This entry is part 11 of 34 in the series Small World


Thorn begins with thorn,
a dead letter from
the Old English alphabet.
It’s an aborted branch,
a weaponized nipple. It draws blood
instead of expressing sap, Mother
Nature red in tooth & claw,
rose-hipped or hawed.
But of course it doesn’t bother the bees,
for who needs a needle
to thread the seamless labyrinth
of the rose?


This entry is part 12 of 34 in the series Small World


With some trees, the knotholes
are among the last things to go.
You can find them staring up
from the ground, eye sockets
that never belonged to a skull.

It makes sense that trees would grow
their hardest wood around the weakest
points in their architecture.
This is called the branch collar,
& it is woven with wood
first from the branch
as it overlaps onto the trunk
& then from the trunk
as it overlaps onto the branch.

Behind the collar, in the parent
trunk or limb, the branch core forms:
a cone of decay-resistant wood
shaped like a spear with the flared
base facing outward, keeping
the agents of rot at bay
long after the rest of the branch
has fallen off. This is the knot.

Arborists talk of intergrown
& encased knots, loose & sound
& pin knots, red & black knots.
We who know them only from lumber
might imagine hard pills the tree
had been unable to dissolve.
We would not be wrong.
Each time a tree says yes to the sun
a no begins to form, firm & sharp
& pointed inward.

Based on a photo post from March 2011.


This entry is part 13 of 34 in the series Small World


Finite snail evolved from a peg,
all twist & no spiral, turning
neither inward nor upward: here’s
a key to our egalitarian metaphysics.
The knob involves us in the machine’s
unfinished business, it turns us
into connoisseurs of the abstract.
And hell, it’s fun to roll things
between the fingers—
they were made for this.
The caveman in me says
smash it & suck out the marrow.
The Medieval peasant says
splash it with holy water
to drive out the small devil
whose millstone it must be.
But I say alas that our machines
are surrendering their squat manhood
to a remote.


This entry is part 14 of 34 in the series Small World


Lightning roots deep into the sand,
donning an instant sheath of glass:
a seemingly pointless exercise in self-glove.
Clap of thunder.

Could it be, though, that radiance tires of itself?
Nowhere in the alleged blackness of space
is there any relief from the ticking,
pulsing, clusterfucks of stars
except on cold planets.
Who can blame lightning
for burrowing in like a tick?
Even we humans, full of darkness as we are,
go on pilgrimage to the ocean,
dream of girls with gills,
get buried up to our necks in sand
or swim with porpoises, whose
capacity for joy we suspect
of exceeding our own.
We go back to the sea like adopted children
paying a visit to our birth mother,
hoping that she’ll show some sign
she regrets giving us up:
some whelk, some dead star.
We tell prospective partners how
we love long walks on the beach
because it’s the deepest thing
we can think to say.

But only someone who knows the shore
well enough to recognize what she doesn’t know
will stop to pick up an odd
sandstone lump, & find
that it hides black glass.
She’ll sight through the short smooth tube,
hold it up to the sun like a sextant.


This entry is part 15 of 34 in the series Small World


of the realm

even when plucked
from a magician’s ear

or exchanged
for better weather

its very ununiqueness
gives it value

its modularity
makes it fit to toss

edged in ridges
like a worn gear

it’s what one does
to new phrases

hoping they’ll
gain currency

mettle tested
between the teeth

unreal moon
eyelid for a corpse


Sugar Pill

This entry is part 16 of 34 in the series Small World


Is it or isn’t it?
The sugar pill isn’t saying.
The line that bisects it
was intentionally left blank.

It’s a go sign, perhaps,
or a one-bead rosary.
Its zero gives birth
to all other numbers.

Since opposites attract within
bounds of reason & good breeding,
it must be in love
with a salt tablet.

It can be anything
the salt wants,
including another condiment
that cures vagueness.

Who do you say
that it is—
a prophet or the platter
for his savory head?

Like a double agent,
it forgets who it’s working for.
It’s either about to smile
or about to weep.

Peach Pit

This entry is part 17 of 34 in the series Small World


Dark & intricately coiled as the brain of a chihuahua, hard knuckle, by what mechanism does it come to inhabit such yielding sweetness & such a velvet skin? Like a rough manuscript that some editor turns into a book with gilt-edged pages, its labyrinth is threaded with a scarlet bookmark. And how is it a pit? If you split it, no tree will grow. If you plant it, the tree won’t grow true & only hornets will burrow into that feral yellow, each of their pits ending where the pit begins. Yet even an unblemished peach, placed alone on a table, betrays something of its hidden, still life.


Written in response to a challenge to use three words in a poem: chihuahua, mechanism and manuscript.


This entry is part 18 of 34 in the series Small World


The blue plastic eyecup
of my mote-ridden boyhood
still sits on the top shelf
behind the bathroom mirror,
at eye-level now.
I remember how good
cool tap water felt
after the hot tears,
tilting my head all
the way back & willing
my eyelid to open,
& afterwards feeling
the scar & the scare recede
from that bit of grit,
but also a lingering sense
of guilt for letting
all the water dribble
to the floor or sink, how
the eye that tried to take in
a small piece of the earth,
as if mere vision were
no longer enough,
had blinked away the offer
of additional tears—
had refused to drink.


This entry is part 19 of 34 in the series Small World


To be small is to be distant
& vice versa.

The asterisk calls.
It leaves a message.

You turn it all the way up:
it sounds like a small fan.

In some parallel universe
all the stars look like this

& books with too many footnotes
collapse into black holes.