POEM LI: “YOU SHOULD HAVE HEARD HER”

In that far-off kingdom,
there is a room full of Happy Woman Noises.

They are kept in lacquered boxes
and you tilt them over to hear,
like the child’s toy that moos or meows;
each one has a name.

One is called She Is Here, And Safe;
and another is Just Because We Like You, You’ve Won.

A third one sounds like rainwater tumbling down,
and it’s called He Will Never Hurt You Again.

POEM L: “WHAT WE DON’T KNOW”

Back when we were animals,
we could tell good birdsong from bad,
poplar sap from larch,
a safe root from a poison one.

A thousand scents and sounds are gone,
and with them the tiny data points they represented:

Here, the bedrock is granite.
Here, limestone.
Here, a cave holds the young of snakes.

Like the ignorant young of Carthage
after the fire,
we have no idea what we’ve lost;
we have only the ashes to tell us.

POEM XLIX: “ORIGIN STORY”

My job, as I understand it,
is to get the coffee away from Dr. Finkl
before he starts to vibrate
like a poorly balanced centrifuge.

Mrs. Finkl told me so;
they’ve been married forty years,
and he’s onto her tricks by now.
He will not set the Thermos down
whenever she’s in the lab,
but he always wants to show me something.

Amoebas in a petri dish.
Jellyfish on glass.
Once, a bit of irradiated squid.

The Finkls never had
a child of their own
so when my family came to grief
they took me in their home.
Hid me, fed me,
changed my name,
so when the secret police came
to see if Dr. Finkl was up to his old tricks again,
I was simple Herschel,
their nephew,
who had never been the same
(since the farming accident.)

I am not simple.
I never was.
I can calculate and sum,
use the centrifuge and microscope,
and understand the data he gives me.

Still, there are things he doesn’t tell me.
(If I were to be questioned,
it’s better for me not to know.)
But I sometimes learn them anyway.

Tonight, he’ll be working with electricity,
and a certain type of venom
derived from the sting of the sea anemone.

I will creep down the stairs,
and crouch, and crane,
and see.

POEM XLVIII: “TIME TRAVELER’S DILEMMA, PART II”

“If a man were called to fix the period in the history of
the world during which the condition of the human race was
most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation,
name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the
accession of Commodus.”

–Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I

Sure, you could go back to ancient Rome,
but think of what you’d miss.

I’m not even talking about things like antibiotics
and the Geneva Convention.

Think of the little things.

The tiny intimacies that would be totally unknown
to someone born even a hundred years ago:

The cell phone’s light
glowing white through the nubbly pocket fabric
as you shimmy your jeans down over your thighs.

The orange sodium vapor lights on the freeway
hitting the exact same tone
as the sunrise beyond them.

Three cars, stopped at a light,
directionals blinking in perfect unison.

POEM XLVII: “JAMES LIPTON, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?”

For Christ’s sake,
it’s George Clooney–not Vishnu.

Sit up straight, ask the question.
The worst he can do
is deck you
and that will be good for ratings,
not to mention
your character.

Every television host
should be hit at least once
hard, in the mouth,
lest he become a mealy-mouthed apologist
which brings me back to you, James Lipton:

Hunched like a tremulous owl,
you look half-afraid
of the people you’re interviewing.

This is no position for a journalist to take.
Grow a spine, take a stand,
and for the love of God,
say something
to piss off Colin Farrell.

It can only help the network.