Bridge to Nowhere

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 1 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life

 

bridge to nowhere

Bridge to nowhere:
tree roots dangle
into the abyss

Teens spray-paint the year
they hope to graduate
then huff the rest

A friend says:
there is no way to the father
but through the highway

A gay prostitute
stands in the river & flashes
passing trucks

Natural Faculties

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 2 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life

 

Lines from Galen, translated by Arthur John Brock (1916)

1.
When a warm thing becomes cold, and a cold warm
When anything moist becomes dry, or dry moist
When a small thing becomes bigger
When food turns into blood
When the limbs have their position altered
When, therefore, the animal has attained its complete size
When the matter that flows into each part of the body in the form of nutriment is being worked up into it
When the vapours have passed through the coats of the stomach and intestines
When this has been made quite clear
When the iron has another piece brought into contact with it
When a small body becomes entangeld with another small body
When our peasants are bringing corn from the country into the city in wagons

2.
Children take the bladders of pigs, fill them with air, and then rub them on ashes near the fire, so as to warm but not to injure them. This is a common game in the district of Ionia, and among not a few other nations. As they rub, they sing songs, to a certain measure, time, and rhythm, and all their words are an exhortation to the bladder to increase in size.

3.
Imagine the heart to be, at the beginning, so small as to differ in no respect from a millet-seed, or, if you will, a bean…

4.
Now, clearly, in these doings of the children, the more the interior cavity of the bladder increases in size, the thinner, necessarily, does its substance become

common to all kinds of motion is change

tangible distinctions are hardness and softness, viscosity, friability, lightness, heaviness, density, rarity, smoothness, roughness, thickness and thinness; all of these have been duly mentioned by Aristotle

Nature constructs bone, cartilage, nerve, membrane, ligament, vein, and so forth, at the first stage of the animal’s genesis

pain is common to all these conditions

please test this assertion first in the muscles themselves

5.
This also was unknown to Erasistratus, whom nothing escaped.

(Re-)Claiming the Body

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 3 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life

 

I’ve been trying for days to make a videopoem that I’m satisfied with — no luck. But at least I managed to revise an old poem in the process. (This also appears in my online collection Shadow Cabinet. One of the main advantages of self-publishing your work on the web is that you never have to abandon it. Come to think of it, that’s also one of the main disadvantages!)

This is a modified Google poem, meaning that I searched a word (body) and collected some of the most common or interesting usages, but added my own responses (the unitalicized phrases). A pure Google poem would consist entirely of search results, such as my earlier “Chant for the Summit of the World Body,” which inspired this — a very tame form of flarf.

Claiming the Body

 

body
of work

why do you wake me up at 4:00 a.m.

body of evidence
weighed
wanting

body of knowledge
errata

body of the paper
here comes
the red pen

governing body
hold me

body of water
hold me
up

body count
deadening
you overwhelm

body image
upside-down in the lens

body in motion
you rest at
a constant speed

body of Christ
one size
fits all

Body of Missing Pilot
missing
missing

body of a Venus
elastic
full of give

body work
everything comes into play

body
art

thou


Download the MP3

*

I’ve been asked to respond to ten questions for a series at Nic S.’s blog, Very Like a Whale, on poets’ uses of technology. The responses so far, by Amy King, Collin Kelley, and Ren Powell, have been excellent, and I’m not sure what there will be left for me to say by the time my turn rolls around, in least in terms of theory and analysis. That’s probably for the best, though — analytic thinking has never been my strong suit. But revising the foregoing poem has reminded me that I have done a bit of experimenting, even though stylistically I am not an experimental poet. I suppose there might be some general interest in showing how someone who is pretty much a mainstream practitioner of contemporary poetry can still take advantage of digital and online technologies.

So I’m trying to think of examples in particular for Nic’s eighth question, “Do you use technology as an integral element of your poetry? If so, how? If not, why not?” Clearly, my two neo-Flarfist “body” poems are one example where a technology (internet searching) played a pivotal role. I could also mention my use of online polls and surveys (I need to play around some more with branching surveys), mind maps, digital poetry postcards, audio- and videopoetry, and Twitter poetry (i.e. The Morning Porch). Needless to say, I also plan to talk about the salutary effects of blogging on poetry in general, such as the way photo captions often morph into poems. I guess I’ll mention online collaboration, though I haven’t done nearly as much of that as I should — my chain poem about news stories with Patricia Anderson is one of the few examples that comes to mind. What else am I forgetting?

