Read the introduction by guest editor Paisley Rekdal.

 


 

Epic

 

After I died, I remembered the jar

of money, big and crammed with leafy

greens, buried in the backyard beside

 

the dog asleep in the sun, a bumblebee

buzzing about her head then

off like a pulse down the inflamed

 

throat of a magnolia blossom.

I crouched in the throat

of the infinite, and my form's spent

 

pocket huddled under the casket's

satin lid, the loose change of my rages

and doldrums floating free

 

in the waves of nothing, learning new

currency. Mourners trod about the lawn,

pinching little plastic cups of wine

 

with plates of lobster salad on romaine

like rhododendron blossoms, women's

heels sinking into the mud, all

 

talking zeros and ones, recombinant

genes, a wadded cocktail napkin

with a smear of lipstick dropped

 

onto the lawn remotely to kiss

the earth goodbye, while time

unclenched and space dug deeper.

 


 

Confusion

 

We ease into the ooze. After spinning ourselves

in circles, our names spiral in our skulls like 

buzzards over the fields: we hope they don't 

 

find us and tear us apart! Was it all those years 

driving north in the southbound lane, years blurred 

from drams of pinks and blues to quiet 

 

the highest waves of our inner Pacific? Back 

when darkness perched on the face, before 

the firmament bloomed a fermata, the first 

 

isolated ah-ha, we eased into our original urge:

a beakful of green sprig; a true equilibrium, 

"perfect internal disorder"; our anonymous and 

 

numinous threshold of repose. We'd prefer

it continue forever: we'd empty that old ocean 

of ratiocination, always measuring how many 

 

times it contained the Other, always buttressing 

another lighthouse. Our vision is fusion: a ferry between 

two reasonable ecstasies; a baptism in primordial 

 

brine; a coupling. O, how we love such effervescent

panic, this Copernicus who unmoors us from 

our regal center, making planets, satellites, and now

 

slide across the vast like coins on a dashboard! 

 


 

Definition

 

As the staghorn beetle with calipers

growing from the bony plate of its head, 

nestled among the leaves of the staghorn

 

sumac raising its concentrated flames as if 

to set the sky on fire: I shall pluck you with

the jaws of my brain. As if to focus on you

 

smears me out of focus: my aperture

narrows and my apogee widens toward

the horizontal eightball. You will never pry

 

my cold dead fingers from this

vanishing point. Who would

roll a strand of suns against

 

the teeth to know it's real? To heave

the universe through a lexical birth 

canal one Italy at a time, circling quarry

 

amid the lake's upended sky?

 


 

Cells Speaking

 

You, on the line between a storm

and a fingerprint. Taking the view

 

from atop the five hills of your brain as

atop the seven hills of Rome, you ease

 

out your hours, a lily pad afloat

on us, on 100 trillion nanograms

 

of anonymity. Your skin

laps the shore of your bones, eroding

 

the difference. If your brain could glide

from your skull and into 

 

that mud puddle as a cloud eases from 

horizon to swan adrift 

 

on the pond, would you feel so 

particular? Might you take the stumbling path 

 

toward concentric consciousness, you

a composite swan afloat on 100 trillion

 

nanograms of composite swans? Clinging

to the rocks, you're a critical yet

 

articulate mass, hour after hour of errant 

coffee cups and broken eyeglasses, 

 

the bracken of your tasseled 

nerves, saucers of blood, a see-saw

 

reciprocity of oxygens, carbons, pots 

and pans full of snow and the mindless

 

crochet of dna: still clinging,

you're an animate grave 

 

slipping under waves of data: a swarm 

of zeroes cohered to gaze

 

at the hornbeams waving their gypsy

moth larvae and serrate leaves 

 

out the window while crows pluck and 

flock like a massive black 

 

amoeba. Does it hurt not to feel

so particular? To revel in this that

 

ravels you—grave flux flecks the surface 

of your goings out and comings in; 

 

you're the gleam in our eye, the reflection 

swimming face down on the oblivious 

 

pool where bright orange carp sway

such capable O-mouths about

 

some mosquito larvae, engulfing and blurring 

amid the blare of all this breathing. 

 


 

Epic

 

When I came alive in the crosshairs

of my parents' lovemaking, an egg and sperm 

comingling one June evening in 1962, 

prisoners escaped from Alcatraz island.

Into their beds they put decoy heads

made of soap, toilet paper, and real hair,

so the guards wouldn't notice they'd gone. 

The first grains of my spine's island chain

uncoiled from the deep, and the prisoners 

crawled through the ventilation shaft 

and onto the roof, then down and through 

the scotch broom and ice plant to the rubber raft 

they'd stashed at the shore; they took turns 

inflating, huffing and puffing, before they 

disappeared inside the waves' cold rooms 

in the San Francisco Bay. Months later, 

my father bent to speak to me through 

the stretched skin of my mother's belly. 

