Ab Ovo

This entry is part 1 of 34 in the series Small World


The egg was breathing
so quietly you wouldn’t
have known it was alive.
No clouds appeared in
its immaculate atmosphere.
It was a belly in search of a buddha,
a featureless head, a round number.
It balanced on a single point
with far less effort than
a ballerina. After a while,
it got the idea that it was a bean,
& one day would open green wings
& lead the way to the sun, which
didn’t look entirely unattainable.
The strongest hand
couldn’t crush it.
Who’d have thought that warm center
it had always taken for a heart
had other plans?

The Origin of the Exclamation Mark

This entry is part 2 of 34 in the series Small World


A gasper, a screamer,
a dog’s cock, say
the old type-setters,
frozen at point.
But it’s older than
type, old as a dried
stalk trembling on
the way to earth,
a mud-dauber tube
like a tuneless flute,
the trail of a slug
down the moss face
of a cliff, a severed
finger packed in ice,
a No. 2 pencil pocked
with toothmarks, a
snake made of sand,
a microphone hung
from the ceiling,
the fossilized thigh-
bone of an extinct
sauropod, a string
of drilled shells
used in lieu of
money, or a
gas flare on
an oil field
at night.

says: the word
joy written vertically,
in Latin, a big letter I
balancing on a
full belly.


This entry is part 3 of 34 in the series Small World


O screw
with your fine thread
your bugle head
your shank
your sharp tip—
you with your disinclination to slip
have taught me all
I need to recall
about politics:
go left & get loose
go right & tighten
into place
like dutiful screws
but beware the quick fix
the stripped thread
the buggered head
of those who are too
truly screwed.


This entry is part 4 of 34 in the series Small World


This screen where I type is the only light
in my dark house

a fly walks up & down
& over the blinking cursor

last night I watched the sky for half an hour
& only saw two meteors

one text insertion point every 15 minutes
that’s no way to write

cursor is Latin: not one who curses
of course but one who runs

it’s the transparent sliding part
on a slide rule

a door disguised as a window
fooling only flies & stargazers

pick up your grave said Jesus
& follow me

Shark’s Tooth

This entry is part 5 of 34 in the series Small World


From what tacky tourist trap did it come,
that keepsake, that ocean’s arrowhead?
I think my grandparents brought it back
from their one & only Carribean cruise.
It rode around in my pocket for a while,
a talisman luckier than a rabbit’s foot
or a saint’s ear. It was not much bigger
than a mole’s snout, but sharp, so sharp.
I imagined serried ranks, sierras,
& the circling fin, evil twin of the sail.
It was—I recall—a kind of off-brown,
the color of moldy leather or dried blood,
but shiny enough to serve as a mirror
for something not quite my reflection
but sharper than a shadow.


This entry is part 6 of 34 in the series Small World


The oaks have
dropped more acorns
this year than anyone
can remember. It’s
like walking on ball
bearings, except
sometimes they pop:
a cap comes off
& one blank face
gains a split. It
must be lonely
having the only
mouth. Do you take
a breath? Do you
invent eating?
Do you look for
another broken soul
& improvise some
kind of minimal
kiss? But wait
a while: soon
everyone will awake
& turn & stick
a yellow tongue
into the earth.

Book Match

This entry is part 7 of 34 in the series Small World


Back when I smoked, as the son of a writer
& a librarian, the book match
was like a brother to me.
Once torn from the book
it couldn’t go back, while smoking made me
an exile from the air.

We both had a tendency to lose our heads.
I was skinny as a heron’s leg;
a book match isn’t even thick enough
to qualify as a match stick.

It’s a minimal page
with just enough room for one word
beginning with a lower-case L

& ending with incandescence—
a holy word, a profane word,
a word for (forgive me) a kind of match.
It’s so worn out from overuse
I hesitate now to let it pass my lips.

Toenail Paring

This entry is part 8 of 34 in the series Small World


“But a toenail paring isn’t a body.” —Robert Hughes

A toenail paring isn’t a body. Nor is it a boat or a barrel stave or a C-section of—Lord help us—the crescent moon. It isn’t a smile or a parabola, a cradle or a wing. It seems as if should have age rings, like a tree stump or an artist’s conk, but no: it is as featureless as an eggshell, & its curl is the curl of a fetus. I am still always a bit surprised that I have managed to grow such an excrescence, & reluctant to part with it. Where to dispose of it—trash? Compost? Toilet? Like a shed antler, it doesn’t quite belong anywhere. I picture a lonely atoll at the edge of the North Pacific Gyre where all the world’s toenail parings eventually end up—long curved driftrows at the high-tide line.


Thanks to Marly Youmans for the Hughes quote.

That Button

This entry is part 9 of 34 in the series Small World


You were no less terrifying
for having been
entirely fictitious.
You were big & round
& very, very red.
I saw you whenever I squeezed
my eyelids shut
& faced into the sun,
practicing for the flash.
I worried that Reagan
might mistake you for
a jelly bean—
groggy from a nap,
groping for candy
he’d blow up the world.
However it happened, I knew
it was only a matter of time.
You were, after all, made
to be pressed,
shaped to fit the finger,
even if only for the briefest
of momentous occasions,
like an engagement ring
for a shotgun wedding.
Yet you wouldn’t have been
anything fancy,
just molded plastic.
When finally pressed,
you would’ve clicked twice—
no third time
for the charm.


This entry is part 10 of 34 in the series Small World


The stone isn’t dull;
it’s just too shy to shine.

The stone isn’t still;
it’s just practicing an extreme economy of gesture.

The stone isn’t mute;
it’s just making up its mind how to begin.

When I lived in a glass house
it was my most honored guest.