Continuing the invertebrate theme from yesterday, I thought I’d try my hand at worm verse. This is an invention of Ivy Alvarez. As she explained back on July 29,

I had this idea that I was talking out and working aloud with my s.o., about a chapbook of poems composed mostly of median letters.

You know, those letters that live in the middle, that don’t have tops [b, d, f, h, i, j, k, l, t] nor tails [g, j, p, q and y]. The worms of a c e m n o r s u v w x z.

How clean they look! How streamlined!

And quite surprising how many letters there are. And these are choice letters. You can do a lot with these, I thought. And you know, poets love a challenge. Well, some do.

Not satisfied with this restriction, however, she

bred it together with the hay(na)ku form, created by Eileen Tabios (a.k.a The Chatelaine), and described on the Hay(na)ku website as “a tercet where the first line consists of one word, the second line of two words, and the third line of three words”.

Some of Ivy’s recent efforts are here (scroll down for all three days’ worth). One favorite:

we ever
rename our summers

nor can
we romance names

I’ve never been too concerned about the look of poems on the page (or screen). What interests me about writing with only a few letters is that one can focus entirely on groping for sense and let alliteration and assonance take care of themselves. To be fully wormy, I think, one should follow Ivy’s example and eschew all punctuation (except perhaps for dashes and periods), a rule I was unable to stick to.


unmans me,
scours some vacuum.

zoom –
no more
raceme. no manners.

women swoon
over warm sermons,

more raves.
so are we

mere error,
a nacreous sum?

muse, we
serve an ovum.

roman urn
amazes me more.

So go ahead, try this at home. (And feel free to litter my comment boxes with the results!)

I just bethought myself to go look in An Ark for the Next Millennium, a bilingual book of poems by the Mexican poet José Emilio Pacheco (University of Texas Press, 1991), translated by Margaret Sayers Peden from Pacheco’s Album de Zoología. Nuts, Pacheco beat me to it! Not only that, his piece, “Fisiología de la babosa/Physiology of the Slug” is superior to my prose poem (below) in almost every way, and it even ends with a similar image: “It fears/(with reason)/someone will come/and over his shoulder throw salt on it”.

Unfortunately, the poem has multiple, deep indents, which would be very tiresome to reproduce in HTML. But I’d like to quote the first half of the poem anyway, as run-on text, because it seems highly relevant to a post of elck’s today, on the subject of earthly paradise. I’ll give the Spanish first, followed by Peden’s English.

“La babosa/animal sutil/se recrea/en jardines impávidos/Tiene humedad de musgo/acuosidad/de vida a medio hacerse/Es apenas/un frágil/caracol en proyecto/como anuncio/de algo que aún no existe//En su moroso edén de baba/proclama/que andar por esto mundo/significa/ir dejando/pedazos de uno mismo/en el viaje…”

“The slug/a subtle creature/amuses itself/in indifferent gardens/It is moist like moss/aqueous/like life half-lived/It is little more/than a fragile/shell-in-the-making/like a notice/of something that does not yet exist//In its sluggish, slimy Eden/it proclaims/that to pass through this world/means/to leave/bits of oneself/on the journey…”

“In its morose Eden of slime” (to be a bit more literal about it) – what a delightful line! I admit I still feel some affection for my own conceit of an artist’s or hitchhiker’s thumb. But it is emblematic, perhaps, of my more superficial approach. Pacheco’s slug is no more faithful to the biological “reality” of slugs than mine is, but somehow it manages to say something essential about the world we all inhabit, while my slug remains a narcissist on a quest for artificial highs and illusory utopias. ¡Pobrecito!

Apotheosis of all that is low, vile, vagrant, whose taste for midnight gardens is notorious, hermaphrodite whose weakness for warm beer can lead to a fatal love-match with his own reflection: how to dress him up, this poor relation to that clan of seafaring and treeclimbing gastropods so tantalizing to the French palate? The stubborn pride with which the slug unrolls his tatterdemalion carpet is inexplicable. He lacks the most basic accoutrements of a decent mollusk lifestyle: no mother-of-pearl dressing room, no spiral staircase, no simple-yet-elegant home to inspire the likes of Le Corbusier. Nothing, in short, to bequeath to a museum bell jar.

