meaningful coincidences
leans against a jar of rusty keys
which door to what metaphor

no need to panic
most ideas only go so far
then someone blows a whistle
and you pick yourself up off the ground
maybe we’re not made to get
to the heart of the matter
maybe nothing sticks around that long

might as well catch the next wave
of fluttering digressions and half-baked ideas
and listen closely for a secret echolalia in the banter
close but never close enough
to hear light’s squiggles turn to matter
yet it happens while we were thinking
of something else

it’s no secret that words were
watching us from a distance
waiting to switch narratives or bite

maybe it’s unavoidable that we must stand
for something we don’t understand
and act upon it with our lives

no matter just place your ear
near the static in the wind tunnel
and await further instructions

Longing

tell me if I’m getting
too personal
but looking into your eyes
makes me wonder

where you keep
your longing
I mean is there a road
you’d like to take

is it on a map
of brooklyn or maybe
in a black box
pulled up from the sea

will I need a key to open it
is it like a hand left
on a pillow
have the fingers fallen asleep

will it spill
over and fill the room
or is it a nothing
kind of thing

that’s everywhere
and nowhere
and will I know it
when I see it

Place Holder

they told us that as density increases
space shrinks inside the number
and at the zero point
the equation breaks down and weeps

they told us half of infinity is still infinity
and that illumination slips through
chips in the armor and words
are filled with oceans of empty space

they said that the largest licks the spiral ear
of the smallest and folds in upon itself
they told us to watch how leaves cluster
in open parentheses and then just blow away

they told us that numbers were hooks
in the clouds and that a poet must zero forth
to thread the eye through an ear
and learn to wing it outward on a word

they said that the foot lies in the leap
across death’s gummy shoe
and that infinity guarantees repetition
but our return will be unrecognizable to us

Charles Borkhuis is a poet, playwright, screenwriter, and essayist. His nine collections of poems include: Dead Ringer [BlazeVOX], Finely Tuned Static (with paintings by John McCluskey) [Lunar Chandelier], Disappearing Acts [Chax], Afterimage [Chax], and Alpha Ruins [Bucknell University], selected by Fanny Howe as a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Book Award. His poems have appeared in eight anthologies including: Resist Much, Obey Little [Spuyten Duyvil], Dia Anthology [Dia Art Foundation], An Avec Sampler #2 [Avec], Primary Trouble [Talisman House], and Writing From The New Coast: Presentation and Technique [o.blek]. His essays on contemporary poetics have appeared in Telling it Slant and We Who Love to Be Astonished (University of Alabama Press). He translated New Exercises from the French by Franck André Jamme [Wave]. His plays have been presented in NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hartford, and Paris and published in Mouth of Shadows [Spuyten Duyvil], The Sound of Fear Clapping [Obscure Press], Present Tense [Stage This 3], and Poets’ Theater [Ailanthus]. His radio plays The Sound of Fear Clapping and Foreign Bodies were produced on NPR and can be heard at pennsound. He is the recipient of a Dramalogue Award and the former editor of Theater:Ex, an experimental theater publication. He lives in New York City.