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chalk editions 2010
text © copyright 2010 Halvard Johnson cover © copyright 2010 Jukka-Pekka Kervinen Acknowledgment of prior publication at the end of this eBook.
Table of Contents I Maglev Sonnet / 11 Revolutionary Sonnet / 12 Sonnet Zork / 13 Pestilential Sonnet / 14 Unavailable Light / 15 Sonnet: Twilight in Turkey / 16 Sonnet: Portrait (in Photo Captions) of Chaim Soutine / 17 Elegy Just in Case / 18 The Jinx Is On / 19 Emergency / 20 Short Story Sonnet / 21 Sonnet: Lento e deserto / 22 Political Sonnet / 23 Amnesiac / 24 The Sky Called “Despair” / 25 Sonnet: Hard Trills / 26 Due Diligence Sonnet (Downsized Version) / 27 Some Save Themselves / 28 News of the Day / 29 Inviolate Obituary / 30 What’s Up / 31 Toxic Assets Sonnet / 32 Sonnet: Snowdrop / 33 Sonnet: The Defiant Asking of Questions in the Face of Permanent Ontological Uncertainty Postmodern Financial Crisis Sonnet / 35 Angst No Prerequisite / 36 Best Possible Light / 37
Sonnet: Time to Seek Help / 38 Morning Sonnet / 39 Sonnet: Turkmenian Nights / 40 Unseasonable Facsimiles / 41 Bloodbath Sonnet / 42 Sonnet: My Dog Sunyata / 43 Avoir Besoin De / 44 Sonnet: What American Voters Want / 45 A Lone Gunman Is Dead / 46 Cheeseburger Sonnet / 47 Sonnet: Long Drives in the Country / 48 Sonnet: Your Emergency Preparedness Kit / 49 Sonnet: Afflictions of Writers / 50 Outlying / 51 Hotel Aquí / 52 His Nonchalance / 53 Sonneto Incognito / 54 Urban Sonnet / 55 Wavelength / 56 Sonnet: Younger Poets / 57 Horse Led to Slaughter / 58 Sonnet: Sudden Hailstorms / 59 Sonnet: Milwaukee, City of Rumors / 60 Retrospective Sonnet / 61 Sonnet: Whimsical Children / 62 Sonnet: Permission Denied / 63 Sonnet: They Call the Wind Sudoku / 64 Calling All Lexicographers / 65 Axiomatic Sonnet / 66 Sonnet: Body Under a Running Stream / 67 Late Arrivals / 68
Just to Say / 69 “Dark Peruvian Forces” / 70 GWOT Sonnet / 71 Jeffersonian Melodramas / 72 Morphine Wreckage / 73 Today the President Ate Lunch / 74 Northland Graves / 75 Adventures on the Hippocampus / 76 Night Letter / 77 Sonnet: Far Afield / 78 II The Sonnet Project Centcom Briefings Sonnets / 80 Sonnet: Marching as to War / 83 Firefight at Palestine Hotel / 84 Sonnet: Success / 85 Sonnet: A Guy Was Talking / 86 Synaesthetic Sonnets / 87 Sonnet: In an Uncertain World / 89 Sonnet: The Story Thus Far / 90 Mad Cow Sonnets / 91 Sonnet: Old MacDonald Had a Farm / 97 California Sonnet / 98 Chimayo / 99 Sonnet: How Are Things Going? / 100 Sonnet: No Dice / 101 Sonnet: Drought / 102 Baltimore: Moon Caught in Powerlines / 103 Sonnet: Abandoned in Despair / 104 Psy-ops Sonnet / 105
Sonnet: Autonomous Retreat / 106 Sonnet Cycle / 107 Pastorale / 108 Sonnet: Surprisingly, Vertical Industry / 109 Sonnet: I Think Continually / 110 Sonetto: Buona Fortuna / 111 Sonnet: The Light Within / 112 Sonnet: Democracy in the News / 113 Sonnet: It’s Better to Turn on the TV / 114 Double-sonnet: Methane / 115 Sonnet: Democracy Red in Tooth and Claw / 117 Sonnet: Benign Virus Appears to Block Bush Strategy / 118 On the Hustings with George: Two Sonnets and Part of Another Sonnet Written in the Light of Fiscal Realities / 122 Slow Curve / 123 In the East Room / 124 Sonnet: Getting on with Our Lives / 125 Double-sonnet: A Test of Wills / 126 Mini-sonnet: For the Families / 128 III My Strange Amoeba / 130 Sonnet: The Week That Was / 131 Contiguous Humiliations / 132 Sonnet: Spontaneous Separations / 133 Arbitration Sonnet / 134 Sonnet Industry Shorts / 135 Sonnet: Bridge Over Troubled Markets / 136 Sonnet Incorporating a Poem by James Tate / 137 Sonnet / 138
Stipulations / 139 Found Sonnet: On Red / 140 Tango Bouquet / 141 Bachiana / 142 How Pink Was My Monkey? / 143 Sonnet: Climate Control / 144 Sometimes a Penis . . . / 145 Landscape Near a Landfill / 146 Autumnal Sonnet / 147 Death Panel Sonnet / 148 Sonnet: This Music Does Not Mean / 149 Superbot Sonnet / 150 Sonnet: Nothing As Yet To Report / 151 Miracles Sonnet / 152 Seven Years Later / 153 Sonnet (Italian Style), in English and Vietnamese / 154 The G-Rated Sonnet / 156 Lost Methodologies / 157 Kitchen Sonnet / 158 Sonnet for the New Year / 159 Sonnet: In Fine Fettled Sleep / 160 Trading Meaningful Glances / 161 Autonomous Retreat / 162 Sonnet: Restraint in G Minor / 163 Found Sonnet: This Document Contains No Data / 164 Sonnet: Aro(here)und / 165 Sonnet: Religion in America / 166 (Com)promised Land / 167 Arsenal / 168 Sonnet for the Criminally Insane / 169 Final Deprivations / 170
At the Treeline / 171 Sonnet in Elliptical Orbits / 172 Sonnet: Norwegian Moods / 173 Say No More / 174 Sentimental Sonnet / 175 Local News / 176 A Brave Story / 177 Sonnet: Unspecified Horrors / 178 Sonnet: Faith-based Initiative / 179 “Your Eyes Stray” / 180 With No Known Regrets / 181 Another Long, Sad Story / 182 Time to Seek Help / 183 To This Day / 184 Afternoon Sonnet / 185 Sonnet: Clouds of Knowing and Unknowing / 186 Barn, Slope, Tree / 187 Sonnet: Sellinger’s Round / 188 Sonnet: Cruel Remainders / 189 Musikalabend / 190 Sonnet: Calm Headlands / 191 Some More Anthropology / 192 4 Subprime-Mortgage Sonnets / 193 Dialogue Sonnet / 195 Sonnet: Backward Glances / 196 Sonnet Kit CXLVII / 197 Saga Sonnet / 198 Etiolation Sonnet / 199 Neural Loops: or, The Ascension of Osama bin Laden Sonnet: Unpacking My Toothbrush / 201 Sonnet: La Malcontenta / 202
Sonnet bureaucratique / 203 Sonnet: Much Better Now Thanks / 204 A Little Story / 205 Sonnet: The Perfection of Mozart’s Third Eye / Spam Sonnet / 207 Boolean Nights Sonnet / 208 Sonnet / 209 Sonnet: Your Lips Soft as Lard / 210 Sonnet / 211 Sonnet: Gracing Light / 212 Sonnet: Karachi Dawn / 213 Romantic Sonnet / 214 Suspicious Car / 215 Raymond Chandler Sonnet / 216 Sonnet: Tropical Forest with Monkeys / 217 Sonnet: On the Way to Gare St. Lazare / 218 IV Appendix Shakespeare Lite: The Sonnets (I through XVII) /
Maglev Sonnet A high-speed magnetic sonnet went off its track in northwestern Germany on Friday, killing at least one passenger and injuring several more, sources said. Officials at the scene described the sonnet’s first stanza as being totally mangled. “We must prepare ourselves for the fact that those lines are not living any more,” said one critic, who shall forever remain nameless. He was talking to emergency officials. Besides those first-stanza lines, two other quatrains were missing and feared dead. How fast the sonnet was traveling at the time of the accident was not immediately clear. Eighteen tropes are still trapped in tangled wreckage. The accident is another blow for magnetic levitation after a fire last month in a Shanghai-bound ghazal.
Revolutionary Sonnet To horse between the news article and the fiction of the nearby Vázquez Mountains, by order of no one in particular. The later murder creates an imaginary fable, as told by American college students who will conclude tragically. Small revolutionary episodes, profesores unwilling to return to class after their long lunches. Truncated ethics of resistance. Of the corpse, no sign. Purity aureoles of central personages, less stable than imagined. His doctoral thesis shows impostures of the ruling junta, mysteries solved with doubtless technical skill, manifesting ideological functions of text, very much like creatures equipped with their own lives. Lacking both doctrinal force and novelistic substance, his story (of inverse sign) does him no palpable honor.
Sonnet Zork You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here. Within the mailbox lies an envelope containing a white powdery substance. The envelope’s stamp has not been cancelled, and a message from the PO says there’s still twenty-two cents due. But who, when you’re dead, will pay? Who will pay when you’re dead?
Pestilential Sonnet (after a poem by James Cervantes) The President prays to his helicopter. “Why me, O, Lord, why me? Some folks sit on the fence, waiting for the voice from the whirlwind. I gotta make my own wind.” Small needy voices in utero whisper to him. The President prays in his helicopter. Grass bends in his breeze. Dogs run away. The power button is carried aboard by an aide. It doesn’t simply vanish when the President sets foot in his helicopter, heading for his weekend of prayer at Camp David. History seems to take a time-out as the President flies from one place to another. It gets up from its place on the couch and visits the fridge and the bathroom. To his dogs on the White House lawn the President shrinks to the size of a gnat in the gut of a huge whirlybird of prey. Picking at his scabs, the President soars above the drought-plagued farmland below him. “Why me, O, Lord? Why on my watch? What next (he wonders) locusts and frogs? Babies dying in their mothers’ rooms . . . I mean wombs. Why me, O, Lord? Why make it so hard for me to get the words right?”
Unavailable Light The dancing just isn’t what it seems to want to be. Superior investment results bring added dimensions to our whole pie. Already obvious, her remarks, mice in her ears or not, had begun to be famous. Even her appearances on Wall Street Week had formal virtues beyond, and separate from, their subjects. Dow-Jones figures dance on our screen toward what seems a dining table surrounded by intermittent regulars. Beside, or perhaps leaning against, a red-plush sofa in what appears to be an investment councilor’s living room is a well-groomed Irish setter. Lessons in living fashionably with a pick-up parked in one’s driveway continue on, until we are well out of earshot, out on that limb we’ve grown used to calling home.
Sonnet: Twilight in Turkey Hey, is that thing running? Yeah. Turn it off. Okay, it’s off now. Okay, where was I? You were about to say something about influence. Oh, yes. All right then. I remember once taking this hovercraft from Hong Kong to Macao. You know, just going over there to spend a few hours at the tables. The hovercraft had the feel of an airplane taxiing along a long, very long, runway but never lifting off. Many writers were aboard. I don’t know why. Near the far rail the poet John Ashbery was deeply in conversation with Gertrude Stein, who, for some reason or other, was seated in a wheelchair that had been pushed aboard by Alice B. Toklas, her constant companion. Basket had been unleashed and ran freely around the deck, making a pest of himself. Can we talk about music? Not now. Not ever, in fact. But isn’t that Harold Bloom sitting over there, pondering influence and all its imponderables? No, I think it’s Stuart Davis.
Sonnet: Portrait (in Photo Captions) of Chaim Soutine Outside the farmhouse in Le Blanc, Soutine and Paulette Jourdain pose with the dog Riquette, who belonged to the cook, Amélie, who may have lived over a slaughterhouse in the Vaugirard District where Soutine may have bought the beef carcass for his paintings inspired by Rembrandt’s “The Slaughtered Ox,” 1655, which Soutine studied carefully at the Louvre. In the mid-1930s Soutine and Madeleine Castaing stand together in casual clothes in an unidentified town. Soutine in an open car with Élie Faure and his daughter Marie Zéline at Faure’s home in Prats, summer 1929. Faure’s young son Jean-Paul stands nearby. Henry Miller moved to Villa Seurat on the day Tropic of Cancer appeared. The center building is No. 18, where Soutine had an apartment and studio on the second floor and Henry Miller lived on the floor above him. Soutine, in a relaxed mood, with his cigarette and a glass of milk.
Elegy Just in Case A public life is what he led. Baseball, not books, gave him ballast. A ball launched out of the Polo Grounds in 1951 lodged in his head, which fondled its curves and seams when there was nothing else worth thinking about. Holy relics of memory, taken down from the shelves, change hands quietly, among the finer calibrations of kinesthetic fervor. Mystery or metaphysics. Could you choose just one? Next to impossible, an over-the-shoulder catch on the centerfield track. No longer any need to say what might have happened, rolling down the drainpipe of history, truly lost for all time. Taking discontinuity for granted, he angled for the sidelines, watching it go, its generosity noticed only by those not blinded by the late afternoon sun. Over the fence, in his neighbor’s yard, hearing a strange sound, wondering what it was.
The Jinx Is On I still feel like I’m in a dream. Misdirection and other anxieties overtake me. Americans in Erbil arrest Iranians at an increasingly rapid rate. The jinx is on. Space probes on Mars, they say, are looking for the wrong forms of life. Good dreams, not nightmares, for the first time in years. Everything here is alive. I’ll try less clonazepam and more of the other stuff. Sentenced in absentia for crimes against pizzeria managers, he took refuge on Mogamigawa, a Japanese oil tanker soon to collide with the USS Newport News. Zoo animals on Prozac, it’s been found, still chase their tails for hours on end. Lawyers representing detainees at Guantánamo, now on a federal hit list despite good-faith efforts to have their names expunged.
Emergency “The emergency is to ensure elections go in an undisturbed manner.” —Gen. Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan One cup of green tea has no sugar, sodium, or fat, and roughly one half to one third the caffeine of coffee, emergency teams responding to terrorist attacks have found. Extraordinary measures require extraordinary powers, all potentates agree. This time of year, animals are so busy attending to their young that they often do not see oncoming humvees. Busy sacking judges, heldentenors often fail to hit those high notes, bringing on violent retaliations by clacques in the gallery, above the law in so many ways. Ousted conductors, kept under house arrest until they see or hear the errors of their ways, prepare brochures to recruit militant violists who can be trusted to obey their oaths of allegiance to the Lahore Philharmonic or whatever gang of instrumentalists they choose to ally themselves with, under martial law applying equally to strings, brass, winds, and percussion.
Short Story Sonnet His license for fuzziness expired, Beckham turned to direct action. Vagaries of time and fashion overwhelmed his innate good humor. One admired the worst things in him, as though he were some neo-clinical monkey. Kidnapping adolescents became his “thing,” turning ransom money over to favored causes: Zimbabwean rebels, and so on. Ten cases of eggnog abandoned by a food bank provided some sort of sustenance. Somewhere along the Limpopo River, Mugabe’s thugs overtook him, ran off his “boys,” and began to make clear their demands. Late one night, a chest-high mud wall providing him some cover, he made good an escape into South Africa, where, meeting a wandering troupe of American evangelicals, he came at last to find Jesus. Back in the “world,” as Americans called it, he blissed out in Brooklyn, shoelaces tied and ready for Heaven.
Sonnet: Lento e deserto Lopped heads keep their crowns above water, suitable for eating abandoned songs. Aphotic members of the family read riot acts to Sousa marches. Reservists razz dentists wielding drill instructors and tongue suppressors. Troubleshooters’ ascetic sidekicks (magma cum laude) duel beside peevish peers. Yerba maté notwithstanding, his chest was covered by a carpet of soft fair hair. As the small store’s customers lined up in numerical order, his wife collapsed, and he shouted, “Is there a ventriloquist in the house?” Numbingly familiar retirees, mountebanks and obstetricians, other-directed as ever, pursue teensy weensy annoyances across some neighboring field. TV stations plunk down hard cash for new episodes that will enhance our pneuma. Birth parents watch idly as their children vanish into young adulthood. Whimsy, having no immediately obvious right to exist, seeks out those of similar dispositions. E pluribus unum—a dream once dreamt.
Political Sonnet The Benited States slides into inflexination and extreme wastes, time-consuming work with thoughtful, angelical leaders to develop an ecologically grounded approach to Palestinian rights. Broadening the base for thoughtful, though never antipodean, B.S. policies. Similarly, engaging evangels in foreign policy discussions can lead to surprising climate change that disproportionately affects the poor, and that Christians have a moral duty to rail against, help deal with. Meanwhile, slave raids against unChristians in southern Alabama have gone on to focus more on U.S. exceptionalism than liberals would like, and they, most likely, care more about the counterintuitiveness of B.S. foreign policy than most surrealists prefer. But angel power is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and is sometimes even necessary in this wicked or, some might say, fallen world.
Amnesiac Back in the late ’40s, or maybe it was the early ’50s, I found myself in Paris, seeking a valid expiration date, or maybe to sell cars to Francis Picabia. I tried to remember that you didn’t know much about him and his paintings, or about me for that matter, but all we could agree to call to mind were those damned Horse Spirits by Baiocco. In those days, I was still a teenager, as, you know, I am today, my palm still warm from the grasp of Eisenhower’s hand during a Yonkers stop on his presidential run. His ungloved hand slipped into mine like the promise of some kind of future, Paris not far from our minds. Butane lighters had not come along then, and three on a match was quite enough to get someone killed.
The Sky Called “Despair” Come build in the empty sporting goods store across the street from the infirmary. Come help us cook and baste turkeys, while children play at snapping up stock options. Trucks arrive with their loads of sand and alabaster, slipping back toward the first page of the newspaper’s style section, publicly embarrassed by our thirst, our fits of spite and anger. We, giving thanks to God for pushing down wholesale prices in November by the largest amount in several years, look to the ref for his signal, only to see him down on his knees before a thirteen-year-old cutie from another school, far across town. Faux light leaks in at the cathedral’s windows, helping keep phone connections affordable in low-income, high-cost parts of town. And (oh, yes—thank you for the reminder) let’s not forget our deepspace, extra-terrestrial probes, just returned to Cape Carnivoral after many years—addressee unknown, returned to sender.