He jingled the vodka and ice in his glass.

I hunched beneath the rafters of my mother's ribs

while a siren swelled in the distance, 

then more sirens, a flock swirling and calling. 

 


 

Song

 

I built a constellation from my bones,

strung it up like laundry,

and evening hauled it over the tar-black pines.

 

And now my constellation veers, a swarm of stars

useless for navigation;

with no Polaris to guide you and your dozing

 

shipmates toward a new island of honey.

I concentrated my constellation,

wedged its wasp nest above the beam

 

of the moon and its backdrop swollen 

with gods and dogs: with hardly room

for a new pattern of going.

 

Others extend like mouths or snakes

about Orion's ankles. But my 

constellation fills the sky with its axe,

 

and each night it chops a dipper into fuel

to feed its own brute fire.

It will chop more, will level

 

that prickly forest of far.

When my constellation veers,

even the sun recoils from its luster. 

 


 

Music

 

do

Not exactly an organism, it distends
its moss on the air, overtaking 

the brain, growing on us. Probing our ears
with its antennae, it intervenes; 

we adopt its philosophy, as 
the horizon compels us to read 

the hillside's daubs of green according 
to the logic of its retreating gray stave. Aphids, 

asteroids, danger: all spelled themselves 
merely before music rose its tide

beneath the barnacled hull of our day's 
craft, gliding our cargo of flotsam

 

re

into harbor. An otherness
trembles into us

to test our pulses, a communal
endo-skeleton, a lubricant

for the consciousness, a house 
we wear in our ribs—while a marching

band dopplers more caterpillar 
verdure down the street out 

the window, and the outlandish
reverberations of muscular stereophonic

thingajobs retromegafitted into
the lemon-colored truck that 

 

mi

just drove by—music grows 
the anterior pair of eyes, the brave 

luminescence granted the worm 
to thrive in the cave. Is it a parasite: 

a flea leaping through the fur 
of our attention, bullying the neurons

with relentless partiality,
useless precision, a hair's breadth 

between twenty-twenty and bull's-
eye, each of us an anonymous

submarine volcano here solely
to gestate in our ears this species

 

fa

of locomotion. When you press
your ears together, what do you hear?

"As the propagation of the species 
depends on constant conflicts 

and periodic acts of reconciliation": 
impassioned arpeggios make demands 

on us: with or without us, 
music evolves. We and some repeating

patterns of sound currently enjoy 
a periodic act of reconciliation:

the ozone swells as our wriggling 
heads rush toward it; our heads 

 

so

swell, inseminated on a grassy 
crescendo; sensation ravels 

the notochord into its telescope 
of bone, and heaven clicks 

into place. Watch a rooster convulse 
his morning bombardment 

of kocaree: his eyes go glassy, the throat 
distends; music is 

a spasm. Do you feel it, too?  Music 
unshells us, unskins, each 

a composite of the other; we sing, 
and our predator finds us, jaws 

 

la

splayed to the perfect 
circumference of our skull, and 

it's time for the encore: Rare free wheeler, 
thumb-size terror, O pinch of terror 

that intensifies pleasure, risk 
at the dusky core of am, gratuitous

announcement: the orchestra bends 
its collective back to the notes, heaves

the day's sun to the half-measure
rest that hovers like a hawk beyond 

the telephone wires, fading into 
the first tendrils of the string section, a band

 

ti

of cirrus, floating our crafts on a high 
sea of raging noise that yearns 

to be danceable: noise sometimes
becomes music when it repeats. When—

just there, as the chickadee, a checkered
path of flight toward the tree

out the window, repeats its 
tow ta wee, counterpointing the notes 

of the aria singing in the shower. 
This organized excess, a failure

to refrain from originality, setting our
pulses in concert like a roomful

 

do

of clocks: we'd like to make ourselves
clear but there's something intriguing

about this impediment-to-con-
versation-making-shout, that is

conversation but rarely answers
our question, another swan song tapping

our fingers beyond our grasp. The late 
spring snow falling out  the window 

repeats but it isn't music, and they say each 
snowflake differs, what stubborn 

cacophony at the heart of cold; it looks 
like static on the radio when we close—

  

    


Joanie Mackowski's collections of poems are The Zoo (2002) and View from a Temporary Window (2010). A professor at Cornell University, she has worked as a French translator, a journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area, and a juggler. She is the winner of the 2003 Kate Tufts Discovery award, and the 2008 Writer Magazine / Emily Dickinson award. Mackowski lives in Upstate New York.

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