Ceiling snakes

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 4 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life

 

Direct link to video on Vimeo

The night that a pair of mating milk snakes drops out of the ceiling, I do not dream of snakes. I dream of mating, and of breaking through the crust of the earth and discovering another world filled with an unnatural light. I dream of inescapable stairs verging on a cliff-face to which I cling like a wingless fly. When I wake, it’s still humid, if no longer hot, and a wood thrush sings at the edge of the woods, where wood thrushes always sing: one part joy, two parts longing. I find my notebook from the night before, what I’d been writing when I heard a noise in the kitchen and set it down (some writer!) to grab the video camera. Picking at a scab, it says, and worry beads. I’m sure I had something in mind, but I don’t know what. The snakes were beautiful, and if I hadn’t known better, I might’ve thought from their configuration that they were one snake with a head at both ends, curious but calm as milk snakes always seem to be. If they’d stayed longer I might’ve stood beneath them and offered the use of my body as a steep set of stairs. But the ceiling or their unfinished business called them back, and up they went.

night kitchen
feeling in the dark to pour
a glass of milk

Train Song

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 5 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life

 

I lurk in a wooded
bend of the railroad
where I won’t be spotted.
Duffle bag — check.
Zippo lighter — check.
Deck of marked cards — check.
All my life I’ve been listening to trains
& all my life I’ve been letting them go by,
each whistle Dopplering down
from summons to wail,
followed by a thunder
as intoxicating as any heavy metal band,
graffitoed messages flying past
too fast to parse
& a poorly aligned wheel
shrieking like feedback from a speaker
all the way to Chicago.
It’s not that I want to travel, but this sky’s
too narrow, too full of murk.
It hurts to breathe.
I raise a pants leg
& here’s another goddamned tick
just starting to burrow in.
Out West, I’ve heard, there are places so empty
nobody’s even given them a name yet.
That’s why the next
slow freight & I
have a date.
Here comes
one now. Hear how
the rails are starting to sing?

*

For the Big Tent Poetry prompt, “Write about something you would love to do but have never dared.” Other responses are linked in the comments here.

Surgery of the Absurd

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 6 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life

 

The clinic wasn’t everything I imagined. The nurse was male & unattractive, the blood & stool samples were anything but fresh, & the surgeon wore coat & tails like an orchestra conductor & bounded from room to room, wielding the scalpel like a baton: one moment kettle drums, the next a tenor clarinet. And we who had thought of our bodies as oases of silence wondered about the anesthesiologist, who’d been missing any trace of an eyebrow. Had he been born that way, incapable of registering surprise? Or perhaps he’d had some facelift of the brow, an elective procedure like the ones we were in for, unsatisfied until we can restore that smoothness of features that once distinguished us, before our parents met, before we descended from our tall trees & joined them down here among these clamorous dead.

Prompted by an email discussion with some blogger friends about an essay by Peter Singer (whom I loathe), “Should This Be the Last Generation?

Notes toward a taxonomy of sadness

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 7 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life

 

A postcard from 1906, written on but never sent

There are as many kinds of sadness as there are things that prompt it, each as exquisitely adapted as a species of ichneumon wasp to its smooth or bristly host. There’s the sadness of 100-year-old postcards that were written on but never sent, the sadness of an alarm clock that was turned off three minutes before it was due to throb, the sadness of countries too small or crowded to accommodate wilderness, the sadness of a pump organ whose church music has long been silenced by mice chewing holes in the bellows, the sadness of open USB ports, the sadness of cities with utterly predictable weather, the sadness of a faded Sears Wishbook catalog kept in lieu of toilet paper in a seldom-used outhouse, the sadness of milk served in the last chipped member of a favorite set of drinking glasses, the sadness of time travel, the sadness of fireflies broadcasting their positions every few seconds in total silence, the sadness of an overcooked vegetable that tastes like rain, the sadness of dust mites whose entire civilization depends on a giant stranger’s poor housekeeping, the sadness of airports that afford no views of the runway, the sadness of pasture roses forced to weather the loving ministrations of those that chew the cud, the sadness of lights designed to illuminate billboards, and the sadness of pulp science fiction magazines from the 1950s that could predict flying cars but not oil spills, let alone this flea market, the world-wide web.

Weeding

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 8 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life

 

After a rain,
the weeds yield
to the gentlest tug,

even the deep-rooted dock
& the brittle rhizomes
of brome grass:

they let go, they give up
their fistfuls of dirt to
a few hard shakes,

& for at least
one morning out of
all those that are left to me

it feels as if I am winning
this tug-of-war
with the earth.

Blanket

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 9 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life

 

On muggy summer nights
without air conditioning

it’s so hard to find just
the right, light blanket.

I want something like the moss
bordering a stony path,

blurry verge of all that flourishes
without our say-so,

a fresh fuzz so minute
one forgets that it is after all

made up of individuals,
each of which will in time

sprout green feathers
of dubious utility, learn

to save & spend slowly
in a time of drought

& wait for its own turn
in the common bed.

*

Just a reminder that submissions for the next issue of qarrtsiluni, The Crowd, must be in by Wednesday.

Forecast

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 10 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life

 

Highs will exceed 100
with a 30% chance of suicide.
We will envy dogs their long tongues
& they our ability to shed.
Rain will fall part-way
to the ground & evaporate,
like a name you almost remember
& then you can’t.
You’ll see a rabbit sprawled
in the shaded driveway:
its lucky left foot points
toward hidden water.
An earwig in the kitchen
will carry its calipers upright
like the nerdiest of engineers,
& later on you will consider this
to have been a portent,
because the power will fail
& the air will go unconditioned,
shutting down cities
throughout the effete northeast.
We will give up on
the power company,
decide we are the ones
we’ve been waiting for
& reach for our genitals as if
they were real flowers.
We will think the next
wandering breeze was meant
just for us.