Sonnet: Hard Trills Rolling r’s in Spanish is not as easy as rolling drunken sailors on shore-leave in Lisboa, nor as hard as rolling cigarettes with one hand tied behind one’s back. Gathering maple sap for sugar may be easiest of all if you watch your footing in the snow, and your Portuguese might come in handy if you’re ever in Macao. Even humble pebbles need to watch where they’re going, even when it’s only to Roslyn’s house over by the forest by the ocean and its shore. Baboons come in around line eleven, but don’t hang around for long. Nixon invaded Cambodia and Kent State University but never took on Oxford. Let’s all thank him for that.
Due Diligence Sonnet (Downsized Version) When looked into closely by regulators, the most relaxed foot is the pyrrhus—no stress there at all to speak of. The most stressed out is the spondee, which is, in fact, a trochee. And trochee, natch, is an iamb, as are dactyl and cretic. When suddenly, wandering among the amphibrachs, a bacchius refused to allow shareholders to review its books. The nervous foot market kept seeking bailouts and other trochees, or, as some call them, chorees. The government, an antibacchius to be sure, came riding to the rescue. Blue-ribbon commissions sought out underlying fundamentals (primus and tertius paeons) and, by the final bell, dactylated . . . down again.
Some Save Themselves Some save themselves and then, having saved themselves, go on to save others. Some save themselves and, having saved themselves, deplore the inability of others to save themselves, without federal assistance. Some save others without even bothering to save themselves, though saving themselves might have been the better idea, considering . . . well, considering that all those saved by others might have saved themselves if not others. Some save themselves although no one offered them any assistance, although saving themselves sometimes meant they could not go on to save others. Having saved others, some save themselves.
News of the Day An adolescent 41-year-old feels like he is in the dream of a Brooklyn pizzeria manager moonlighting as a diplomat representing the United States of America in Erbil, Iraq. Six Iranians working in Somalia for Sen. Joe Biden deny having invaded either Syria or Venezuela, but confess to plotting against Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party. Former Ethiopian dictators hold their annual reunion in Bayreuth, Germany, retiring to a nearby bierstube during the second act of Die Walküre, unnamed sources say. Muslim villagers in India who had changed their sons’ names to Saddam Hussein file papers to change them once again, this time to Barack Hussein Obama. Martian expeditions to Earth failed to find signs of life there because they were looking for the wrong kind of life.
Inviolate Obituary New York City high-rises cling to their average day, so you felt obliged to look after them. “A pleasant surprise,” she snickered. “Happy Birthday, Sister Maurice!” Ashbery’s reading was SRO, so we went for a walk in the basement of the Museum of Online Publications, where half-timbered houses gave quality sap unassociated with our pain preference, a landmark of sorts. Repeated trips from Milwaukee to Chicago shed no new light on our problems. On Bleecker Street, the fabled Zito’s is now out of business. With nobody around to gainsay whatever she might say was the truth, Claribelle had a field day. Ever since that morning we learned (there’d been no way of knowing) that we could move undetected around the encampment, seeking lost hymnals and prayer books hidden by the high grass.
What’s Up Duddy wakes up from a nap and takes things seriously for a change. Luther’s mad as hell cuz he can’t change Jews into Christ-huggers. Junior’s out chugalugging Gatorade laced with vodka. Mom’s in the kitchen roastin’ taters. Uncle Joe’s up on the roof, banging his head on the skylight. The dog’s asleep on the bathroom floor. Auntie Vanessa’s putting on her face again. Wherever we go we is with us. Nobody knows the color of sky. The trouble I’ve seen. Uncle Moses has taken to parting his hair in the middle nowadays. No one to blame but himself. Melanie’s sister’s hung out to dry. It’s the best of times, the worst of times. Tempus fidgets.
Toxic Assets Sonnet Pedro found his reservoir of goodwill for his fellow humanoids contaminated—or tainted, if you will— by perennial and hereditary diseases. Exalted beings all, they chewed their nails in anticipation of defaults and market plunges, holding onto their faith that what goes down must go up. Nervousness and its neighbor, panic, often had cookouts in their unforeclosed back yards. When the going gets tough, the tough broil burgers. At any other time, the heady air of despair would have provided a tonic. But now, today, Main St. knows even smart Canadians cannot ride to the rescue.
Sonnet: Snowdrop After his teacher’s “official” death, an anonymous woman (lithe, limber) in Berlin took him to task for his usurpations. Three days later, he was captured by wonderment. Severing ties with hostile regimes rarely served useful purposes, and often led to war. Clear-eyed reflections led to a new sense of telepathic defiance, as time-lapse photography showed. The daring of local publishers was rewarded by subpoenas to appear before compromised Congressional committees teetering on the verge of reelection. Not a candidate for sainthood, he managed, at best, a tepid rejoinder. Humiliation and want were his cousins. Burdened by history, his Pollacks found to be fakes, he continued to write splendid chapters for his catalogue of memories, mistakes. Analytical vectors, he knew them only too well. Morals old as folk tales.
Sonnet: The Defiant Asking of Questions in the Face of Permanent Ontological Uncertainty I want to know why so few of us wonder why so many of us, when asked “Who is it?” after someone answers our phone call or after we buzz an apartment from the lobby, respond with “It’s me,” (I know, I know, it should be “It’s I”— we’re nobody’s fool), never doubting for a moment that whoever’s answering that phone or that buzz will know that it’s us and not some other “me” who might have placed that phone call or rung that buzzer, are surprised, if not agitated, when the answerer up in the apartment or at the other end of the line, says “Thanks so much for your time” and hangs up the phone or releases the intercom button, not even dreaming that we might in fact be the me he or she had been expecting to call or even drop by for a visit.
Postmodern Financial Crisis Sonnet Stupid as an act of God, the ethos of postmodern focus gave way to regulation. Its own response to the threat of fundamental freedoms, all devils dead. No longer willing to enjoy its multiplicity, its emergence as a market economy, it fails to roll the dice. It fails to confide in its confidants. Spendthrifts forgo the possibility of self-affirmation, the reconciliation of opposites. The ordinary financial self-revelation fails to reveal much that is new, much that might help to understand the moral commitment behind bourgeois machinations. So long as they last, crises like the one we currently find ourselves in run their course, carving out trenches that deepen into canyons “beyond good and evil,” as is said.
Angst No Prerequisite I wanted to explain the muffin allusion, but Hurricane Dean rode in to the rescue. Negligible monetary compensations flooded into the area, just as national guard troops took it on the lam. Nicaraguan streets resist Hellenization. Unemployed Colombian drug czars compete with rabbits for our neighbors’ lettuce, as all of Yokohama grieves. Siding and roofing from houses blow through the streets, getting on everyone’s nerves. Ezra squats outside, sitting on his heels. Culturing turnips brought curious neighbors to their windows amid howls of execration, bulldozing all further thoughts of rapprochement. Plastic sheeting left nothing to the imagination. Socialists flocked to the polls for the first time in decades, as anarchists jeered. Poachers made off with the last few heads of unquarantined stock.
Best Possible Light Intelligent controllers agree that telecentric approaches to the early Beethoven sonatas yield more pleasure than twelve-course banquets ever did. When the best of friends sit down to simple meals of lab-bound pathogens, exciting opportunities knock on every locked and bolted door. The cooler atoms allow themselves to be captured. And if we can’t have that we’d have to wonder why. Or, if not, why neighborly persiflage now fails to mend fences? As always, conveniences morph into necessities among those who know better than let hotheads prevail. Dancelike melodies from the oboe answered by superheated rising fourths from the violins. And yet? No exit strategy will compensate for those stupid missteps at the outset. So we’ll soldier on until, one fine day, all is copacetic.
Sonnet: Time to Seek Help The brain, while necessary, is not sufficient to avoid common errors, which, as always, are only a stone’s throw away. Making Up One’s Own Bed is required reading for anyone with an interest in modern poetry. Confident diagnoses suggest that Buckingham Palace guards blink once every ten minutes like well-oiled machines. The entire process can be easily performed without ever setting foot in a gym. And so say all of us. If your apartment’s so large you can’t ever find what you’re looking for, then move out and get a smaller one. If fires break out without giving you warning, it’s time to seek help—two or three sessions a week might do it. Keywords: sonnet, brain, necessity, error, stone, poetry, diagnosis, machine, process, gym, apartment, fire, help.
Morning Sonnet Daylight preening before the mirror, the lonely planet planned its morning. Incantations mixed with imprecations on the dance floor. Beyond all doubt, our bathroom facilities could be improved. Next door to us, South Ossetians have moved in, still living on borrowed Russian time, dancing their troikas and korobushkas, both fast and slow, all night long. Silent and invisible, Brenda writes her letters, even knowing full well that her Guantánamo pen-pals will never write back. Brenda tells them of the ancient mound builders who once lived near her home in Kentucky. Night-dreamers wake to find all was vanity. Daydreamers turn out to be truly dangerous.
Sonnet: Turkmenian Nights Using grammar to manipulate his xenophobic readers, he sealed the borders. Long plane flights and jet lag, both things of the past. Road warriors morph into armchair travelers visiting countries no one has ever written about. Awkwardness, a constant throughout the book, sadly only an average book in a genre of which it is the only member. England’s designs replaced by those of Russia. Permafrost nearly done for. Polar bears, same. Wolves in Poland moving south for the winter. Later than ever before. Diplo-wonks at a loss for words.
Unseasonable Facsimiles So deeply buried within the culture, these twins, these eyes that each mirror images of the other. Cult classics from the ’60s reinforce our ideations, encouraging, if not requiring, some sort of closure. Not that he was scared to fly. He’d done it before, a thousand times, earbuds hidden. Toxic chipsets scattered all around, landmines for the rummagers, pomo replicators, even in plastic suits and gloves. Copiers coping with rivers of information, always reminding the family matriarch of her roots that need dyeing. A pair of Roombas roaming around, impossible to tell one from the other. Expansionist sentiments, left on the living room davenport, slip down behind cushions, pocket change for the ages.
Bloodbath Sonnet Fish? I don’t remember. Yesterday’s newspaper provides little guidance. Missile strikes target the dog runs in city parks, collateral damage notwithstanding. How many dogs must die in order that democracy prevail? Who even counts? The professor’s list of ten top American movies provokes violent action on the part of both Israelis and Palestinians. Rage runneth rampant. What, no Alfie? No Godfather? No Welles? Clinics and hospitals overflow. Acrid smoke fills the air. New list to draw up: Top Ten Bloodbaths of All Time. Rwanda, yes. Only machetes used that time. The Holocaust, yes. WWI, yes. Mustard gas, yes. Hiroshima, yes. Nagasaki, yes. Bosnia, yes. Cambodia, yes. Amer-Indians, yes. Darfur and Congo, yes, yes, yes. Start reaching back. Start looking forward. List stretches both ways. New ways of death dealing death. Old ways good enough.
Sonnet: My Dog Sunyata Having a bite—falafel or maybe a slice of pizza (extra cheese, no meat)—I watched the dog outside, leashed to a utility pole, sitting quietly, waiting for its master or mistress, whatever, reminding me of my dog Sunyata, who never failed to amuse me whenever I took notice of him. “Here, Sunyata,” I would command, and he would unfailingly obey, come to wherever I was and sit there, looking up at me with his brown eyes. My dog Sunyata hated the president as much as I did, rolled his eyes and growled whenever he came on TV. My wife had taken to leaving us alone at such times, knowing that to do otherwise would invite retribution. Streetcars still came and went in those days, taking their power from overhead powerlines, as though power were something just there to be taken.
Avoir Besoin De Our tour of French idioms begins here in Avoir Besoin De, about quinze (fifteen) kilomètres south of Aix-en-Provence, a delightful town whose streets are lined with ancient plane trees eagerly awaiting the latest word from the Sidney Olympics. First we’ll eat, then we’ll go to the theater. Puisqu’il ne vient pas, the above referenced vehicle has been returned to this administration by the Postal Authorities as not able to deliver. Stéphane both began and finished the relentless transformation of Avoir Besoin De into a demotic poetry incapable of omitting or suffering anyone long who is not amenable to drastically altered circumstances. So, let’s start without him. The outriggers of time, poised on the horizons of our indubitable venture capitalists, presage a revolution in poetic taste, awaiting her pleasure—her total nakedness at the hands of others.
Sonnet: What American Voters Want They want their candidates to talk to God, of God, and for God. They want them in church every Sunday morning, shaking hands with insurance agents and car salesmen, taking the pulse of the public in public. They want God talk, glimpses of core values, hints of Apocalypse to come. They want to judge character. And they want characters to judge. They can spot fakers, so faking it won’t do, and would-be fakers should at least know their Bible and carry it with them whenever they get on or off a plane, whenever they show up for town meetings, or picnics on the 4th of July. They want nothing to do with atheists. Lips that kiss their babies must be lips that launch prayers to their Maker every moment of every day.
A Lone Gunman Is Dead The university, struck. Classes cut short, one in critical condition, others in critical thinking. Monumental proportions overwhelmed everyone. Chaos erupted. Ambulances hustled, bustled. Some victims shot in classroom. Critical conditions at multiple locations, spokeswoman transported to microphones. Gunshot wounds and injuries reported and treated. Worst school shooting, some said. Four patients transported. One person killed at 7:15. Lots of students going crazy, running around. Gunshot wounds and other tragedies. A residence hall near a drill field and stadium. Twin shootings, worst in US history. One person killed and others injured, then, two hours later, many others. Only one gunman, on a rampage. Killed 32 people, not counting himself. Single shooter.
Cheeseburger Sonnet Subtle gradations in flavoring as one moves from layer to layer. First, white bread sprinkled with sesame seeds, coated on the underside with (your choice) catsup, mayo, or mustard. I’d opt for mustard nowadays, all other things being equal. And then some relish or (my call) sweet pickle slices and a square of white cheddar. In the center, a patty of hamburger meat—on the lean side, if you please, and, let’s say, medium rare—pinkish. The bottom layer is, as always, disappointing—just the other half of the bun that the top layer of the burger was the upper half of. Sans sesame seeds and tasty slatherings of mustard, ketchup, whatever. And yet, it’s the base upon which all the rest is built. Without it, a burger’s just another slab of meat with bread on top.
Sonnet: Long Drives in the Country Carved from the trunk of a tree, Carolee often wondered about the rainwater that just might, one day, polish rocks. Just causes still worth launching air strikes for appeared on every hand. Not yet exploded, Iraqi schoolchildren practiced death by hanging just like Saddam Hussein, while residents of Pasadena made do without guacamole for a while. “Obese people like chewing,” someone said. “We’ll have to break them of that.” Meanwhile, he made himself more and more indispensable to the parish priest. Others spent their days down there hanging around with some of those malinchistas, while we took long drives in the campo. That very same week, she began crawling to the law, begging for mercy even before any charges against her had been lodged. Abu Dhabi, needless to say, seemed more and more attractive to all of us who had the good sense to keep our bags always packed.
Sonnet: Your Emergency Preparedness Kit What you’ll need in your kit, of course, depends on the kind of emergency you plan to have and where you plan to have it. If you’re in France and plan to have an emergency on the road be sure to take along a corkscrew, five bottles of wine, three or four baguettes, some fine, pungent cheese, and a red and white checkered tablecloth. In much of the rest of Europe and in California, mostly the same. In Latin America, much the same. But in Canada be sure to have a charged cell phone, and in the US a fistful of credit cards, and your Triple-A card. A six-pack of beer would be a comfort. In many parts of the world you can rely on friendly locals to pull you out of a ditch, give you a push, or carry you, your wife and kids off to a nearby clinic or hospital. In case of serious injuries, it’s a good idea to have several units of blood for each of you. And in Texas, of course, you’re on your own.
Sonnet: Afflictions of Writers Attached to both sides of the hat are totally tasteless jokes. You enjoy the moment with your family, the pleasure of knocking things down and destroying them. The writing, its simple lonely cry, no copyright infringement intended. Profiles of leading Russian oligarchs strewn about in your gardens. That space, that vacuum—impressive as well—building a hole in my belly. It was a dream in which I do not appear. The censorship begins. Small birds attract lightning to the expanding garden, which you, of course, are free to use.
Outlying In the muscular pubs, logistically difficult blemishes reigned. Presentations crossreferenced and free of error. Eating his words at a nearby table, Detritus Ransom spelled out his plan. A state of permanent ambush, he claimed, was what was necessary. Indebtedness biased against the insolvent, the poor with their awful rifles and handguns. Catacombing the city, prerecorded messages spread with boysenberry jam. Appallingly ostentatious, the cemetery’s cypresses pointed their twiggy fingers. Soyuz rockets rocketed off into the bathysphere. Rampant diseases spread their wares out on the table.
Hotel Aquí At the Hotel Aquí we sat and wept. Promised a jacuzzi with ozone, a “shower Finnish,” we found that neither of these worked. At least they didn’t work properly. The ads once again had misled us, and we set out to explore methods of extracting our revenge. Sábado came and went, and, if things didn’t get worse, they also failed to improve. Even private parking in individual garages did not raise our spirits. Right across the street, the Tokio Hotel seemed to be laughing at us, our daily if not hourly disappointments. The beach behind it, out of our reach, was littered with sun-burnished bodies, with rotting remains of last week’s coco-locos. Our bus trip was canceled when the engine of the bus threw a gasket, and no one seemed able to fix it. So we returned to the bar (too loud, too light) and drank ourselves almost into a stupor, returning to our cramped little rooms either too late or too early, even for the mariachis we’d already paid. (for Michael Rothenberg)
His Nonchalance Disambiguated after all these years, his regard for her remained tethered to his highest aspirations. His Paris-based operations thrown into confusion, he decided to take his first vacation in years. Swapping medication for meditation, he checked himself in to a Zen monastery in Kyoto and began to rake leaves, knowing that to do the job too well might find him replaced by someone older or younger, less ept than he. He thought of Schubert, his dying of syphilis, of Mozart in that common grave. He gave some thought to Schumann’s madness, his leap into the river. Afterthoughts came swarming. His reluctance segued into recalcitrance. Nothing ventured. Never any rain.
Sonneto Incognito If one reads without worrying, it’s utterly gorgeous. The sort of gorgeousness one expects from high-end trade publishers. The right vehicle for the right job—that’s what we need to keep in mind, no matter what. Done as well as humans do it, small wonders come down the pike, one after another. Systematically changing one’s perspectives until some final arrangement is suddenly arrived at when we least expect it. I think of Robert Merrill’s Escamillo and shivers run down my back. Divergent impulses—yoking them together. Decisive moments we sometimes live to regret.