Clearly, all attempts at rehabilitation fail to lift the slug above his freakish role as dead ringer for a hitchhiker’s thumb, and come up against the stubborn delusion that he was once the understudy to some obscure artist, measuring for a comprehensive sketch of the face of a salt-free earth.

Caustic cynicism, anyone?

1. You create your own reality. Re-write history to eliminate your rivals and give yourself all the starring roles.

2. If not you, someone else then. If not now, whenever. It’ll get done. If it doesn’t, well, it probably didn’t matter all that much in the first place.

3. Live in the past. That way, you’ll never have to worry about being surprised.

4. If at first you don’t succeed, hit the government up for more subsidies.

5. It’s not who wins or loses, it’s whether we all get to taunt the losers.

6. Power corrupts. But if nothing ever corrupted, we’d be up to our ears in shit and corpses.

7. Cleanliness is next to chemical allergies, birth defects and senility.

8. Eat the poor. They’re 90% fat-free!

9. It is better never to have loved at all than to have loved and lost your dignity. So suck it up, you big baby. Repression works.

10. Real men don’t ask for help. If things get bad, you can always talk to Jesus.

11. If you meet the Buddha, tell him to give me a call. He still owes me $25 bucks.

12. It’s not the goal, it’s the journey. Especially when you’re lost.

13. You can sleep when you’re dead. Be sure your grieving loved ones spend at least $3000 for a really comfortable casket.

14. A friend in need is fine, but probably isn’t the best person to go out drinking with.

15. If you put all your eggs in one basket, you can save lots of money on heat lamps.

16. A stitch in time is bad for the economy. Throw it out, already!

17. I’m O.K., you’re O.K. It’s those other people who are fucking things up.

18. First thing we do, let’s kill all the murderers.

19. Misery loves company. Specifically, the Frito-Lay Company, makers of Fritos, Cheetos, Doritos, Tostitos, Ruffles and Lay’s brand snack chips. Frito-Lay.TM Food for the fun of it!TM

20. Before doing X, always ask yourself, “What would happen if everyone did X?” If the answer is, “Cataclysmic war and social chaos, leading to the rapid extinction of most higher life forms,” then it’s probably a pretty good way to turn a profit.

21. Some people see things as they are and ask, “Why?” Some people dream of things that never were and ask, “Why not?” If you know either of these kinds of people, please call the Department of Homeland Security’s toll-free hotline.

22. When the going gets tough, remind yourself that countless generations before you have faced these very same problems. And now they’re all dead.

Up before dawn with old songs playing in my head and the planet Venus slowly winking in and out of sight through the leaves of an oak. Great-horned and screech owls call off and on above the horizon notes of night insects, that endless braid. The half-light of the half-moon lends an undersea feeling to things, a glimpse almost of how the world might look without six billion bright-eyed humans to dream it awake.

Feeling a little like a refugee, I sit as always, unmoving, in my accustomed spot. If I shifted my chair on the porch by as little as three inches to the right or left, everything would be thrown off-kilter. To call me a creature of habit would be a vast understatement. But without such stillness and fidelity, how could I mark the changes? The safe vantagepoint is the only one that lasts.

I do allow my imagination to run, old hound, sniffing out the day-old narratives of loss and lust. But it comes to heel when I call; it knows how to listen. From the yard, the scrabbling of claws on bark. Up in the woods, a footfall, an explosive snort. A high-pitched quaver suddenly close at hand.

Astarte, I whisper, preferring this older name for the morning star. Instigator of holy desire, giving the topmost leaves the slip at last! This hour I have spent with one eye on her progress was well worth the loss in sleep.

Stillness, fidelity, and the inner ear: the body’s spirit level, from which alone we can know trajectory and motion. Then, too, one could hardly distinguish figure from ground or find a body’s coordinates in space without that slender string we call memory. Half-conscious of it I’m telling the beads of a thousand other such moments, so slowly does the dawn come, so incrementally do outlines and colors emerge – tall goldenrod, the banks of white snakeroot – and so long does it take for that blazing ember to drown in a sea of light.

This is my contribution to the Ecotone wiki topic Making a Safe Space. See also my essay + translation from April 30 called Man doesn’t exist.