Look up "fire" to find it is
a form of oxidation, then
look up "oxygen" to find it wasn't
even discovered until ~1774.
So for most of human history
anyone talking about fire
couldn't have really known
what they were talking about.
(first pub. in Medusa's Kitchen, May, 2013)
ACCORDING TO SCIENCE II
Love to give us exact number
Readings for rainfall, temperature,
And barometric air pressure
Imagine all the agony of ignorance
Forecasters suffered for millennia
Until about 400 years ago when
Someone actually invented a barometer
—Taylor Graham, Placerville
Science tells me my kitten’s purr involves
the whole respiratory cycle and the intrinsic
laryngeal muscles; sign of comfort or pain.
Science tells me that muscles attached
to the bones of my dog’s tail make him
wag up or down, or side to side.
But it doesn’t explain why my black
kitten’s purr sounds like a knife carving
scrimshaw in my sleep;
how my dog knows different wags
for an old dead bone vs.
that giggling little girl he’s found.
a Transient Luminous Event
My puppy sleeps, I watch TV: red sprites
dance ionic on the screen. Loki wakes,
her eyes aflame. Signals? Energy lights
our space, leap-falling like snow-crystal flakes.
She gives me her look: don’t you, Human, know?
Tonight the whole ionosphere’s aglow.
So am I. And so are you—or could be.
She sniffs the air. So much that I don’t see….
—Michael Cluff, Corona
"Since I was born
in late 1955,
they had not made
the advances in my disease
that would have kept me alive.
"But through God's will,
I am here today."
in isolated corners
she had been misdiagnosed
by a zealot
of either earthly
or heavenly comport.
Both parties were right
in their own minds.
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
We know that Vincent Millay loved owning horses.*
Not to ride sidesaddle, but to breed and race.
As sure of her equine as of her Sapphic forces,
she well knew not to leave the least beastly trace
for the IRS of her dark trackside side.
Is this why, animal worshipper nonpareil,
she rarely writes of mares and studs and steeds?
The eye-glow of the lynx, the desperate quail
scrabbling low to ground, wild swans in flight,
these Vincent allows, but shuts like a Bluebeard’s room
from even herself until the crack of doom
(sealing the very door-below crack of light)
avowal of what her own snowdrift skin proclaims:
man-sinew, is it not horseflesh by a strange name?
Vincent Millay loves horses, yet seldom mentions
what oceanfoam swells and subsides in thoroughbreds,
or how the shimmer of sensuous intention
can’t jewel our eyes more brilliantly than in the heads
of jennets hotly covering their mares.
She adores in poets’ bodies the steel and flame
she surely knows but rarely, rarely declares
equivalent in the big horse who wins or lames.
What keeps our secrets unknown to our secrets?
Shakespeare,† who desperately wanted control
of the Cornish tin mines, will never once whisper “tin”
in all his plays. And over my poems egrets
and herons and falcons brood, but you, my young soul,
my wingspan, what dark compartment are you walled in?
*See Daniel Mark Epstein’s What Lips My Lips Have Kissed.
† Shakespeare, in my judgment, is Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.
ON THE PULLOVER BAND
A roadside worker, utterly alone,
no backup truck at hand,
treads the bicycle strip. No visible cell phone.
He’s just a vagrant on the pullover band
where whooshby, sideswipe cars constantly skin
and thin his personal force field. DayGlo green
and yellow the vest tugged from a bin
this morning’s armor. Heedless of each rabid machine
he bends from the waist. He measures retaining wall
under high hill with what looks like a tailor’s tape measure.
What if he were to fall, what if against that same wall
he were metallically backed and pinned?
He surveys his survey strip without rancor or pleasure.
His brush-cut grey-white hair, was it that color
when he began this work? How many months deep the odor
of gas and exhaust in his nostrils? What too-near
car invisibly shaves at his paving, what Wichita line-
man’s line was ever walked or ridden
so dangerously fine?
—B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA
If you want
to write a poem
it must be carefully
no one is a prayer
or poetry machine,
and above all, dream.