Urban Sonnet Here in the city, perfection grows in everyone’s backyard like a weed. The nearby abyss makes sea-monsters of us all. Having no legs, a dozen eggs stumble by on their way to work. Subways open their mouths to them. Swathed in blacks and pursued by grays, we rush down to the savage harbor, drawn, as always, to the sea and its myriad ships, its rough and tumble. Sky holds no terror for us. It flowers before us, above us. Opening up a great hole in the night. The reddish hand says, Stop! The bent little man bids us scurry. Our Screen Actors Guild cards are sometimes enough to get us half a day’s work and a lunch. Enough for now, but what about tomorrow? Promptly at seven, give or take ten minutes, the curtain ascends, revealing undreamt-of dreams, fresh as daisies.
Wavelength With opacity drifting across their sunset, Mitsui and Jim spill colors across the floors of their loft. A column of flame shoots upward every half hour. Beyond the serrated glass, the knife-edged sky casts brilliant squares of light on polished hardwood floors. Now silvery gray, a tall, thin window comes into view, turning at right angles to the total blackness above. Suddenly it is no longer dark. A speeding freight train roars out of the fireplace, and passersby barely notice. What you see is what you get, essentially. The center of the universe, we’ve found, can be anywhere we want it to be. Gradually, as the day wore on, the light became more and more pronounced, subtly altering the contents of our space. Faith, hope, and envy flashed above the doorways and people die of exposure all around. Consummate rockers, masters of the violin, bypassed by the art world, just get off the train altogether. The train becomes a very small thing down the track, impossible to catch.
Sonnet: Younger Poets Younger poets in particular institutionalize their milky tremors, seeking (all of them) to narrow their tessaturas. “Not finally arrived,” she murmured, cryptically. Profound emulations, notwithstanding. Divine fecculations give rise to more generous impulsivenesses, weeks—indeed, it sometimes seems like months—after neighborhood progressives launch campaigns against procedures too invasive for words. Even ghost tantrums leave some room for wiggle. He, only a marginally better person, as Alice naughtily suggested, her rumored invasion cancelled or, at least, postponed for some indefinite period of time, wrote cheerfully satirical sagas of spiritual formications—syn- and antonyms joyously bounding together along paths less taken, in deeper thicket.
Horse Led to Slaughter To vote down the enemy, we charged into heavy artillery fire. Minimizing casualties, our number-one priority. Exposure greater than ever before, even after our ports and our borders were secured against acts of terrorism, against foreign incursions. Trying to understand, after all these years, why search-and-rescue teams always had to fight their way uphill and across treacherous moats just to win hearts and minds that were not disposed to being won. Enemy cameras watched our advance from the top of the walls, behind the gleaming coils of razor wire, unable to distinguish our regular troops from flesh-and-blood human beings. The arrest of suspected fifth-columnists cheered us for the moment, and we fought our way upward and onward, across the pyroclastic flow, ground so hot our boots would melt, thirty-four barefoot runners from the Seychelles, the last to fall.
Sonnet: Sudden Hailstorms I once spent fixable years or so living in Japan, and when I firmly arrived the whole country went off on vacation—to Guam, to Hawaii, to the Philippines taking their Walkmen with them. In an oil-based fresco I once saw, peasants, both male and female, danced their wily dances, and when that was over the playoffs began, down at the debased seaside. Small children kicked over their sand castles and took up their thesauri, looking up this and that, finding new words for, say, third basemen and such. A poet came by—could it have been Stephen Spender?— frenzied eyeballs rolling. When asked by the poet, they all agreed: the influence of Tate and Ashbery on younger poets was lamentable. Then sudden hail.
Sonnet: Milwaukee, City of Rumors Running down rumors along Milwaukee’s dark, Brucknerian boulevards, streets, and alleys, in the urban half-light of America, half-hoping to find some truth in them: the rumors, say, that the Brewers will move to Havana, taking all of the city with them. Ah, the sunlight, the salt sea air. But no, that one evaporates as soon as one catches up to it, leaving the others, the one that very late at night, just before dawn in fact, early morning joggers by the lake can see Ed Gein walking the beach, something round and wrapped in newspaper beneath his arm, looking for a waste basket empty enough to receive it, the one that Lake Michigan will be rebaptized Lake Wisconsin.
Retrospective Sonnet Our breakfast was ruined. We worried about whether or not we might have won had not the Chinese intervened. Our push to the Yalu River fell into disarray while we were waiting for the milk to pour upon our cereal, cream for our cup of coffee. And what if the British had not been preoccupied with Napoleonic wars on the continent of Europe, what then? What if two oceans had not protected us for all those years while we struggled to build our nation, our empire, our city on the hill? What if the hunters had not come out of the forest, what then? And, as if the past were not enough to worry about, the future brought even more worries to our breakfast table. What if the kids, the children, proved impossible to domesticate, impossible to place into schools that would assure them a future we might have wanted for ourselves? What if that swing vote on the Supreme Court had swung the other way? What might have happened then?
Sonnet: Whimsical Children Failing to open, no matter how hard the rain, the umbrellas they carry. Talking back to their parents, no matter how hard they beat them. Beating their heads against pillows, no matter how long they’ve been sleeping. Speaking in tongues that can barely melt butter. Listening for words they’ve never read before. Finding what’s under the rocks in the garden. Posing new questions for which their parents never have answers.
Sonnet: Permission Denied Your slideshow took me back to London, dynamite providing occasional relief. Tableaux and historical fodder akin to our visit to the military academy at West Point that summer (you remember) when both of us were young, Venezuela not at all on our minds in those days. Many eyewitness accounts, mostly gleaned from science journals willed to local libraries, stood the test of time. Be as frank as you like, if you please. With the horizon at maximum eclipse, people looking for relationships cruised the internet, supermarket bulletin boards. Bird squawks and dog barks filtered into the concert hall. Exploding eyes of houseflies reminded us of home, down by the sand, where the sea starts. The twins were standing tall, posting your photo on the wall at Saint Vincent’s, negotiating twists and turns of destructive love. Pretty to think so.
Sonnet: They Call the Wind Sudoku The peace server is down for maintenance. I’ll not even comment on aesthetic realism’s right to be known. Most parents say that if they had it all to do over again they wouldn’t even bother. It’s all connected. Take my word for it. Blame the patriarchy if you must, but pass the ammunition. We share the stage with elderly Australian bocce players on steroids. “Haydnesque” is the only word I’d choose if I had to describe it. Having found your name in the directory of the African diaspora, I cling to it as though my very life depended on doing so. (I’d like to take a moment here to thank my many micropatrons for all the nickels they’ve sent.) One small voice is all it takes to affect the economics of popcorn pricing. Once ruthlessly ambitious, but now . . .
Calling All Lexicographers Lord knows I’m tired of chewing on all this just to learn how snowmobiles bundle themselves up in grammar. Their full or adult-sized Times severely stressed, too stressed to say they’re sorry. Spewing abuse far from love, but at least brumal. Subscriptions all lapsed. Ice crevasses beneath you, beneath me. But seduction splits, as if truth itself were at stake. Subscriptions dropped, or at least at risk, bears drop their plans for hybernation, fight amongst themselves—black and white against brown until alliances shift. Learning it all over again, tongue against teeth. Then crashed, abbreviation alleviating our need to spell things out, avoid undue, toe-tapping rhythms.
Axiomatic Sonnet While we can all take inspiration from those disabled dolphins, being laid down as a general axiom is not the pleasure that it used to be. My rule is “Do not start to run until you know what it is you are chasing, or what it is that is chasing you.” Stet. Or did I mean to say, “Stat”? While the rising tide lifts all boats, it is axiomatic that not all boats are equally seaworthy and that those of the poor more often tend to choose sinking to swimming when they’re down to their last two options. Her closed, convex body cuddled close to his while in his ear she whispered, “Tithonus rising drives away the night, and hoar-frost flees the meadows.” Adopting an axiom, of course, is no laughing matter, especially when living in a country without universal health care, where stitches in time don’t save nine, where oil and water sometimes mix, where something ventured doesn’t necessarily gain much at all, if anything.
Sonnet: Body Under a Running Stream Amusing at first, but then not. North by the Tigris until we reached the Spirit of God, hovering over the dark waters, finding more in common with them than we’d thought. Diverting their water to other, less amiable purposes, bounded on the north by the Book of Genesis, on the south by the Gulf of Aden, four angels caught in our crossfire. Those who arise each morning and put on two faces, facilitating a more effective dialogue, not surprised by reports of new atrocities gathered in the face of fresh, new press restrictions, persistent rumors of imminent withdrawals, counterpointed by PSYOP projects that invariably failed to accomplish their purposes— to persuade, to change, to influence, to interdict, to dissemble, to re-elect.
Late Arrivals Late to arrive, we found all the city’s hotels to be full, a convention of Russian orthographists conducting their orgy-porgies everywhere, jamming the elevators, filling the bar stools, pinching the bottoms as they passed. Later we learned that to join their number, their union, their guild, all one need do was spell John Ashbery’s name correctly and buy them all a beer. Almost as much fun as having Lyme disease, someone said. Sardonically. Of late, Tashkent has been really difficult to live in, what with all the rules governing matters as trivial as the proper disposal of bottles and bottle caps. Taxicabs (unmetered) full of unrivalled dignitaries armed to the teeth with the latest weaponry smuggled in from Turkmenistan and other blatant violators of worldwide nonproliferation agreements.
Just to Say If reading in the dark is ideal, why should I want to understand? I am entirely edge now, ready and waiting, a continent adrift on a sea of magma. The door to the page unopen, undifferentiated quantities, each bleeding into another. The lap cuts strides wherever it goes. I’ll read any poem with Norway in its title. Turn on the lights and then turn on the lights. No sound to assign, or arraign. A cave in the room, its library of books, pages dogeared for emphasis. In writing, while taking the greatest task, something remains to decipher the heap of Japanese novels by his bed. Equivalent rejoinders to those gloomy forests of Indiana, their darkness ideal for the reading of your words.
“Dark Peruvian Forces” Dark Peruvian forces led to ideologically inverse signs, carrying out the aspirations of an American college student who concluded tragically that revolution was discredited for all times and in all places. Narrating historical events two and thirty years later that would leave more than ever in exile, their doctoral theses at the mercy of the excesses and “imposturas” of the junta. Her truculence, it was thought, served her well, even far from known tourist conflagrations. Back when the US was owned by Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers, imaginary fables rose up to speak for those who knew him, who respected him and then betrayed him, whose walks led to clandestine meetings in the lemony afternoon of the park. Younger than leftist, she’d made excellent New York connections, notwithstanding increasingly frequent bouts of apoplectic aporia.
GWOT Sonnet President Bush’s Global War on Tenors ended today with the long-awaited capture and sinking of Luciano Pavarotti in the Bay of Biscay, which sent warnings of a possible tsunami to much of the North Atlantic world. The demise of Pavarotti climaxed a decadelong hunt for the legendary singer, often thought to be hiding in a cave somewhere in the mountainous regions along the Pakistani/Afghan border. Thought to be the most dangerous tenorist since the heyday of the notorious Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957), Pavarotti, with the advantages of modern technology at his disposal, “tenorized immeasurably more of the operatics world than Gigli could’ve ever dreamed of,” President Bush said today in a Rose Garden photo-op.
Jeffersonian Melodramas Wheel of brie tightening around her neck, sprouts wailing in their bedroom, Bernadette’s life would suddenly take on new meaning. Monks next door awakening as usual at first light of dawn, praising their maker for frost-free refrigerators, distracted by demoralized swans swimming their moat, clamoring for nordic breezes. Crucified husbands rise once again from the dead, venture out into the ranks of assimilated nationwide jaycee members. Bareknuckle endeavors with Idaho franchises in offing. Stoutness halves readiness, as once was said. Nipped in the Budweiser, alternate jury members toe lines. Shiite militias advance on Kansas City, unless some stepchild of warships ventures forth to do battle.
Morphine Wreckage Gun crews seemed good and were in good spirits. When shooting begins, changes are inevitable. I have no preconceived ideas, no desire to have made the second-greatest film ever. Slowly, the ship moved into dry-dock for hull inspection. Several prospective jurors were released due to “unfortunate” experiences with police. Scuttlebutt was thick in the jury room, the jurors trying to piece together a narrative from contradictory elements. She goes below, and her fingers trail over the door lintel as she passes from view. After the first showing they thought their careers were over, but much too much anguish has been spilled by those who quickly judge writers by their middle names alone. Stop.
Today the President Ate Lunch Today, the President ate lunch. Today, the President challenged the UN to show its backbone to Iraq. Today remains of shuttle astronauts were identified. Today a Texas woman was convicted of killed her husband by hitting him three times with her Mercedes Benz. Today European business fears Iraq fall-out. Today our country’s chief intelligence officer warned that the latest Osama tape was “an exhortation to his followers.” Today North Korea wants more arms and aid from the US. Today long lines mar Canada’s low-cost health care. Today Brazil warns on trade negotiations with the US. Today inspectors begin destroying shells. Today New York will sue two big drug makers on doctor discount. Today lack of attack readiness was laid to financing delay by US.
Northland Graves Arrested oilmen lie side by side with disciplined car-poolers and CCNY defectors. Flagstaff tonguesuppressors don black and avocado-striped zoot suits. Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are. Bob’s choice autographs of Singaporean bishops tempt more than one to succumb to envy and covetousness. Avocets leave handwritten negotiating points in wet sand gilded by as yet unsunk sun. Callahan’s Mrs. in cahoots with her brother bilked nonagenarians in southeastern Catatonia of lifetimes of savings.
Adventures on the Hippocampus Around noontime, we landed on the hippocampus, when squirrels were hungry, leaping from the tree branches down onto the arms of passersby, snatching away peanut butter sandwiches from them and biting, often, the hands that held them, snacks between classes. By lunchtime, we could usually no longer remember what we’d had for breakfast, and yet were almost certain that we had had something. Memories clouded by . . . well, by eleven o’clock at the latest, unless a skill at finding shortcuts helped us all become better taxi drivers. Subcortical inputs rushed around the campus—heads with their chickens cut off, by Talibansters with scimitars where their iPods should have been. Counterdemonstrations by Students Against Islamic Knowledge disrupted both pep rallies and frat hazings. But, by late afternoon, this often murky history has had its sense of relevance restored, on its way to class (Brachiation 101—elective).
Night Letter Annette closed out her formal career by singing her AIDS Madrigals in recital, leaving the two of us feeling like we were beggars or lepers out of the Bible. Carolina mornings, I had noticed, separate print text from hypertext in more efficient ways than do others, with the risk of maximum return—fire in the air, fire in one’s shirtsleeves. Through the threatening dusk, we intercut short pieces with scraps of monologue, as projected images, high on the wall, showed scenes of quiet desperation, porch-sitters passing paper fans back and forth in the gathering dark, the others jogging off to work like everyone else. Water would be nice, but, drowning in metaphors, he signaled his distress.
Sonnet: Far Afield “Blast Ameriky, I say. . . . I tell ye, ye wouldn’t have been to sea here, leadin’ this dog’s life, if you hadn’t been snivelized.” —Larry, a seaman in Melville’s Redburn and yet near at hand, our wanderings took us away to a far field, unexamined, as yet, by brain sturgeons or heart transports. My own views, if I may speak rancidly, never quite jellied on that point. How does one spell “spellcheck,” for example? And why doth Ragnar Kjartansson sing for days on end in an empty lot in Chelsea? I mean, what’s in it for him? Or for us? Gudrid, I know, made many trips to what wasn’t yet Ameriky without benefit of clergy, indoor plumbing, or radiocarbon dating. As older adults now struggle for each breath, online answers to their questions easily can be found. Too late, some say, but, hey, every dog has his daisy to push up once he’s dead. And that goes for females too, whatever we rudely called them once.
II The Sonnet Project
Centcom Briefings Sonnets #1 (In progress) — entered Iraq to remove the regime. There is much pain there. Across the vastnesses the coalition remains robust, with 49 countries between us, small birds carry messages. The sky, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. We continue wanting, above all, to be blue, to remember those who have attacked regime targets over the last 48 hours in Baghdad and several cities throughout the country, as everlasting fire pours through space. Men dying in precision attacks against surface-to-surface missiles as Republican Guard forces return, to feed them, bear their children. This is a strike against an Iraqi television service building in Karbala, and it was attacked two nights ago. This is a Ba’ath Party headquarters building in al-Hillah. This is a military headquarters building in western Iraq. A little too much beauty is so hard to bear—a fuel truck in a revetment near al Kut, an ammo truck near An Najaf, targets of opportunity, as this next video shows.
#2 The first and final image is of an ammo dump near Baghdad, which illustrates our approach to reviving the Iraqi economy by planting trees all around, using the combined waters of Lake Huron, Lake Superior, and Babylon to flourish them. Where centuries twist toward the light, and special operations forces have also been effective interdicting movements into or out of Iraq, single-purpose vehicles wheel along at a nice clip. There is no future for the regime or anyone who supports it. We’ve made that statement clearly a number of times, and we’ll continue to say it. We’d be happy to guarantee that they have no future. Will they fight to the death? Probably. We’re seeing that in a number of places. Alarms have passed. The sun travels on. Those who are indeed in the open have everything to lose and will lose it. It’s better to err on the safe side and destroy them than to do otherwise. We want to ensure that no capability can come up, especially from western airfields. They were in the open and they were attacked, and the trees often vary in both color and substance. Flame more or less comes and goes.
#3 Ground truthing by Centcom has now suggested that both the Tigris River and Euphrates River basins can be rendered suitable Chinook salmon spawning habitats once sediment sizes larger than fines can no longer adversely affect sac fry emergence. Still, we continue to see brutal acts by the regime and the forces loyal to it. One example comes from an outpost in front of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force a day ago. And the story goes like this. During the daylight hours, two vehicles approaching a psychological checkpoint were taken under fire when they failed to stop. At the same time, our maritime guys continuing their work of keeping open the waterways found some mines in the shallow waters of Khor Abdullah as they continued expanding the channel way. Those mines have been destroyed, making the salmon stocking project a definite go. The maritime component continues to search any vessels remaining to ensure that there are no threats. Dangerous work, but important work, and it’s necessary to ensure that anything that’s in the ports is safe. Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you.
Sonnet: Marching as to War Conscripted Russian oil tycoons, marching off to do battle with Chechnyan rebels, copyrighted by their respective owners, no infringement intended. Flags, trademarks, and logos not to be used without prior permission given in writing. Despite the latest asbestos alert, we’ve no need to worry. Please cancel my silence, that age-old impulse covered in blood. What needs to be praised, celebrated, reiterated, is the elasticity of our downward curve, as if attempting to register how hard we have tried to imagine the historical ache, the pain passed down for all to feel, unless otherwise specified. She gifted us with her softest ululations, as if what came after were as snacks to a banquet. History screamed out our names, the names of the unloved dead. Otherwise, a perfectly average—averagely perfect—day.
Firefight at Palestine Hotel 31 minutes ago — No quagmire, but still some questions. The censorship begins inside the heavily armored tank if it is placed correctly. To err on the side of caution whenever practical, classrooms were filled with hundreds of crates of grenade launchers, hunkered down in their homes by a wife and two children hoping that peace would prevail. Critical questions a hundred flights up? Brides stripped bare by their bachelors? Coalition forces sound sirens again in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. Knew there were journalists there and ordered a return volley anyway. Media march to war, and my very bones sweated. Classrooms were filled with a lull following an evening bombardment. Ourselves with ourselves. Told reporters that after a lull following an evening bombardment. Rifles and rocketpropelled grenades reduced to a line in a sonnet, if it is placed correctly. Journalists warned of the danger that combat may lie ahead, can injure or kill. The commander knew that journalists were there, inside the heavily armed tank, amid hundreds of cartons of leaflets, trying by any means to seize the offensive, win the peace.
Sonnet: Success “A successful man is one who makes more money than a wife can spend. A successful woman is one who can find such a man.” —Lana Turner A successful man is one who finds a wife who can live on less money than he makes. A successful woman is one who can avoid being ensnared by such a man. A man who successfully weds such a woman is one who most successful women go out of their way not to meet or to date or to even hang out with. A woman who spends more than her husband can make is one whom I’d love to meet as long she spends much of it on me and that husband is not I. A man who succeeds in wedding such a woman is a man who weds pleasure and torment at the very same moment. A woman whose husband cannot support her is one whom we nowadays call an average woman. A man whose wife cannot support him is truly in deep kimchi when he cannot support even himself, not to mention those kids they both forgot to have.
Sonnet: A Guy Was Talking A guy was talking to his cell phone about a girl who once had made a call to him about a guy who, listening to his cell phone on his way to work, had heard a story about a girl who’d heard that I had heard a story on the way to work about a guy who was wishing they had all been more forthcoming about the whole affair, feeling that even in public there were things that they wanted to keep private and that had they been any less forthcoming there might have been nothing to say after all, after all was said and done. Hello? You’re breaking up on me, you’re breaking . . . Hello? Can you hear me? Can you hear me NOW? Hello? Shit! Hello?
Synaesthetic Sonnets #1 grunts, groans, howls and shrieks, frontal lobes concerned with emotion, superficially dissimilar things, deep links, howls of system, dusk of syntax neurobiological basis of metaphor, emergence of language, embedding of clauses within larger sentences, purple like a toxic herb, first shape the hammer’s head guttural utterances produced by the right hemisphere, he was green with nakedness when she knocked, joining words into phrases and sentences, on a seed and attach basis
#2 and sentences, on a seed and attach basis she knocked, joining words into phrases hemisphere, he was green with nakedness when guttural utterances produced by the right first shape the hammer’s head within larger sentences, purple like a toxic herb, emergence of language, embedding of clauses neurobiological basis of metaphor howls of system, dusk of syntax superficially dissimilar things, deep links, frontal lobes concerned with emotion, grunts, groans, howls and shrieks
Sonnet: In an Uncertain World On an airplane, I saw the face of imperialism reflected in your eyes. The shrieking eagle wheels, Damascus down below—brown on brown. I’d read your piece in Foreign Policy, but hadn’t believed a word of it. We’d find a way to commemorate the average man, you said. This is unreal, I thought. Let us pray for this man, sang the eagle, stunningly. No sentence of banishment that can not be reversed upon appeal to a higher court. The dead continue with their swimming motions, graced with courage and long preparation. Naked as ever, naked as air-controllers unprotected by unions. An alternative view: exterminate them like mice, don’t mourn them uselessly. The furniture of home—our unexpressed fondness for it, whatever the dictators do.
Sonnet: The Story Thus Far He was driving his wife’s Camaro on the water-clogged highway, when along came a spider and sat down beside him, instantly calling into question certain attitudes of his that she had come to deplore, to despise, to wish she’d never had to put up with. Meanwhile, basking in an altogether different garden, his young friend was making choices of his own, tunneling through mountains that hadn’t been there earlier in the evening. Distinguishing between topsoil and other attributes of the garden’s topography seemed completely beyond him. A suspect finds the victim’s involvement to be entirely a matter of his own choosing, assigned as a visitor to a small room high in the tower, unreachable by staircase or ladder—the impossibility of it all seeming to be a challenge, more so at least than another night of TV.
Mad Cow Sonnets #1 The general onslaught, long-expected, is now at hand, so nowadays it is wise to carry your paper money in hidden pockets, at least until you reach Baghdad, serenely green amid all those miles of burning sand. Cultural consequences of lapsed faith—America reawakened to the winds of change, three runs behind in the bottom of the ninth. The skin of unbelief stretched out upon the infield grass, the rebuilt ballpark—a refuge in an uncertain, violent world. Today’s special, some imitation of light. Organic pizza and sandwiches on the deck by the harbor. Fishermen still emptying their bilges just off-shore. Environmental issues remain unaddressed, though disgruntled fans find injury-plagued teams no longer give them what they had long taken for granted, take potshots at them from the sun-baked stands.
#2 Gwethalyn felt like staying in bed for the day, but something we have no word for aroused her suspicions. “We have nothing on for Friday night,” Lou said, frequently. Odious comparisons normally dispensed with, the privy’s details did not bear looking into. Relinquishing, forgoing, forswearing—any one of those terms would suffice. Even with her jewels locked away in a safe, Gwethalyn could speak nary a word of Hakka, though she often writes small books for nestlings, hers and others’. We are waiving the waiting period for you while we seek more definitions for “weakness” your penchant for chocolate, for example. “I feel like a cold beer now,” Lou often said. “Strange, you don’t look like one,” her usual retort. Gwethalyn’s friend Brittany, once a province in northwestern France, now ensconced in a former lighthouse on the Maine coast.
#3 Major-General Onslaught felt like staying in bed for the day, but something we have no word for aroused her suspicions. We have nothing on for Friday, at least until you reach Baghdad. Long-expected expectations, now at hand, amid all those sandy, burning miles. Cultural consequences did not bear close scrutiny, so nowadays it is wise to carry your odious comparisons only in hidden pockets, at least until you reach the bottom of the ninth, possibly your last chance, as Gwethalyn often reminded you. America’s reawakening, put off till the very last minute. Planes full of twenty-dollar bills, flown to Iraq, our “refuge” from a turbulent, violent world, our penchant for chocolate and cold beer. Relinquishing, forswearing. Taking potshots from the dugout at our new teammates, bobbling grounders, losing pop-ups in the sun.
#4 The long-expected onslaught, as generally understood, began at the bottom of the ninth—lapsed faith stirred up by winds of doctrine. Imitation light, burnt sand into glass, hardening and darkening the skins of the players. Politicians still empty their bilges just off-shore, wrapping Ace bandages around tired knees, hiding jewels and paper money in secret pockets in their gabardines. Lou’s comparisons (made in the privacy of his privy) seemed frequently odious. Forswearing, forgoing. Serenely green, the infield turf was watered by the tears of sailors doubling as baseball players, awaiting orders to put out to sea, their local teammates tripping over bases, losing popups in the sun. From sun-baked bleachers, disgruntled environmentalists take potshots at them. “What’s on Friday?” one of them asks.
#5 “Teach the world to love baseball, pizza, and cold beer,” Gwethalyn says, still not out of bed, “and all will be swell.” Her old friend Brittany forks a pickle from a jar and grins her toothy grin in spite of everything. Something she had no word for hardened, her smile—relinquishing, forswearing. Around them, the general devastation, a scent of rat the pols hadn’t warned them of. Bobbled grounders in the bottom of the ninth, ace pitchers’ arms all wrapped in bandages. Gwethalyn and Brittany hid their jewelry in secret pockets even Lou didn’t know about. Lapsed faith in paper money, still serenely green, while the infield grass burned for lack of water. Brittany’s lighthouse, long decommissioned, stood on its rock nonetheless, awaiting the long-expected bottom of the ninth, the fluke broken-bat single up the middle.
#6 Not privy to the details of the conspiracy, Gwethalyn spends Fridays in her bed—forgoing, forswearing. The general devastation stinks, as she says, to high heaven. Lou didn’t know her faith in paper money had lapsed. Two men out in the bottom of the ninth, and the batter’s got no eye. “Nothing on for Friday night,” Lou says. “We’ve still no name for the Baghdad team, that slipshod bunch of bobblers,” but the waiting period had been waived. Amid the general devastation, decommissioned lights stood at the rocky points of land. “No one at State speaks Hakka,” it’s been said. Disgruntled eco-mentalists petitioned government for strict enforcement of established rules. Groundskeepers tended the infield turf. Type in any word as you think it sounds, and we’ll take a shot at locating it for you.
Sonnet: Old MacDonald Had a Farm E I E I E I E I E I E I O O
California Sonnet Here there were rumors of Lakers, their names inscribed on the insides of eyelids, backs of t-shirts and jerseys. Palm trees branchless nearly to the very top, and then exploding against night sky high above the LA River, rushing seaward through the dense undergrowth of our imaginations. At the intersection of Pickford and Hayworth, we stood stock still, expecting . . . well, what? Do you remember? Some tour bus, I guess, touring the streets named after stars. Two days before, we’d been slipping the ashes of your husband into the calm waters of El Pacifico, just off the jetty down at Marina del Rey on the Sunday morning of Fathers’ Day, scull crews and yachtlings gliding by—and there! That dark shadowy thing in the water! Was it a skate? And then there was that new boy, the boy of your boy, patting the plastic of the bag with the ashes of your husband inside, saying goodbye to Grandpa, as urged to by his mom, your boy’s girl, her Aussie parents down from Cupertino, five and a half hours by road. And after all that, brunches for all at Bamboozle, just out of the sun for a change.
Chimayo The glass woman played by different rules inspired by great works of literature. Sophisticated tales of Bodhisattva, their hands-on approach to voyeurism, to expressivity in their near-sighted devotion to calligraphy. Radically shifting cultural values, painted-over scenes of New Mexico’s hill towns—Chimayo, Truchas. Blood and semen oozing from walls of the houses there. Open, stage-like plazas utopian logos and rebus-like commentaries evoking the conquering Spaniards, that dog that reminded us somehow of a chair in the blues and reds of the canyon. Colliding diagonals with their simple geometries, wanting to laugh.
Sonnet: How Are Things Going? How are things really going in Idaho? A tricky question, at first, inherently difficult to answer in terms of counterinsurgency warfare and nation-building efforts. Small trees (and large) blown down, their “client areas” damaging roofs and garages, cars parked in driveways. Highly partisan debate dominates the breakfast-table chatter, the latest violence there, beyond the window for all to see, impossible to ignore. More than 50 neighbors affected by this latest storm, this newest trend dominating news coverage for miles around, overshadowing more in-depth analysis based on government information. Of course, this being war, the rivers remain largely fluid, despite our best efforts to get a fix on them. New charts shed light on evolving situations, and that’s better than nothing, let me tell you—better than a filtration system that no longer works. Winning Idaho hearts and minds, and lowering crime rates in general, remain our goals, even with water services at 80 percent of pre-war levels.
Sonnet: No Dice “The government (it was leaked) will not negotiate tariffs under pressure,” the President said, from his home in the Large Magellanic Cloud. He jotted down names of concessionaires who will not negotiate, assuring us that the water and light cuts of the past few days will be thoroughly investigated. “I want them to know that they can tighten every screw that they want to, but that I am a president who has arranged to do what must be done,” he averred. At that very moment, three cartographers happened by, checking their power grids. The dean of the press corps, as usual, was silent—her secretary, less so. Possible supply problems over the next several months went unnoticed until the very last moment. Tariffs congealed on the windowsills. Directors of some multinationals endorsed new slogans for upcoming ad campaigns, caused at least indirectly, by inflexible and implacable news reports. “Still, as we have predicted, we have no credible evidence that cuts were caused intentionally,” some said. “How would it benefit us to strangle all those Argentinean towns?” one asked, rhetorically. “In order to mine, we must cut down some trees.” And, even as they spoke, Maine voters, who knew a lot about felling trees, voted down the building of a million new casinos.
Sonnet: Drought In this one we see the farmer you saw on TV talking through dry, parched, cracked lips about the unfairness of it all, of how the upstream counties and states always have first dibs on the river’s water whenever the river has water. Behind him and the interviewer is a plate-glass window beyond which we see a city street corner, traffic whizzing past, pedestrians pausing to preen and reach for their cell phones when they see their images on the monitors above the window on national TV, and he looks oddly out of place, sitting there in his boots and denims, jabbing one finger at his ear whenever the earpiece feels like it’s about to slip loose. He shares his fears that the government’s about to reduce the price supports that keep him “afloat.” He grins and makes little airborne quotation marks with two fingers of each hand. Outside, on the sidewalk, pedestrians lean this way and that, trying to let themselves be seen beyond his denim jacket’s shoulders. When his moment is over, he thanks his interviewer and expresses the hope that we’ll all understand his problems and needs, and that we’ll all do our best to save the family farm.
Baltimore: Moon Caught in Powerlines “always a longing for mountains in me” —Zoltan Kodaly From our decks and rooftops here, the only mountains we see are the ones on the moon. Backyards and gardens, garages and row houses, a steeple or two, and far, far off, between the trees and a couple lower, nearer buildings, a high-rise office tower by the harbor—these, plus the moon and the clouds and, in the bright city night, a star or two, are our vista. No frogs here, but crickets and birds and barking dogs. Helicopters and planes, including those high-up glittery ones too near the moon to be heard. Sirens and other vehicular traffic on nearby streets. Sometimes sounds of voices coming up from the sidewalk, especially on cool spring or fall nights when the air-conditioners are turned off and the windows stand open. The silent moon makes its way from one side of the house to the other, sometimes waiting till breakfast time to plunge as far down as the powerlines, struggling to break free of their net on its way to wherever it’s going, mountains and all.
Sonnet: Abandoned in Despair First, there’s another. You watch her strap on her logic from one day to the next, and try it out on the cat. You figure out another way of looking at her then, without even trying. Eyes swollen from seeing, you look once again, shoulder straps gently draped across her arms. That summer, fucking someone else before she came home from work, inches away from exhaustion, despair, you or another. It’s not that you were not hungry. It . . .
Psy-ops Sonnet There is much pain there. Across the vastnesses between us, small birds carry messages. The sky, wanting, above all, to be blue, arches its back, as everlasting fire pours through space. Men dying in burning houses wait for their women to return, to feed them, bear their children, mend their clothes. But even on the best of days, in relatively stable orbits, men tremble before women only average in appearance. A little too much beauty is so hard to bear when souls are torn to shreds, an infinity of detergents stretching them to some breaking point, memory prospecting and mining, leaving deep flooded shafts among heaped dishes, appliances, lying in ambush in kitchens.
Sonnet: Autonomous Retreat That hole, that vacuum, with talk and print—all oil mergers suspended until further notice. No use to cry outside and scream inside. It was all a sin click here, until the storm bursts, and house is shut and still. We share the luxury of seeing it all, building the scrub of future sugar. Having lost and forgotten everything, the music must play forever—allegro, ma non troppo. Unexplained bravura, place of safe laughter. On the reasonable shoreline, white in the air, white in the trees. Father of wavelets, come lift your arms with us. Given this kind of city, sand beneath our feet like broken glass, pieces of orphaned wreckage tossed up by the storm. Russian oil mergers suspended by thumbs, between wetlands and the suffocating sea.
Sonnet Cycle abab cdcd efef gg bcbc dede fgfg hh cdcd efef ghgh ii dede fgfg hihi jj efef ghgh ijij kk fgfg hihi jkjk ll ghgh ijij klkl mm hihi jkjk lmlm nn ijij klkl mnmn oo jkjk lmlm nono pp klkl mnmn opop qq lmlm nono pqpq rr mnmn opop qrqr ss nono pqpq rsrs tt opop qrqr stst uu pqpq rsrs tutu vv qrqr stst uvuv ww rsrs tutu vwvw xx stst uvuv wxwx yy tutu vwvw xyxy zz uvuv wxwx yzyz aa vwvw xyxy zaza bb wxwx yzyz abab cc xyxy zaza bcbc dd yzyz abab cdcd ee zaza bcbc dede ff abab cdcd efef gg
Pastorale I see your body gutted and burned like an old church fallen upon evil days. The road passes by your head on its way to the forest. And among the trees I see mother washing her hair in the water springing up between the rocks. She turns to say nothing to me. She is silent. I take her at her word. Running now, I feel the light branches lashing at my face and arms. I see the sunlight falling through the leaves and landing on its feet. No angels sing more sweetly or less loud.
Sonnet: Surprisingly, Vertical Industry Beautiful of fronts, perfectly accumulated along impossible obliques, staring at a woman’s chest. Genderless stillness floating among them, upward from their mouths until both set and subject, dozens of shops, an elementary school, a twotiered mall, with more media savvy than our father ever had. Hard to imagine its baggage, its pleated and folded pages, those that had first made his reputation. The promise of international attention subtly alters those of us mounted on posts, on concrete or stucco, so long identified with urban blight. Blurry pink child’s play, their massive renditions exemplified by snowy forests, the man’s spectacles carelessly discarded near a woman’s groin. That series of suspended lines, pulled vertical by shafts of light, already on view in an adjacent room. The words we learned: “demure,” “contemptuous,” “empathetic.”
Sonnet: I Think Continually I think continually of those who are truly great Chinese poets, or might have been had they not been born somewhere else, in some other time, wanting but not wanting to be Chinese, to float tiny little poems out onto tiny little streams and then get drunk as a skunk, hours into the newest of new millenniums. I think sometimes of those who are always left out of my thoughts, the ones I find it hard to imagine— their pleasures and miseries, their songs and their sufferings. I sometimes think it’s almost enough to have thought of them, but then that peasant behind the door, the one with the sledgehammer, raps me on the ankle with it just hard enough to say, “Hey, I’m still here, you bastard. Just because you read Chekhov doesn’t mean you’re better than I am. You don’t even read Russian.”
Sonetto: Buona Fortuna Let me not stay you from making your selfAppointed rounds, O epistle-carriers. Do not go postal into that good night, Tho old age ain’tcher av’rage purdy pitchur. Stunned apparatchiks wander lonely in Our lonely crowds until the cows come home And all our pleasures prove intractable As bankers’ hours in that fragile light Wherein all musics flow together into One, two —no—three grand allegations of malFeasance by those CEOs we’ve come to love And trust with sacred fortunes and men’s eyes. O, Fortuna! What luck that we have found Ourselves too pleased for words to stop us now!
Sonnet: The Light Within In the beginning were the logos, flags as transitional objects. Our deaths went on and on, infinitely varied, all rights reserved. The book launch was cancelled, not postponed, as once we thought. Thanks but no thanks, no infringement of copyright intended. Strawberries, drops of wine, the dew—all slated for demolition. Somehow his thoughts made sense in Japanese language only. The nettles, until today, belonged to their copyright owners solely. I collapsed to the floor as Europe and its cities were leveled. Alone, you let the terrible stranger in, one of infinite grace and power. No hospital beds. Beds. No hospital beds, no hospital beds. Left to his own devices, he knew not to waken. It’s not difficult to take a snooze in poems, the good doctor said. The lamps go out singly, syllable by syllable, in autumn rain. My newspapers crave what they cannot have.
Sonnet: Democracy in the News “Washington is a brothel where the privileged princes of perk and pork enjoy themselves while ordinary folks elect a new piano player every four years.” —John Quirt The central purpose of journalism, it’s been said, is to confuse and divide the citizenry, to speed them in and out of stores. Ultimate decisions are made by the market, or by its elected CEOs, making their way among the tables of books on display, their eyes glazed over. The country is formally rural, with clumped-up cities along its riverbanks and coastlines. Conrad’s “At sea we are all equal” morphs into “We are all equally at sea.” Crates of chickens and live pigs are delivered unto our legislators each and every day. The notion that the citizen is the ultimate sovereign brings tears to our eyes. Where is calm Boccherini now that we need him? Unorganized citizens without dishwashers live below the radarscreen of corporate enterprise—unserved, unused—mowing their lawns, living their lives. Autoworkers morph into waitresses, and walk their dogs toward evening, plastic bags in their pockets.
Sonnet: It’s Better to Turn on the TV It’s better to turn on the TV than to curse the darkness. Beware of swarthy men (or women) carrying almanacs. Report any suspicious activity to 1-800-ACT-FAST. Resistance and refusal mean advice and consent. When you meet the Buddha on the road, arrest him. If we don’t reelect Bush, the terrorists have won. All roads lead to Guantánamo, aka Gitmo. The only thing we have to terrorize is terror itself. If we reelect Bush, the winners will be the terrorists. Business art (Andy said) is the step that comes after Art. Snipers up upon the roof, corn be heavy pretty damn soon. The devil finds work for idling hands up on the deck. If one spreads butter on both sides of one’s bread, one need not worry which side’s better cuz there’s butter on’t.
Double-sonnet: Methane I. It’s hard to know where to begin. Kenny started growing his own methane out behind the house when he was in his early forties and has continued to this very day. The little methane bushes he ultimately moves to rows in the garden, but in this climate they need to be started off in a greenhouse or at least a solarium. During the winter these would need to have some form of heat, no? So, my job is to tear down the knotty pine siding and burn enough of it every day to keep the solarium warm on those frequent days at these latitudes that we don’t get any sun. He plants his little methane bushes in between the rows of lemon trees out back, the ones we keep alive over the long winters here by firing up the smudge pots. Once Kenny’s recovered from the animals and the pool and the narcotic analgesics he’s had to take every four hours, he’ll be on his feet again, out in back, tending his little bushes. Much of what Kenny says is complex and interesting, but around here we have lots of those little old half wine barrels you find sometimes at home
II. and garden stores, so knowing where to plant him when he’s not up to snuff is never a problem. I wish I could see your house. It probably has some of those pipes and ducts and things running all around from the water-heater to keep things warm, and one of those slatty wooden things in the corner of the kitchen that make the room so cozy. Now, it’s come to my attention that a rumor (sort of) has been associated with my name and the end of my fifty-year marriage to Kenny. It seems that some of you are under the impression that I had affairs behind Kenny’s back, not once, not twice, but many, many times over the years. Even that I cheated with Betty. But I want you to know that Kenny and I never had affairs without the other’s knowing and approving and sometimes even participating. So, there it is—the idea that I went behind Kenny’s back is absolute fucking false. I hope this clears up the confusion in anyone’s mind. I did not cheat . . . not ever, not even after Kenny died and all his little methane bushes had long since been plowed under. Not even after Kenny died and all his little methane trees had long since been plowed under. End of story. Really.
Sonnet: Democracy Red in Tooth and Claw When my mother asked me to go with her to sell the house, I thought at first she was just a tad loopy, considering that our representatives are supposedly guided by the citizenry, that gardening isn’t quite as good as it used to be at relieving our stress and anxiety, that there are still folks who smoke by lighting one cigarette from the butt of another, who personally observe events, and then make up their minds. She’d spent a lot of time watching large birds swoop to pick off smaller ones at the feeder one by one, and thought that public life, either in business or government, must be pretty much the same as that. At least, I thought, she didn’t rely upon the press to be informed. In fact, whenever she’d see TV images of bombs bursting in the air of Iraq, she’d said, “See? Those are the seeds of democracy being planted.” She’d call the green of night-vision lenses the green thumb of liberty. And I never knew exactly how much irony to give her credit for. “Extremity at the edge of terror”—her last words on the subject.
Sonnet: Benign Virus Appears to Block Bush Strategy Few White House interns or trainees seemed to have any interest in editing out clichés or overused visual effects. In fact, very few of them even came to work wearing a decent suit, or seeming to care about what happened next. In the screening room, right-wing oil barons awaited test cores shipped down from Mars and the start of yet another movie based on superhero comics. “These bad guys are bad,” mused one, as the action got under way. A news team with meat on its bones waited in the corridor, yes, one of those corridors of power we’ve heard so much about for them to emerge. “What did you think?” asked one, thrusting a mike toward one of the suits stepping out. “Did it make you feel deeply about anything at all? Did it make you think?” One said, “That sadist in the mask he was really cool.” “Evil,” said another, “went down to its traditional defeat.” In a conference room down the hall, the trainees twirled their mustachios as they sought new ways to break up the logjam of judicial appointments that caused their president so much grief. “Ben Affleck,” one sniffled, “would know what to do.”
On the Hustings with George: Two Sonnets and Part of Another 1. George’s thoughts in ’04 include the deployment of a missile defense system that will protect us all from researchers using stem cells derived from frozen embryos. Democrats, of course, see this as a transparent attempt to capitalize on Al Queda’s attack on the World Trade Center. Slowing down medical advances, along with setting back patient care, is high on his list of achievable goals, even in an election year. And banning federal funds for such purposes would be only the first step in leaving his mark on the country and turning the dark historic page begun with FDR’s rise to power. Whether George can guarantee for himself a second, and perhaps even third, term has become a matter of intense international debate, and yet doing so is an essential step toward providing defenses against 21st century threats. George thinks his offer to go one-on-one in a series of televised debates with Ralph Nader demonstrates that he has nothing to hide, that his response to the 9/11 attacks earned him a statue at Ground Zero, wearing a hard hat, hand on the shoulder of a fire-fighting fellow hero.
2. Despite variations in interlanguage morphology, George speaks well of his opponents, declaring that the right to speak freely, if feebly, is what America is all about. His lefthanded reading of Scripture in a voluminous burial mound of rubble stands high among the icons of American oratory. For many here (is this computer broken or what?) George sees nothing unusual or reprehensible about inviting Tang Yao-ming, Taiwan’s defense minister, to be his running mate, especially since his current vice president, Dick Cheney, is nowhere to be found. “We’ve got to expand our thinking,” George says, when challenged, “and if the Constitution contains some impediment to doing so . . . well, then, we’ve got to change the Constitution.” In a number of regional and national publications, George has expressed his belief that the phonetic and phonological bases of reading and writing should no longer be beyond the grasp of third-graders anywhere. Nor should the colonizing of outer space be postponed any longer. In his new book, The Autobiography of My Mother Barbara, George once again decries the use of stem cells from the excess embryos at fertility clinics. “What if I . . .”
3. “had never been born? What then? What if the hunters hadn’t come out of the forest? What would have happened then?” Industry needs our help in a lot of ways. There’s no doubt about that, and George is aware of the need. He’s also aware that God intended marriage to be a man-and-woman sort of thing, and that if He hadn’t He wouldn’t have made sex-change operations available to all of them. “I like to test all truths against the principles of revisionary aesthetics,” George often opines, when asked his views on Spenser’s Faerie Queene, “but I’m always too busy leading and being president to read that sort of filth.”
Sonnet Written in the Light of Fiscal Realities Last week Gypsy played to 84.5 percent of its capacity at the 1,447-seat Schubert, with a gross of $574,301, its best in a month and one that put the show healthily in the black for a week. The renovation of Lincoln Center was first announced as a $1.5 billion, 10-year upgrade of the entire campus, but the plan has since been reconceived in the light of fiscal realities. Lenny’s plan to cut costs by depositing his household trash in the dumpster behind Sweet Sue’s was thwarted when the Shandaken police car pulled into the alley beside the restaurant just as he was about to make his generous contribution. Considering that his cousin, once a visiting nurse in the mountains of West Virginia, told him of old women keeping warm by lying on beds of rotting potatoes, he decided that the cost of heating his woodsy little cabin by kerosene wasn’t very high at all.
Slow Curve One person’s prayer, another person’s blasphemy. Together with his snoring and his association with the Japanese Lunchbox Hoax, this was almost enough to put her over the edge. “I know that neither trees nor elephants are black holes,” she would have said had she had the words to say it. She was up to write her letters at four, when the clouds had not yet lifted from the treetops, and then she’d spend most of the rest of the morning with her collection of Gerard Depardieu autographs, the ones she’d purchased on eBay, the house around her, shuttered and still. Outside the house, the streets were cordoned off with ropes, as though that would protect anyone against anything nowadays. Around lunchtime she turns on the news. The camera catches a newscaster who doesn’t realize he’s on the air snarling, “This computer broken or what?” before grinning sheepishly into the lens and launching into his recital of yet another morning’s disasters. And, from there on, it’s all downhill.
In the East Room Look, I know that this has been tough weeks in that country, but the road is still straight and we will not waver. Our commitment to freedom is as committed as ever and we will not waver. We will stay the course over the course of the future, whatever it brings. That country will be a peaceful democratic country or I’ll know the reason why. We will defeat violence and terror wherever it raises its ugly heads. We will show our resolve by staying the course and not wavering in the face of terror and violence, and our country will be safer than ever because they can live in as much peace and freedom as we ever have, serving the cause of liberty, and freedom, and democracy, and so on. We will take resolute action wherever feasible and prudent, and in the interests of the safety of our people and those around the world, in Asia and in Europe, who have come to know that we are as good as our words when it comes to staying God’s course, and not wavering, as we determine our unwavering resolve.
Sonnet: Getting on with Our Lives (though more vigilant than before) we watch for rough patches in the road while taking care not to impede the progress of emergency vehicles or unduly stress the negative in such a way as to upset the wife and kids why just the other day the wife was sitting outside on the porch-swing taking note of the activities of the latest insurgency to spring up in our neck of the woods but did she get upset and raise a ruckus about it no no not her the kids went on playing in the yard in their own sweet innocent ways not yelling or screaming or crying even when mortar shells landed next door doing I might add some slight damage to the greenhouse windows out back though I must say the wife got a bit irate when those marines drove their humvees into and out of the front yard leaving a couple deep ruts with their wheelspins that ran right through her bed of verbenas and nasturtiums nicely edged by hostas within a week however there was a nice little note from the regional commander saying how sorry he was about any collateral damage that may or may not have occurred
Double-sonnet: A Test of Wills 1. “Okay,” said the President, “we’re going to have a Test of Wills here,” so we went out and rounded up all the Wills we could find, and herded them into the Press Room, where we sat them down in long rows at desks with paper and writing implements for them to write with. “Okay now, listen up,” said the Prez, once they’d all taken their seats. “We’re having a little contest of Wills here, but, even though there’ll be winners and losers, not one of you Wills will be left behind. I guarantee that. Okay now, pay attention, and put on your thinking caps. The first thing that I want you to do is write down your full name on that piece of paper in front of you. Last one done is the loser.” “Not fair,” said Will Shakespeare, who was sitting with Will Durant just to his left. “That’s right, that’s not fair,” said Will Durant, who was nobody’s fool, and who’d seen Charlton Heston disguised as Will Penny on the other side of the room a couple rows back right next to Will Smith. “And that Gary Wills over there, he’s not even a Will.
2. He’s a Gary. Doesn’t even belong here.” “Awright, awright. Just take it easy,” said the Prez, relieved that he hadn’t been called on his ringer. “Just write your names, and we won’t time you on it. Now, do it, and lie your pens down when you’re finished.” [scribbling sounds all around] “Okay, now, raise your hands if you’re willing to die for this country,” said the Prez. Most of the hands shot up, but Shakespeare said, “I’m not even American.” “That’s okay, bubba, you’re part of the Coalition of the Willing.” “Right, OK, forsooth,” said the Bard. Then he stuck up his hand, thought for a moment and pulled it down again. “But Your Highness, I’m already dead.” “Oh, horsefeathers,” said the Prez. “Let me rephrase the question. Put your hand up if you’re willing to die or die again and again for this country, American or not.” All the hands shot up—except for one. “Okay, what’s your name, fella? You ain’t bein’ helpful,” said the Prez, all red-faced and flustered like. “My name’s Will Geer, Mr. Prez, and I just ain’t on a war footing,” said the [your choice] cowardly/curmudgeonly/heroic/foolish/patriotic old man.
Mini-sonnet: For the Families “Dear Mrs, Mr, Miss or Mr and Mrs----: Words cannot express the deep personal grief I experienced when your husband, son, father or brother was killed, wounded, or reported missing in action.” —after a found text (by Joseph Heller)
My Strange Amoeba Notwithstanding its ability to reproduce by simply separating part of itself from itself and sending it off to pre-school, it wasn’t all that different from other simple life forms, say clarinetists or performers on the oud. It’s not a question of bricolage or muscle thumb, but rather watching where one falls. Nervous improvisations in adjacent precincts. The constant lap of water on the shore. Aromatherapy, one option we’d given no thought to . . . until yesterday, that is. Playing near the edges of one’s world, one finds, even there, mandatory vaccinations. Relatively fixed, in this most neurotic of worlds, despite our most fraudulent endeavors, we await our ends with just precisely the right amount of equanimity.
Sonnet: The Week That Was China and India were preparing to rush to the moon a Polish man who had been comatose since the beginning of Communist rule. Paris Hilton, unable to deal with reality, breaks down in tears. Miss America booed in Mexico City. Hundreds of lifers in Italian prisons demand to be put to death. Macaques attack homes of Indian robots. Retired orthodontists to face firing squads for unlicensed practice of calligraphy. Damien Hirst sells own skull for $1 million. Elephants attack and rob motorists on New Jersey Turnpike. Vladimir Putin orders Aeroflot flight attendants to lose weight. Cindy Sheehan abandons anti-war movement for a life of Turkish baths. Yemen more peaceful than USA, study finds. USA military commanders tired of dying a little bit every day. Jack Kevorkian threatens to aim missiles at Washington, D.C.
Contiguous Humiliations The daily restrictions and humiliations of the occupation, the relentless bombardments. He said that this area would be territorially contiguous and edged with verbena, allowing Israel to annex yet more of the West Bank. Hopes for peace don’t have to be lost under the baggage of both nuclear and conventional weaponry, the relentlessly perceived injustices and territorial disputes of the postTaliban phase of Middle Eastern history. An evaluation of strategic training camps—the shames, the rancor, the resentments—of human rights abuses that did not stop at that point. The counties of Kent and Sussex, having been found closest to Europe’s mainland, were subject to constant surveillance, despite the defeatist mentality of mosque trustee boards in that chain of little towns on the coast of Northern Jutland between Hanstholm and Hirtshals, connecting by-pass roads in Afghan areas near the seashore.
Sonnet: Spontaneous Separations Mixed together and held in abeyance, jostling emotions mind their tilt and twist boundaries until, going their own ways, moving across irreversibility lines, they acquire new properties, losing more and more electrons as they travel on. Green-blooded and blue-tailed skinks now restricted to xeric uplands, barring major accidents or electrical interactions. Milk droplets pouring from a cystral chalice, acquiring different charges, abandoning all hope to enter. Shaken out into a taxi or limo, sand artists carry with them their mandalas and mudras. Static prevents our reception of previous messages, whether blue or red. If public opinion mattered, if it influenced policy, then stealth aircraft would be much less important, with scattered and temporary exceptions, now that our tribal balloon has descended.
Arbitration Sonnet This Sonnet is arranged, sponsored, and managed by Amazing Sonnets in the state of New York, USA. The laws of the state of New York govern this Agreement and all of its terms and conditions, without giving effect to any principles of conflicts of laws. You agree that any action at law or in equity arising out of or relating to these terms and conditions shall be submitted to confidential arbitration in New York, New York, except that, to the extent you have in any manner violated or threatened to violate Amazing Sonnets’ intellectual property rights, Amazing Sonnets may seek injunctive or other appropriate relief in any state or federal court in the state of New York, and you consent to exclusive jurisdiction and venue in such courts. Arbitration under this agreement shall be conducted under the rules then prevailing of the American Arbitration Association. The arbitrator’s award shall be binding and may be entered as a judgment in any court of competent jurisdiction. To the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, no arbitration under this Agreement shall be joined to an arbitration involving any other party subject to this Agreement, whether through class arbitration proceedings or otherwise.
Sonnet Industry Shorts I have a feeling I’m not the only one, but my headshots have never been up to industry standards. Using those of others, however, raises ethical questions I’m not yet prepared to answer. My crown of sonnets entitled “How I Learned to Salivate” garnered prizes galore but failed to find quick publication. And my Harvard degree didn’t help, though I was slathered with advice by seasoned adults, well-meaning though they were. I know, let me tell you, the dangers of getting stuck on selling an image both youthful and exotic. The work, after all, is the thing (as I’m incessantly told). Yet, if a sonnet tree falls in an empty forest, does it even make so much as a ripple on the cowpond of my aspirations? Whatcha think? I really wanna know. (:D)
Sonnet: Bridge Over Troubled Markets Specialized endeavors: threading the cat, pummeling pomelos. Dollar mixed in quiet trading. Ethicists fault both parties in ongoing scandals. Retreating and yet treating them as well as can be expected in wartime. Roiled water beneath the bridge of dreams. In such weather one should be careful to wear a cap. Journeymen in trucks devise new routes, detours around flooded roadways or downed bridges. We’d thought the king was dead, but now? Shaping themselves to new tides and winds, the rocks sit solid at the shore. Futurists graze out in the north pasture, not far from here. No sense of urgency there. Everything in its own time. No thing lasts forever. Even comets come and go. Small disturbances rattle markets without leaving a trace. Epitomes of brevity, we each await our turn.
Sonnet Incorporating a Poem by James Tate They didn’t have much trouble teaching the ape to write poems: first they strapped him into the chair, then tied the pencil around his hand (the paper had already been nailed down). Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder and whispered into his ear: “You look like a god sitting there. Why don’t you try writing something?” The ape, deep in thought, swatted idly at his ear, thinking Bluespire’s buzzing to be that of a mosquito. The pencil he held seemed archaic, too crude an instrument for his thoughts. Bluespire had always been a pest, wanting the ape to do this and do that. Always jotting down notes, as though anything he learned from his observations might somehow advance his race, his species. As though humanity might somehow be saved from its fate by just any old ape.
Sonnet I just received word Thursday, when I got back from feeding a bird on the head of the daughter of a local Ph.D. candidate bound and determined to marry a poet named Jerry, whose microtonal little road movies never got much beyond their opening credits, but which, even so, were very much liked by the board of the Paris Review, an august body with a pedigree that goes farther back into the catalogues of bogus small-press publications than any other, of your planned demise. I’m hoping this reaches you before you take the actual step, the actual leap off into the darkness of wherever you’re going, the girl at her curtains, hanging on to her double secret, her index of forbidden literature, one possible if erroneous interpretation being that projects like carnivals never go exactly as planned, unless of course you take those “fortunate accidents” into account.
Stipulations Ghostly instead, they chronicle their most horrid neighbors. Standard ground-based tools put an end to night skies everywhere. Newspapers promise more accurate obits whether their subjects are living or dead. My mother was thirty times more sensitive than my father on all but the most august occasions. Mac Low said, “Every text worth reading is a manifesto.” I say, whoop-dee-doo! Fat lazy dogs forever!
Found Sonnet: On Red Many think of red as a cheerful color, one good to use in a dark room. But the average red, used in large quantities, absorbs the light in a most disheartening manner, making a room seem smaller than it really is. It makes ugly, gloomy shadows in the corners, for at night it seems to turn to a dingy black, and increases the electric light bill. Red also severely strains the eyes, and many a red living-room causes seemingly unaccountable headaches. Not that red should never be used, for it is often a necessary color, but one must remember that a little of it goes a long way. A room, for instance, paneled with oak, with an oriental rug with soft red in it, red hangings, and a touch of red in an old stained glass panel in the window, and red velvet cushions on the window seat, would have much more warmth and charm than if the walls were entirely red. Source: Lucy Abbot Throop, Furnishing the Home of Good Taste A Brief Sketch of the Period Styles in Interior Decoration with Suggestions as to Their Employment in the Homes of Today. [New York: Robert M. McBride & Co., 1920]
Tango Bouquet Hes and shes, God thought, what can I do for them that I haven’t already done? Once we boarded their veins up, they had nothing good to say anymore. Tawdry mimosas sprang up on cafe tables everywhere, and no one seems to have noticed. If brains were muscles, then all minds could be lifted up. Something with something always gets along for two or three days, circling the plaza, first one way and then the other. Eyes plucking the birds from the sky. Someone’s corsage hung from a flagpole, dipping and waving in the biscuity breeze. Stores open till ten, now that darkness upon us has fallen. The disjuncture of what men seek, someone said. Or maybe the word was departure, someone thought.
Bachiana Europe within, a have-based father, though more from local to treasury once. At visual three, who knows? Punctuated quite, that reading. Critical as any which. Whose forebears spoke of “hearing some Book,” and yet resisted its subjectivity. Sociolinguistics, sculpted alive. Scores and manuscripts with some poetry in them, lying about everywhere, everything. Harmonious inventions springing from grandmother’s tonguebook. Conference calls of the imagination. Catch-can phrases breed feudal elaborations and exonerations, images on and off now. Overarching themes putting rather some good in. Previous expressions fund holiness. Articulate relationships trump first-person narratives, not the first to spurn Hovercraft values. On his nexus night, proud values seek absolution.
How Pink Was My Monkey? The backdoor to rumors stood open. Out, out, brief aquifer! Explosions of visible wealth raised our expectations, the sanctions industry notwithstanding. In the wake of a new rash (mixed metaphor noted) of school shootings, new attempts to deprive us of our God-given right to bear arms were beaten down. The Queen’s arrival at Churchill Downs timed to coincide with the touchdown of super tornadoes in Kansas, no end to the parade of hatboxes. Baghdad hopes to use oil revenues to bring Saddam back from the dead. Bush/Cheney responds with threats to clone Reagan and Nixon.
Sonnet: Climate Control Sunlight abounds through multiple windows, a factoid that allows many a lesser writer to acquire a far wider reputation than he otherwise might. Climate control is state of the art, but when you think you’re dead, please don’t call an ambulance because the paperwork involved is overwhelming. Modern writers with automated feeding still need an airflow system that will essentially expel air containing no odor. Writers making good use of the warm air from veal barn exhaust fans enjoy happier results (and longer careers) all around. Strong editorial shoulders put to Samsara’s wheel yield Kudzu Award winners by the score. No oddball positions, please. Silent Zen singing only.
Sonnet: Sometimes a penis . . . Penises have numerous identities. For example, a corona is a straight penis measuring some 5 1/2” with a rounded end that goes in the mouth. Coronas then descend in order of size as follows: petit corona, tres petit corona and half a corona, coming in at about 3 1/2” in length. Similar in shape to the corona but slightly longer is the Lonsdale. The Ideales is a thin, torpedo penis measuring some 6 1/2”. Bouquet and Londres penises are similarly thin but shorter. One of the most popular and accessible of the penis family is the panatela, which is slim, about 5” long and is sometimes distinguished by being pinched at the mouth end. Once it had a finished top that had to be severed before pissing or fucking but this is not the case nowadays. A cheroot is usually beefier than a panatela, and shorter. In Britain a small penis open at both ends is called a whiff.
Landscape Near a Landfill Addicted to fog and roiling seas, to dark Moroccan streets and scorching deserts, we wondered what she saw in him. Obligate anaerobes mingle with pearly everlastings, and yet, theory weary true believers produce more words every day than wannabe muses dared to hope, black jobless figures at historical lows. How many words must a man put down before you can call him a man? Mom and pop therapists convene in Decatur, Illinois—deep clashes of intuition, bad news for novelists. Our steam engine, the microchip. We hitched our star to a falling wagon, depending on your point of view. Generous Americans dropping peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Afghan wastelands, miles offtarget. Dangerously prolific, modernism’s project comes to rest at last in a field of biblical prophecy, finally open to question.
Autumnal Sonnet An undesecrated flag flew over the ballpark, where outfielders napped and baserunners took desperate chances. Such talent as that had not been seen since the beginning of the eclipse. Opportunity stood on our doorstep, hand raised to knock. Embryogenesis, our middle name. No-fly zones at the ready in the backyard. All sorts of guys came by for drinks, or looking for free hand-outs. Among the missing, we were always at a loss for something to say, something at least sympathetic, if not moreso. A designer of aloha shirts camped on the median strip across from the end of our driveway. “Will work for food,” said his sign. Some said his parents had married for love, but none could have known for sure. Youngsters congregated in the front yard, choosing up sides. We older folk kicked back in the bleachers, basking in the early October sun, taking our game to higher levels than ever before.
Death Panel Sonnet Obama killed my baby. Obama killed me, baby. Obama killed my gramma, my grampa, my mama. Obama killed my papa, my sista, my brudda. Obama killed my tax cut. Obama killed my bonus. Obama killed my tax haven. Obama killed my medicare. Obama killed my pay raise. Obama killed my clunker. Obama killed the GOP. Obama killed democracy. Obama killed the USA. Obama killed me, baby.
Sonnet: This Music Does Not Mean To be running may also be more important to you than those usual villages ten versts from the capital. What is it like to be clean? We feel okay, but fickle. Art is such effort, we often used to say, playfully. Monitor flickers over air vents. Malformed addresses! The server grows impatient, trusting another to follow her directions without being so negative. Korzinkina, his new-found wife does not mean to be remembered. She flings words at the Presidium, and her spanks are not gentle. When she takes her shirt off, rigorous development ensues. Complete cosmic snapshots at our disposal—black holes colliding, during a crisis. Noting the coils, thinking I’ll never be good enough, the march on Red Square begins to enter the abyss. [partially from a text written (maybe) by Lewis LaCook]
Superbot Sonnet This is the sonnet that will worm its way into the dark interior of your body, your soul. It will check out your psyche for both strengths and flaws. Its pale artificial flesh will slither a zigzag line into recesses of heart and mind that never see the light of day. Essence of silicone looking around, not taking no for an answer. Upon emerging, the superbot sonnet files its report: “Eerily lifelike” it finds you.
Sonnet: Nothing As Yet To Report Rows of chairs spread out in front of an American flag. All things ordained to one end. His way of saying he’s glad to be back. He’s done nothing improper, is what he wants to say. Worn-out arguments about what “American” means (as though words should have one meaning only). Something’s happened, but I’m not sure what. Blinking TV lights—on, off—just like that. Dance mixes. The reinvention of state government. Was that a risus sardonicus he wore on his face? Whatever science has to say about your troubled and exalted life sounds good, until we consider uncertainty and all its ramifications. Anything vaguely sensitive, sure to raise even further questions, doubts, qualms.
Miracles Sonnet Frida Kahlo, after a long overland journey, arrives at a conclusion. Frida Kahlo dons a helmet and an asteroid belt and goes to a ball. Frida Kahlo appears to many, despite their rising cost, in corn tortillas. Frida Kahlo’s success at Sotheby’s surpasses all expectations. Frida Kahlo takes Diego to task for leaning much too far to the left. Frida Kahlo takes questions and answers prayers after her press conference. Frida Kahlo expects nothing less than the best from her admirers. Frida Kahlo rents the far side of the moon for her newest exhibition. Frida Kahlo overtakes Mount Fuji as world’s most famous icon. Frida Kahlo replaces Virgin of Guadalupe as Mexico’s most famous icon. Frida Kahlo chosen by Obama to follow Clinton as US Secretary of State for remainder of term. Frida Kahlo arrested at MOMA for illegal entry. Frida Kahlo enters Guinness World Records as most popular saint’s name. Frida Kahlo adopted as mantra by billions of Buddhists worldwide.
Seven Years Later Has it really been that long? murmured the president. The terrace into the courtyard of Castle Bleach.com had been built during the time of random vicissitudes, months and years of war that had battered down ramparts meant to withstand ages of unfounded criticisms and congressional oversights. Over at Foggy Bottoms they tell me we ought to do more diplomacy and less brush chopping. Honey, stop fretting and pacing and come back to bed, said mrs. president. You know that tomorrow you have to start writing your memoirs. That new Nintendo’s doing well. They never give you credit enough for that. Maybe you should start blogging, take your case right to the peoples. Great idea! exclaimed the president. The internets is really the place I wanna be.
Sonnet (Italian Style), in English and Vietnamese line one and so on line two and so on line three and so on line four and so on line five and so on line six and so on line seven and so on line eight and so on line nine and so on line ten and so on line eleven and so on line twelve and so on line thirteen and so on line fourteen and so on
Sonnet, kiểu Ý hàng một và vân vân hàng hai và vân vân hàng ba và vân vân hàng bốn và vân vân hàng năm và vân vân hàng sáu và vân vân hàng bảy và vân vân hàng tám và vân vân hàng chín và vân vân hàng mười và vân vân hàng mười một và vân vân hàng mười hai và vân vân hàng mười ba và vân vân hàng mười bốn và vân vân tr. Linh Dinh
The G-Rated Sonnet I’d like this sonnet to be as sweet, as tender and sexless, as any love scene featuring Diane Keaton and Steve Martin. I’d like it to be as dulcet-toned as Anita O’Day singing “Skylark.” I’d like my sonnet to be full of children, yet void of conception, pregnancy, and childbirth. Their ears would be ears that have never heard “foetus” or “fuck” or “pudenda.” Their family newspaper would report only engagements, weddings and births. Images of war, of broken and mutilated bodies would never appear there. No names of the dead, please. They’ll all remain nameless, unless, of course, it’s Grandma or Grandpa, or, sadly, little Rexie, who never lived to be a full-sized dog, or that small, nameless kitty we found in the backyard that day and which Junior ran over with his scooter without meaning to do so. Like gray-haired Martin, this sonnet shakes its head in dismay, raises (briefly) its eyes to Heaven.
Lost Methodologies We begin, with the hope of making it in the movies, to arrive, hopping off the bus at the bus station, beginning our hunt for a good screen name, one that goes well with Mulholland. Amnesiacs all, we are cast in leading roles, but cannot remember our lines long enough to finish the briefest of scenes. We forget both our names and the names of the characters we are playing. Embroiled in a classical quest—emotionally, then sexually— we can’t be sure what the writer and director have in mind, since we only get snippets of scenes, and those in a scrambled order. Actors who play our younger selves hang around a soda fountain, eager to be introduced to a wider audience, while we’re being made up for our death scenes. Wild-eyed Canadians look on as we ready ourselves for post-production interviews and commentaries that will fill out the film’s DVD version. And then, at last, curtains.
Kitchen Sonnet One evening, as I was making a chicken sandwich, I suddenly thought it might be a good idea to make you want to love your kitchen as much as I did once, back when all was shiny, coppery, and new, when pots and pans had not been ruined by a series of slovenly house guests who were not only sloppy about taking care of utensils but failed to clean (ever!) the apartment or water the plants you whispered to so tenderly as you ministered to their needs, watering them two or three times a week and each month loosening the earth about their roots, getting whole fingers down there into the dirt, breaking things up, letting in air and light. So, after replacing all the destroyed cooking ware, I began to make unreasonable demands when it came to our meals: I said, “Let’s provide calorie info for all our meals. Let’s cut carbs. Let’s eliminate all trans-fats. Let’s start reducing our sauces.”
Sonnet for the New Year Pleistocene campfires flickering in the distance, deeply rooted slogans chat it up with money barons. Medical malpractice suits us just fine, thank you very much. For instance, well-delivered apologies salve all wounds. Partial reconciliations break step when crossing a bridge, miraculous transformations no longer expected or offered. Higher disease rates unrelated to education or health costs speak volumes to our well-tuned ears. Biology urges us to seek out music in the company of other people. Yahweh and other loud cell phone talkers gather to break bread together, airwaves atremble with salutations, with greetings. On everyone’s lips, prospects for reelection, for theatrical productions that do not close in a month or less. And soon, all spats aside, someone texts us a toast, and all follow suit.
Sonnet: In Fine Fettled Sleep Between the artificial hills and the more pragmatic wavelets, back in the analog age, mathematical proofs proved worthless. Some angular deflections invited trisections and later even quintisections, among other impossible feats. Foolproof analogies calibrated our volt-meters, reminding us of the First Law of Baseball: There’s no Game Five after four have already been lost. Humdrum solutions to perfectly humdrum problems. “Das ist kein Mann!” sings Siegfried italicly, Brünnhilde resting yet in fire-shielded sleep. What’s most remarkable fails to surprise us any longer. All true theorems are trivial, as she once sang. We joke about this with co-workers, but never to the boss. And yet, keeping the door open just a crack allows x and not-x to sweetly cohabit the room.
Trading Meaningful Glances Longing for something to proofread and for temperatures within reason, they packed their bags and moved away to, well, not the sea, but some quiet place in the eclipse zone. In-crowds gathered above the house, the solar heating cells. The Oxford presidency was up for grabs, and her long-confined triangle was on its way to Bermuda. Finding sanctuary in a church was a stop-gap measure, the best that that time had to offer. Their memorial plasmas properly southern, they found that their words eclipsed only a fraction of the sun’s diameter. Threats and rejections were balanced by the Palme d’Or their in-flight movie received at Cannes, yet people looking for relationships found they had to take some risks. Archaeoastronomy was on everyone’s mind, from Guangzhou to Charlottesville, even in September.
Autonomous Retreat That hole, that vacuum, with talk and print—all oil mergers suspended until further notice. No use to cry outside and scream inside. It was all a sin click here, until the storm bursts, and house is shut and still. We share the luxury of seeing it all, building the scrub of future sugar. Having lost and forgotten everything, the music must play forever—allegro, ma non troppo. Unexplained bravura, place of safe laughter. On the reasonable shoreline, white in the air, white in the trees. Father of wavelets, come lift your arms with us. Given this kind of city, sand beneath our feet like broken glass, pieces of orphaned wreckage tossed up by the storm. Russian oil mergers suspended by thumbs, between wetlands and the suffocating sea.
Sonnet: Restraint in G Minor The gentleness of force taming the lion is restraint— a minor rain, clouds redrawing heaven above the blowing winds. Trigram to clouds require natural force only the minor restrain, the wind of force gentle without the right time release restraint, therefore together themselves gather to be not clouds that come to success and progress, indicating force, positively viewed below earth, felt clouds of the shadow, the air is in the rain of promise, blowing continuous winds, gentle, yet living to spring, awaiting all things. Maintain cloudy example, and it will follow a man as wise as the clouds around him, spent well is the time of flexibility outwards, displaying inner strength. Everyday, outwardly manifesting skills in one’s developing stillness are measures forced by the world to change the time to take action. Gentle though this will be, the best way to overcome obstacles is rain, determination firm enough to be long-lasting, restraining persuasions yet to come.
Found Sonnet: This Document Contains No Data While searching without a proxy server from Beijing, receiving search results that link to dajiyuan.com, peacehall.com, and other dissident sites are insufficient to trigger the “This document contains no data.” response. For example, searching google.com for Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) also brings up a full page of links that are inaccessible from within China: Epoch Times, Renminbao, Boxun, Radio Free Asia. That’s exactly what is so nice about having google.com. It still indexes pages that are inaccessible from inside the GFW. Once you have the link, you can use a proxy server to get there. What gets me a “This document contains no data” error? Well, from here, not Jiang Zemin, Bloody case of Shanwei, Zhao Ziyang, June 4th, Falun Gong (all in Chinese)... So, basically nothing. “No data” may have been a temporary stopgap, and when the sky did not come crashing down because of Freezing Point, someone decided to open it back up again.
Sonnet: Aro(here)und A . . . I was going to say “my story,” but I think this applies more or less to all stories . . . story begins with its very first word, unless, of course, that word is placed elsewhere than at the beginning of the story. Take the word “a,” for example—an old word, but still a useful one, a halting gesture toward a “complete” utterance. Around here, she was saying, we do things differently (altho the way she said it (i.e. “differently”) led me to think that the word should be placed in quotes. She, after all, was prone to overstatement with just a hint of intimidation. Her mien was almost overbearing, the verbenas in the garden just beyond her window to the contrary notwithstanding. In a landscape that almost called for swans on a stream beside a small cottage with a cheery plume of white smoke ascending skyward from its red-brick chicanery.
Sonnet: Religion in America Always a major force, this should not be cause for panic. Passionate devotees of justice and the improvement of others, eager to reach out across sectarian lines. Bitterly disagreeing with those who say one man’s religion is no one else’s business, we see ourselves as a chosen people, duty-bound to slather our values over all and sundry. Faith-based initiatives, those thousand points of light, shifting the balance of power dramatically. No cause for panic. Improving the world can be both fun and profitable, recasting Americans’ sense of themselves in a light that glows about their heads and faces. As important to life as death is, it should never be our only, or even our main concern. Let’s leave that to others, the suiciders, the collaterals, the ones not invited to the table. Fundamentally, we’re all fundamentalists, this “wrecked vessel” home to us all.
(Com)promised Land Nothing more debased than these money farms with their even rows of ones and fives and tens, etc. Which leaves us where? Riding the rails, sorting out various slaps and slams until questions arise from which there are no exits. On the face of it, the driver you showed to them terrorized his riders with anthrax until taken out by some top officials of DHS, who just prior had been lunching (or perhaps launching) at a private golf club nearby. Bin Ladenized Muslims knew what was up, since Britain enabled fast-acting somnolence to devour its shadow empire. No political scientist or historian has ever run for president, unless perhaps it was Wilson, and we all know what became of him.
Arsenal Unlawful attempts to upload or impose rhyming or metrical schemes on this sonnet are strictly prohibited and may be punishable under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 and the National Information Infrastructure Protection Act. Now that you understand the rules, the arsenal is open today so that you and other employees may have an opportunity to introduce your wives or husbands and children to the world of work. Arms and munitions are what we’re all about here. Children involved in paramilitary ops such as the Brownies, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts are especially welcome. They can earn badges by learning to identify ammunitions and weaponry used in defending American freedoms all over the world. This one-day experience will provide children with new insights into the world around them, world without end.
Sonnet for the Criminally Insane Nobody’s perfect, I suppose, but still there are limits, aren’t there? Who’d want a world full of happy, gumsnapping Christian Americans, fast-tracked to Heaven? One lifetime as a Gila monster’s enough for anyone. Right? Being an extremist may not yet be a crime, but it’s surely a more than effective branding strategy. Hatefilled drivel makes millions in the current climate of opinion, conservative market analysis shows. Soapbox oratory of those constantly fed up with this and that, of Nazis, both neo- and crypto-, of flatworlders, of endtimers, and other loonies. Negative karma outweighs several lifetimes of do-gooding . . . I mean who can now say who’s the offender, who the offendee in an age that denies hurricanes (Katrina included) ever happen.
Final Deprivations Save me from the censorious widows, offshoots of the noble branch, the “big tent” of American Protestantism. Imaginary fables, their truculent in-laws. But why focus exclusively on facts the average American grad student might be expected to know? One hopes that they might someday exceed one’s expectations, but doesn’t hold one’s breath. Ideological functions—every text has them, so let’s be clear on that. Trujillo’s barbarity tests the ethics of the left, although some create small revolutionary episodes that put the right to shame. When complete, our investigations leave five heads rolling on a Michoacan dancefloor. Who could ask for anything more? Finally, we didn’t know whether they’d been kidnapped in broad daylight from lower Fifth Avenue, or raptured up, the usual crowd of infidels looking on from a nearby lobby.
At the Treeline Exacerbated trees lined up along the far horizon, spelling defeat for the nearby townspeople, ready at last to speculate openly on their failure to elect competent ministers and sheriffs and deputies. Dismantling the silences around them, voluntary amnesiacs filled in missile silos and adjacent barns, as though no one were out there to threaten them, their way of life. Rifts between generations became more pronounced, threatening their preconsumerist idyll. Yet still, we take our daily bowlful of lies and, adding milk and a sprinkling of sugar, force it down. Leaflets fell from the trees. The sky above, as hostile as ever, its deep blue more incongruous with each passing moment.
Sonnet in Elliptical Orbits Snoozing under the Brownian tree near the path (not yellow, but brick in an interlocking pattern, something like herringbone), spending an hour and a half or so in a sleepy rural train station, piles of building tiles just outside the door. Counter-intuitive measures all around, grapes purple, almost black. And garlic chutney vada pav for all of us, just to see the vampires stayed away. Having wanted to visit Madras before we died, we hurried back the way we’d come, clambering over rocky outcroppings, stopping only rarely to examine the life in the ponds and cesspools we came upon. Tilting ourselves over, we saw them there, the crawly, creepy things in their green sauce, eying us beadily eying them eying us eying them eying us eying them.
Sonnet: Norwegian Moods Ole sulked in his tent as the battle raged without. His once-boisterous manner seemed to have vanished. Among his cousins was one Thordan, known by all as Thor, the Thick-headed. Ole mourned for Thordan. While the fear of death drives some men to suicide, Ole was fearless. Yes, foolish, as some would say. The walls of the besieged city were covered with signs that said, “Post No Bills,” the irony not lost upon Ole. Known as The Childless, Ole had moods as various as the morning’s weather, shifting from rain to sun and back again from moment to moment. Disastrous feuds claimed all of his fortune and most of his time. Feeling words were beyond him, Ole lashed out or fell silent, went raiding or watched some TV.
Say No More His instinct was to blurt it all out, to take the chance of saying too much. Never much good at getting stoned, he took to pacing the deck, to hanging over the rail and watching the water give way to the ship. Belowdecks, all was sundry. All was as it was the day before, and the day before that. Unrepentant vicars danced the nights away. After seven or so days at sea, he finally began to work on his new tetralogy, the one he had dreamt of all along, despite the wishes of his grandparents, his parents, and the good, honest people of Entgegenwärtigung Town, who all, of course, had wished him well. The work went quite well for several days, until it went less well, and then finally stopped, repeating the last few lines over and over and over.
Sentimental Sonnet Something, something, something, she says. Something was, was going on, was going on there at that time around where we lived then. There was the one where Divine picked up dog poop around the corner from where we were living then and ate it, fresh from the sidewalk by the church around the corner from where we lived, the one where Divine got himself, herself, rosaried right there, right there in church. Something, something, something, she said, was going on around that time, something going on, right around the time we were alive. There’s gotta be, gotta be someone who cares. There’s gotta be someone, someone who cares.
Local News All the distressed harmoniums with more than enough holiness about them to charm the ladies. Not merely polite, more beautiful than she remembered, less exclusively devoted to matters of the spirit. Forever carrying bags into small rooms, having to choose between Cork and Killarney. A little bit older, and back to sea. His father was a sailor, so he said. [after texts by David Hopes and H. Palmer Hall]
A Brave Story Understanding the universe and the potential for life in it, Nikita Khrushchev, in a secret speech, denounced Stalin. In 1935, the military zeppelin USS Macon crashed and sank off Point Sur. To this very day, it lies there, on the ocean floor. Sarah’s pet ant grew to the size of a bus, and yet . . . and yet. . . . Genocide in Darfur? Need you ask? Dubai, some say, has sold its soul to the company store. Blocked from speaking in New York, he took to the hustings in Nebraska, reading Reading Lolita in Tehran to any who would come and listen. When things go badly, the public does not take well to wars of choice. We know that now. Sadly, we knew that then as well. Is flying around the world any way to warn us of the dangers of carbon dioxide? These days, he lets it all hang out, there in the classroom. Merely a tool of the neocons, he hid his tutu and slippers from hostile faculty. Praise be!
Sonnet: Unspecified Horrors Take a life like yours. Echinacea does nothing to cure your latest cold. Trademarks and logos borrowed without attribution. In other words, not in the lifetime of President Pigg. Pipelining collected terms you object to, imagining the beach during January, when all have returned to the city. We try to assure that the biblical prophecies anent World’s End will be fulfilled in short order, so don’t waste your efforts on massive reconstructions, unless, of course, there are short-term pay-offs to be enjoyed. The tree bends over the old man, but he hasn’t noticed. Who would have thought the levee might break? Who would have thought that could happen? You, sliding down into gunk now, farewell!
Sonnet: Faith-based Initiative Coming home, I see my next-door neighbor at his doorstep licking the door. Every other week or so this happens. He stands there licking and licking and licking, pausing every so often to wipe off his chin before going on with his licking. Cheerily, I wave to him, saying, “Still haven’t found that key you lost, eh?” He grins and then makes a sour face at the taste of the door’s varnish. And I ask, “So how’s the wife?” And he says, “I’m praying she’s still alive when I’m through. Last time I saw her she was fine.” “Give her my best,” I say, “when you’re in.”
“Your Eyes Stray” Your eyes stray over to the verso side of the book where you learn that short-term prospects are not indeed good. The hero wanders into a labyrinth of desire that would have daunted Casanova, or at least given him pause. The grass is always greener on the other side of the street, as it’s said. Mellow as ever, the summer wends its way autumn-ward, one fedora almost as good as another at covering that bald spot. And the war strays over yet another border on its way to wherever it’s going. Insurgents mount incessant attacks, no matter how much we do to assuage them. No, sir, the pastorale is not dead. Willows trail their branches in blood-red streams. The sheep on the hill wear their furs inside-out.
With No Known Regrets Proust consciously drifts from one dancehall to another, modifying Etruscan ruins as he goes. Forgetting where the bathroom is, he urinates in the foyer, as much to annoy his hostess as anything else. Ambiguous rejoinders trim any sense of goodwill that might have arisen, hollow attempts at camaraderie, without pointing fingers. And yet distractions proliferate, jumpy quarters rattling in his pocket. Tense, frothy nights in sprawling neighborhoods nudge him along on the first few steps of his journey to Golgotha, that hilltop of intangible punishments. Disingenuously, Kate reminded him of his obligations, both to herself and to their children. Paranoiac wrongs smoked clutch flares, unteachable slumbers snuggled together in warm bedside manners, breaching the levee, as we’d been warned.
Another Long, Sad Story “Omissions are not accidents.” —Marianne Moore The smallest bird might yet contain no less than a psychic invasion of the United States. Syllable by syllable, clawed and handled, your magnificent disdain. Time & tide, etc. Rien á declarer. Without hope of blooming, the flower lifts itself up from the sun-baked ground. Cement clouds hang in the offing. The panic has just begun to spread. Sick with grief, we celebrate their birthdays long after they are dead. Loosening masonry along the shore, we take long walks by ourselves or with others. Come back, Shane. I have a descriptor now, a paragraffito. More wired than ever, though not on a continuous basis, we offer mortgage calculators by the gross at a discount that will pique your interest. Please contact your administratrix for further information.
Time to Seek Help The brain, while necessary, is not sufficient to avoid common errors, which, as always, are only a stone’s throw away. Making Up One’s Own Bed is required reading for anyone with an interest in modern poetry. Confident diagnoses suggest that Buckingham Palace guards blink once every ten minutes like well-oiled machines. The entire process can be easily performed without ever setting foot in a gym. And so say all of us. If your apartment’s so large you can’t ever find what you’re looking for, then move out and get a smaller one. If fires break out without giving you warning, it’s time to seek help—two or three sessions a week might do it. Keywords: sonnet, brain, necessity, error, stone, poetry, diagnosis, machine, process, gym, apartment, fire, help.
To This Day Literally dancing, the real heart played out on the big screen at gunpoint. The sidewalk chanting to curious thousands just three or four years later. A fact-based drama, complete with sidekicks and back story. Bad teeth, bad skin, bad everything. Death house interviews. Bungled bank heist. At gunpoint.
Afternoon Sonnet One afternoon, my lady and I, we laid ourselves down for a nap beneath skylight windows that looked up at blue sky. Drowsing off as she read, I felt I was at an afternoon movie, walking down the long walkway until we could see stadium seats stretching up and up as though forever—all empty. We sat down, stretched out our legs, relaxed, taking it easy—thinking, oh, how nice, a private screening all to ourselves. Nothing like it. Then, of course, the bag lady arrived, choosing, as always, to sit just behind us, rummaging in her bags all through the show. The rummaging turned to a whirring of wings, a hummingbird up above me, trying for light and air, finding only glass. Perched on a broom, it flew off when I carried it out. Now dozens come every nap time, each crying out to be saved.
Sonnet: Clouds of Knowing and Unknowing Expecting fathers and their favorers—long used to knowing what to do, what not to do—consider medical evacuation to be among their least attractive options. Familiarizing ourselves with alternative travel plans might be wise to do. Local laws and customs are no longer beneath contempt, proper subjects only for writers and for travel agents swimming against the tide of online reservation booking. Handbooks of popular proverbs and sayings yield only revisionist maxims such as “Don’t swap wooden nickels in midstream” and “Necessity’s mother knows no laws.” In the meanwhile, we were fiddling when we should have been faddling. Promising stock options were allowed to drop. Another of Peggy Lee’s sad songs. Her death was natural, much to everyone’s relief. Not macht erfinderisch.
Barn, Slope, Tree From the outset, one unfolds uncertain itineraries from among decades of indifference. Not that these are numbered itineraries having each its map and code. One scale, or slope, unfolds, noting that almost nothing happens exactly as expected decades earlier. Unique needs lead toward an Instability not having much to do with forensic science and its forever off-target aspirations. Necessarily, that’s as it must be with itineraries, numbering now in the millions if not more. Thinking about where we go and how we get there almost describes the uncertainty of our narratives. How distinguishing oneself from another might one day provide some sense of incident, if not occasion, the narrative itself emerging from our hesitations and contemplations, always beginning, never arriving.
Sonnet: Sellinger’s Round Sellinger sells seltzer down the other side of town. Up one side and down the other, Sellinger makes his round. A ramble with almost no restrictions whatsoever, freely available to sundry and to all. Cherokee kvetchers camped by the shores of Lake Tathagata Lokeshvararaja used anyone at all to achieve their ends. Nearby, where villages dwindle into scattered farms, and cities seemed surrounded by groves of masts, cityfolk, with their medieval prefrontal cortexes at the ready, strolling all about. Timetables for trains were of little use in those days, but flags of all nations hung from those masts at the harbor. The age of neurodiversity had just begun, obsessional declivities all around.
Sonnet: Cruel Remainders Unless otherwise specified, no infringement intended, all collusions pipelined into our hemisphere will, until further notice, be tax-free. Respectable owners no longer need fear eminent domain or undue appropriations (look up under “honeysuckle”). Collections of like terms, although you may object, are subjected to editorial scrutiny and often revised. Imagine January, spread out before us like a beach, the sanctity of that moment. We were always unsure (depending what “un” meant) who really owned the key of C-sharp minor. Sound penetrates the walls, and the whole thing threatens to go nuclear. Hundreds of flights up, all was quiet, except for a slight rustle as we unfolded our lies. The singer’s nose grew longer as he sang, every verse in three languages. Phantom oil rigs dotted the Gulf, the maps to them unlocked. Unsold books attack Alaskan shores.
Musikalabend Lest we forget, the evening was young once, when Stepan sat in his living room watching and listening to his pornograph, not for a moment regretting what was going to come next. His neighbors, the altered bassoons Kate and Franklin, had just taken off for Europe, where they were scheduled to perform at the Salzburg Festival. A verst or two away, Larisa’s mongrel was licking the sidewalk, trimming little tufts of grass that spring up every year in cracks between flagstone slabs. Armed conflict ensued, despite vigorous steps by assorted diplomatists bent on rewriting history before it had ever even happened. Oboes colloquize by the frog pond.
Sonnet: Calm Headlands Security news is grim, but, revisionist history aside, we have nothing new in our buffer cache. Tamil tigers occupy most of the known universe, empiricists in full retreat, safe now only on this calm headland. Redeployed, the armies of the poor pursue the issue. In their floppy sandals., they seem contentious and yet conscientious, bio-weapons at the ready. No simple matter, that dedicated band of shock troops. The imaginative dropping of information from rickety aeroplanes, those unexcised by the budget knife. O rapid Republic! This planet’s a risky business. Fallacious manuscripts burgeoned among the world’s libraries, now often closed, except for Tuesdays and alternate Saturdays. Dead souls up on the roof, praying only for peace.
Some More Anthropology And yet tribes of gentle Tasaday remind me of primitive falseness, of blunt manners and dysfunctional Gentiles, regarded merely as poets parking their cars wherever their innocent hearts desire. The apartments of exiled dictators in which rooms set aside for lost Jews shelter inventors of land mines and booby traps. Harping on once familiar diatribes, non-existent Tasaday come out of their forest, stunned by the waiting limousines, their soft purring. Hotels and car-parks of the rich transformed into naïve outposts of brutal mythologists, babbling of exclusionary clauses, of forests and palaces bereft of meaning, of privileged preserves heard faintly in the offing. If she can be trusted by neither of us, no one is sure of her survival instincts, once her most conspicuous feature. (after Michael Heller)
4 Subprime-Mortgage Sonnets i. talent for vanishing dance suites repossessed pulque bars, luxury-class rigors of cold climate who’s that on tenor? ii. backroom brawls back in the news raunchy endeavors under review local calls at longdistance rates empty before filling
iii. away all boats ask me about red houses all in a row tonight’s rock concerto cancelled iv. glossy enlargements no extra cost some ice cubes on a blanket your house or mine? Hungry, a country?
Dialogue Sonnet First, do you mind if I record this as we speak? No, of course not. Okay then, let’s salivate together. Reaganite goo has spread itself all over this primary season, don’t you agree? Well, one might say so, but it’s early in the century, and the campaign will drag on for months and months if not years and years. We will all come to regret our first thoughts, our early prognostications. Progressive enervation, eh? Yep, right here in Enervation Nation. Don’t you find all of this . . . well, shall we say a little Mozartean? To be sure. But left hands barely hear what the right hands are doing. Robbing St. Peter to pay St. Paul, eh? Just so. Thanks for coming in today. One last thought for our listeners? Just one: Beware the blowflies of fame.
Sonnet: Backward Glances Sometime after the twentieth of the third month they went on their way, having spent several days writing poetry and saying goodbye to their friends, wearing parenthetical expressions on their faces. Somewhat confused about the exact dates, their accounts could not be reconciled. Early enough that darkness still lingered in the sky, they noted that even the fishes’ eyes had tears in them. We’ll text you often, they promised each other, as always.
Sonnet Kit CXLVII [Some assembly required] lines, 14 quatrains, 3 couplet, 1 sentences, 3 words, 107 letters, 466 capitals, 18 lower case, 448 periods, 3 commas, 14 semicolons, 3 hyphens, 1 apostrophes, 2 a’s, 43 b’s, 2 c’s, 13 d’s, 18 e’s, 56 f’s, 8 g’s, 9 h’s, 35 i’s, 32 k’s, 4 l’s, 15 m’s, 13 n’s, 27 o’s, 25 p’s, 18 r’s, 33 s’s, 35 t’s, 44 u’s, 8 v’s, 8 w’s 8 x’s, 2 y’s, 10
Saga Sonnet These events took place in the United States of America a long time ago, in that dark age between the reigns of Lingnar the Flat-nosed and Umnox the Lame-brained. In those times, weeds were allowed to run wild, liars and braggarts held forth on all sides, and everyone, without exception, was tall and handsome and blond. To come to blows one had only to smile in the direction of another. Custom decreed that house-guests be slaughtered as they slept, so the strongest among us were most insomniac. Our women bore children to men not their husbands, to those even blonder men who came to visit, but not to stay for long.
Etiolation Sonnet My wife turns herself off after a few seconds. I’ve wondered about traffic noise, but so far it’s been okay. Dark elongates move beneath the leaves beneath the eaves, then grow to full size and turn green. Reaching the light, dim caliphates pulse much more rapidly than normal. A lot less fun, but easier is not to invite friends over at all. Internodes of common parlance self-reproduce until food reserves are all used up. Light too dim to be useful makes us wonder where all the birds have come from. Their ruckus in the coming or onrushing darkness rattles our cages. Yet on those long, warm summer nights, one yearns for a backyard rainbow, one that your drunken guests cannot turn off by accident. Our internal clocks set to explode at the slightest vibration, we lie awake in the quiet dark, our tendrils fading ever closer to the light.
Neural Loops: or, The Ascension of Osama bin Laden With diagrams of loops, rolls, and new, virtual cherries, his slightest neural twitch, reflexes over welling tears and frantically longs, looks, looms, team-teaching the Taliban, cheesy cherubs tersely scattered through no-man’s land’s neuter rambles. Tears teased out from neural shelters, rally after early lapses linger in the woody valleys, distant Atlantean Plain. It’s entirely new, and the virtual bar to which I applied myself cranked its way out of that blue-green digital sky, pulsing synapses, firing blanks. By now, it, by definition, added blue and green to our agenda, something of the gambler’s excitement lingering in the air. Trading a few hostages for apple-trees, the most fleeting. Nymphs, most days of the week, just too perfect to be believed.
Sonnet: Unpacking My Toothbrush Long an anti-dentite, I’ve search high and low for postconsumerist dentistry, coming to believe, after many years, that such a thing may not indeed be possible, or even feasible. Traditional relationships leave open few avenues, aside from this thicket of language, that even are worth exploring. Digital dentistry seemed, once, to be promising. “Open, please. Now rinse.” But the tooth lodged in my forehead continued to cause problems: blinding headaches, for example. My parents’ first teaching to me: “Watch where you’re going.” But then how I navigate, more than what I create, became more and more central to my living. Quantity trumps quality. Even at my age, I have more teeth than I will ever use, more fat than I shall ever, ever come to chew. (after Kenneth Goldsmith)
Sonnet: La Malcontenta Nowadays, she is away a lot, away from home, from her kids, who’ve learned to deal, to take care of themselves and each other. She loads her little truck with her wares and drives off, waving into the rear-view mirror. She tweets them from little towns in the countryside where she (on good days) sells her wares, comes back empty. Her oldest son in Afghanistan, she tweets him too. He always says, “im ok mom,” but she wonders, and wonders how he could be. She voted for Obama too, but now she wonders. On the road a lot and sometimes over night if the truck isn’t empty, she’d like to be home with her kids but business is business, and if she doesn’t sell, the kids don’t eat. There are men . . . well, yes, there have to be men, right? The kid in Afghanistan, he tweets her with “hey mom im dyng.” It’s the last one. She tweets him a hug and a kiss.
Sonnet bureaucratique While the office is closed, take a hike from Normandy to Montmartre, read your partitions to any who will stop to listen. Catalog your umbrellas, including those you have never used. When you run out of room for pianos, stack them up, one upon another, the topmost upside down. Move your precursors from left to right on your screen, backspace ad libitum. Choose times of low income to reduce your spending. Yo, Dada. Yo, Mama.
Sonnet: Much Better Now Thanks Children singing in the streets, words I don’t quite understand. Electioneering slogans from some other land. Short walks along (or across) Lake Michigan. Emasculations devoutly to be wished. Not easily offended, she radicalizes her permutations. Play of light on water. Ducking each time for cover. Fat volition makes me light the fuse of aspiration. Long-tailed grackles, their ancient explosions. Table set for hymn-singers and retired clowns. Past trapped villages among last year’s debris. She knows what she knows when she knows it. No, Sugarplum, four people can’t play a nonet, not even if they double their efforts. Living amongst the fragrant conglomerates—living at its best.
A Little Story We cannot just sit here and say nothing, so I’ll tell you what—I’ll tell you a little story. Once upon a time there was a little president who thought he could be bigger. He tried and tried to grow himself but only got him smaller. He sent out folks to find folks littler than him so he could make them like him more. But they, they just didn’t listen and so he had to kick their butts. Then they, they only hollered, and he, he smallified some more. I’ll smallify the world, he said, and then, if’n they don’t line up with me, I’ll smallify them more. I’ll rubble-ize their houses and turn their lunches into ash. I’ll give all of them nicknames that’ll wither up their butts. But they, they didn’t listen, and he just grew him smaller and smaller, small ears and little eyes and all. By now, he’s only visible to Hub ble. And naked eyes? Well, they just don’t even see him anymore.
Sonnet: The Perfection of Mozart’s Third Eye Most English morality plays are replaced by TV sitcoms, Ignacio mused. New teenagers, our willful daughters— callous imposters. Suitcases beneath their beds, packed and ready to go. A man just like him discovers immunity to prosecution. Inconceivable break-ups: ninety-year-olds in assisted-living “communities” divorce their wives of decades, marry younger women still in their eighties. Highbrow toddlers with cerebral palsy wonder if there is more to them than their bodies. Mozart sought and found perfection in most that he did. Death to Mozart! Unhinged by the experience, Ignacio turned to faith. His good fortune, to be lovable as well as pathetic. Salamanca’s university heaped honors upon him, held him against his will. Death to Anglo-Saxon realism! he cried. The original half-hour he craved, but without special treatment or easy sympathy.
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Boolean Nights Sonnet “boolean night and hurtled paths” —Alan Sondheim Do not crawl gentle into that. Good night and good night. I prithee, search out the dead cell phones, bid them rise. How useless of us, how endlessly we barrel down the nation’s highways, as though dawn never cracketh. Rumble strips rouse us from our naps, our circadian tricycles. Our meditations safely lodged up on the shelves above the sink, we close the shutters, let senescent rabbis shuffle the deck and deal. Latenight mail arrives, nth delivery of the day, but, down the river there, mail comes early or never. Gathering tribes have got all day to sort things out, to compile their dance suites, their lists of obligations to future, unformed generations. We’re out of luck, my friends, but something yet might happen—tomorrow or tonight.
Sonnet Decadent cuisine spreads like wildfire from the kitchen to the upper decks. Sunbathers by the pool dip their chips in the salsa, take a break from their fasting. San Diego basks in the sun, as fence-builders move along toward the east, securing the border against encroachments by hostile cruise ships. All destinations on sale now that fine wines are served in half-pints, buddy. Two days left before we leave port, adventure-bound acupuncturists off on a spree, leaving the seven-county disaster area behind in the capable hands of the National Guard. Some redheads were Neanderthals. Or was it the other way around? DNA testing does have its limits. McCain vows to follow Osama to the gates of hell, that half-million acres of smoking ruin. No air-conditioned medical tents there, one can be sure.
Sonnet: Your Lips Soft as Lard Apricot ears pinned to your oblate head, hair balled in a bun at the nape of your neck. Eyes like dungeons, lids at half-mast. Oh, stop now. That last was too much, too redolent of swampy waters near the shore of the sea, birds stopping to feed in that migratory way that they have. Blinded by recalitrant moon emerging from penumbral maroonity. What next (or what nest) then my luv, my lubricatory evasion, my turtlefox? Intelligent satellites wanting to know, b4 more toxic spray comes wafting our way.
Sonnet Over here on the right, self-pitying molecules await night transportation to the northern border, furry tunnelers and plumed waders arriving at the prom in stretch limousines by Hummer. Ancient instruments, more frayed than ever, dedicating one song after another to Olga Korbut. Bank robbers dressed to the gills, pleading not guilty despite having reached plea bargains just the day before. Snaky swimmers annoy Beethoven with lusty cries of “Ignition!” and “Lift-off!” Wind landers rust in the desert, not far from Palmdale. Monument carved from a single stone, not subject to law of supply and demand. Speculative investors in search of safe havens place much of their trust in kindergarten productions of Sartre’s No Exit.
Sonnet: Gracing Light At the far end of the massive site, the sun is stropped, and yet three murals of quetzals and jaguars bestow a quiet dignity to all who come upon them in the late summer. Items of daily life preoccupy the old museum. If you’re in the mood to accuse someone, now is the time to do it. You never know when you’ll be in this neighborhood again. The peppery taste of the local food lingers in the mouth all evening, too bellicose for words. A snatch of Boulez comes wafting up from the beach and loiters there, hoping you’ll listen for a while. A man in a hood observes from behind a nearby panel truck, an aboriginal or mestizo of some sort. Incredibly, even though under the knout, these people smile every day, play with their babies after coming home from work.
Sonnet: Karachi Dawn Wars of choice going badly, stories ending sadly. Brave books reduced to tools of neocons. Jetsetters fly around carrying photos of themselves they wouldn’t want published while alive. Blocked from speaking, candidates for public office study sign language, blame, as always, the Jews. Reckless use of natural calamities to bring out the terror vote, to instill yet more fear. Çatalhöyük had no opera house, and yet its non-streets were full of garbage. Dreams of his Basque ancestors auctioned off at Sotheby’s. Where are the Margot Fonteyns of yesteryear? Tragically forgotten, the likes of Beethoven and Shostakovich might even have cast light on our species, our society, our individual lives on Earth. Well-known, the dangers of carbon dioxide ended more as gallows humor, while influencing friends and felines, even those “Siberian purebreds” in Moscow alleys.
Romantic Sonnet Disappointed with his new guru, he brought forth new crystallizations of unanimated speech, created disorder amid variegated flow. His worst point, his cluttered desktop. Hers, her overweening devotion to helping others. Turning up in Krakow after three years of Beethoven studies in Tehran, he often seemed somewhat disoriented. Took to dark mentionings of Saudi America, of oil-driven machinations, of an esthetics devoted to vowel sounds. Chicago’s lakefront still cooler than the rest of town, after all those years resting among collated facsimiles of all its meatpacking endeavors. Smoke pouring from its smokestacks, a badge of honor for the city. Here’s what rheostats can do for you! Her signage said, “Slow down when flashing.” His penis said, “Click to enlarge!”
Suspicious Car Whenever I’d pull out of the driveway, my car would say, “This trip isn’t going to end well for me, is it? I’m sure it won’t this time.” My car incessantly worried about this and that: Do I have enough oil? Is there enough gas for the trip? Are you still stashing drugs in my trunk? It thought it ought to be consulted on times of departure and arrival, on routes and destinations. How would you feel, it would ask me, if you were in my position? If you were never told anything ever.
Raymond Chandler Sonnet Wharfier is duskier in some weird way, sometimes leading you to ask where all the steeper moments went, your best girl sitting there with a drink in her hand like some stoned Bambi. Overdue bar tabs languish in the fading light, the onus on you—yes, you. Duruflé’s Requiem on the jukebox yet again. Evens and odds duke it out in the dusty parking lot as plastic dactyls scurry by, bristles erect, catching a ride to some party in another part of town. Beatty, the doornik, opens one door and then another, tips hat for tips. I step away, wanting, among other things, to be elsewhere. Clots of dust in the shadows warn whoever’s around who can still hear a warning.
Sonnet: Tropical Forest with Monkeys When you take your monkeys fishing in the forest it’s important to remind them not to leave their fishing poles behind. Animals, as we know, often have human traits and characteristics, and vice versa. If they express fear of the forest, point out to them that the jungle is not as deep as it once was. Farming and lumbering and stripmining have now seen to that. Have your monkeys express their thoughts and fears in little balloons above their heads. Consider having them write little screenplays that, once home, they can act in as well as direct and produce to share with a wider audience. Bringing along journals and making entries in them whenever they have a spare moment is never a bad idea. Monkeys, whether macaques or langurs or gibbons, all enjoy trips to the forest. They always have a good time.
Sonnet: On the Way to Gare St. Lazare Missed my train and had to wait five minutes for the next one. Enjoyed a brioche with marmalade at the Irish pub. Planned a Japanese meal with Mike and the rest of the guys (and gals). Fell asleep briefly in a bar so dark one could easily fall asleep in it. Learned to say “I need to have sex with you right now” in French. Got up late again this morning. Haven’t been sleeping well. Met Georgina and that Corsican guy at the Louvre. Stayed inside because of the rain. All-day rain. Again. Went to check emails. Nothing from home. Wandered over to the art school to meet my friends. Had another chocolat chaud. That must be thirty or so now. Started to catch up on my reading. Again. New book this time. Got some food at a lovely restaurant with purple and red chairs. Sat inside, hopping outside to take photos.
Shakespeare Lite: The Sonnets (I through XVII)
I From increase, that die, but decrease his memory, But eyes feed’st fuel making lies thyself cruel. Thou ornament and spring within content And niggarding, pity be to thee.
II When brow and field, thy now will held, Then lies where days to eyes were praise. How use if mine shall excuse proving thine, This old and cold.
III Look, viewest now another whose renewest Thou mother, for womb disdains husbandry. Or tomb of posterity. Thou thee calls prime. So see despite time, but be die thee.
IV Unthrifty spend upon legacy nature’s lend And free then abuse the give. Profitless use so live for alone thou deceive. Then gone what leave, thy thee which be.
V Those frame the dwell will same and excel. For on to there, sap gone, beauty where? Then left a glass, beauty’s bereft nor was But meet leese sweet.
VI Then deface in distilled. Make place with Self-killed, that usury which loan. That’s thee or one, ten art if thee, then leaving posterity. Be fair to heir.
VII Lo, light lifts eye cloth sight serving majesty And hill resembling age. Yet still attending pilgrimage, But car like day the are from way, So noon, unlooked son.
VIII Music sadly sweets joy. Why gladly or annoy? If sounds by ear they confounds in bear, mark another Strikes ordering, resembling mother who sing, Whose one sings none.
IX Is eye that life? Ah! Die the wife, The weep that behind, When keep by mind, look spend shifts it. But end and it, no sits that commits.
X For any who unprovident grant many, but evident for hate that conspire, Seeking ruinate which desire. O, mind! Shall love be kind or prove. Make me that thee.
XI As grow’st in departest and bestow’st, thou convertest. Herein increase without decay. If cease and away, let store harsh perish. Look more Which cherish, she thereby thou die.
XII When time and night, when prime and white, When leaves which herd and sheaves born beard, Then make that go since forsake and grow, And defence save hence.
XIII O, are no live against prepare and give. So lease find were yourself decease when bear. Who decay which uphold against day And cold, O, know you so.
XIV Not pluck and astronomy, but luck of quality, Nor tell pointing mod or well by find, but derive And art as thrive if convert, Or prognosticate thy date.
XV When grows hold moment that shows Whereon comment when increase cheered sky. Vaunt decrease and memory, then stay sets sight, Where decay to night, and you as new.
XVI But way make Time, and decay with rhyme? Now hours and unset with flowers much Counterfeit, so repair which pen, neither fair Can men, to still and skill.
XVII Who come if deserts, though tomb which parts, If eyes and graces, the lies such faces. So age be tongue and rage and song, But time, you rhyme.
Acknowledgements: Thanks go to the editors of the following publications in which some of these poems have previously appeared: Newtopia Magazine, Salt River Review, Puerto del Sol, Snakeskin, Otoliths, E.ratio, Black Box, Sugar Mule, Exquisite Corpse, Brooklyn Rail, Verse Wisconsin, Arsenal, Eoagh, Antique Children, 21 Stars Review, Unlikely Stories, Ars Poetica, Masthead, Aught. “Synaesthetic Sonnets” appeared in G(e)nome, a chapbook of poems available from xPress(ed) Espoo, Finland, which also first published The Sonnet Project, most of which appears in the central section of this collection. Other sonnets collected here have also appeared in Guide to the Tokyo Subway, Tango Bouquet, Organ Harvest with Entrance of Clones, the Poet’s Corner at Fieralingue.
Also by Halvard Johnson Transparencies & Projections (1969) The Dance of the Red Swan (1971) Eclipse (1974) Winter Journey (1979) G(e)nome (2003) Rapsodie espagnole (2003) Changing the Subject (with James Cervantes) (2003) The Sonnet Project (2004) Coyote’s Engines (2004) Theory of Harmony (2004) The English Lesson (2004) Guide to the Tokyo Subway (2006) Tango Bouquet (2007) Organ Harvest with Entrance of Clones (2007)
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