Poem of the Week Archives

On Clear Nights

At most two thousand stars
Can be seen with the naked eye from earth.

A difficult number to grapple with,
Too large and, on the other hand, too small.

A simple mathematical equation
May throw the problem into relief.

Consider a battlefield.
The fighting has ended

And the bodies lie still in the grass.
How many dead soldiers

Equal the sky overhead?

from Flagelliform 61: Tilted Away

I broke off the dangling shrub     and inserted it     above my ear.
Bent in at the belly     I sweated,     to fit     to try to fit.

The dangling shrub     was bruised
It moved a little move     and Lady Song-of-Jamestown
said in my hear: Why     is broken.

Spooked     I
leapt     a leafy thwart
into my thinking vessel     the aluminum canoe
and in my here said Lady Song-of-Jamestown:
“Why     its smelters long ago felled at The-Task-Is-
    Incomplete,     a falling
artist felling them     name of
who wears     crown of shells     partly concealing
a turban of layered light.”

I stared straight ahead,     paddling
My canoe walls hung with barkcloth     a giant dentalium
and four figureheads in lignified paste     (We watching).

The ivory one, called     Tapping-Out-of-Time.
And the dark muscular one,     Below-the-Galleon-Decks.
And the remembered one named,     Palm-Thatch-Floor.
And the little one called,     Fruit-of-the-Distant-Weep
    (mothered black,     from sleeping).

Lady Song-of-Jamestown     mending her fishnets
pulled the water-hook     from my hand.

Citation for Ken Babstock’s “Methodist Hatchet”

Babstock is the live wire in the gene pool: stirring things up, rocking boats, disjoining easier conjunctions, jolting the culture’s DNA. From sea-and-skyscapes literally lettered, from the suspect core of our ‘décors? (‘lost heart’ informs that fashion’s stock and trade), he winds past mere mundanities to find the world again, with words for his divining wands. ‘Money’s the more virtual virtual,’ Babstock writes. ‘I don’t talk this way in Real Life.’ Cable-stitched by shopping channels, across northernmost America and more, desire is wired: With HGTV’s IV, or the PC’s ICU, we feed our merchandizing minds. ‘We bought this stuff,’ he says. Disclosure’s what he’s after, as wary of the cosy center as of the so-called cutting-edge. But get a load of those poetic closures: master craft in ‘Wikileaks and sea smoke’ weaving worlds of words together. Man of letters, he remarks the X’s on workmen’s safety vests; the V’s descending out of Gander, headed for the kind of down discounted in an Army-Navy store. A shapely mind will note the uppers, too; they’re cut with aspirin and talc. This guy is one ferocious logophile. A signature device, the ‘disconnected current gauge,’ trips all the switches: current cut off into currency – but also presents. It was ‘a gift,’ writes Babstock, with ‘its needle stilled between / ‘Reverse clips’ and ‘Start charge.’ Consult it / and it shivers on a hash mark.’ Thus, in a flash, the disused item (mere décor) becomes occasion for a gift: the wordsmith talent, not the dollar sign, with other hashes hinted, other hushes marked. The old and new worlds hackable in just one comprehensive stun, this shock of shiver to be had. Methodist Hatchet lets us have it. Thus do local gifts turn into global ones.

Losing My Page

Nothing was ever straightforward with you
and so, instead of returning to where
I left off, I re-entered the poem
from afar – it hardly mattered where –

and eventually reached the same clearing
marked, I’d noticed, by the hands of time
held up in prayer, where I’d seen you before –
or thought I had – at the midnight hour

you rhyme yourself with. Page after page
the light would change, to dark and back again,
reminding me of someone who, when put

on the spot, knows the dance of gain and loss
by the secret fidelity of moving
from one foot to the other, to the other.

Good Morning Sun of My Land

Good morning sun of my land
how good it feels to be alive today
so much light
so much light around me
Good morning empty exercise yard
you have become familiar to me
I cross you with a lively step
and you suit me like an elegant shoe
Good morning ponderous and philosophical oxpecker
perched up there
on the wall that hides the world from me
poking at your ribcage
with distracted little movements
Good morning sparse grass in the alley
quivering in opalescent flurries
at the wind’s teasing touch
Good morning great lone palm
erect on your cross-grained trunk
blooming at your peak
like a glorious tulip
Good morning sun of my land
tide of presence abolishing exile
So much light
so much light around me


I have a thousand reasons to live
to vanquish day-to-day death
the joy of loving you
and walking in step with hope



‘Where is Abraham buried?’ you ask. Well, in the Kabbalah, God has a terrible time getting Abraham to agree to die. In the Zohar, where Abraham is initiate and David calls God by the name ‘Midnight,’ the splendour is woven in the energies of the Hebrew alphabet, a creation in language that is never still. Now, looking at the three religions of Abraham – Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim – I would say that Abraham, though very much changed since 1700 BCE, is not dead. There’s only so much that a post-Catholic, polytheist exodic can say just now.

for Samuel Truitt
August 1996

The Ugly

I love you as I love the Hatchetfish,
the Allmouth, the Angler,
the Sawbelly and Wolf-eel,
the Stoplight Loosejaw, the Fangtooth;

all our sweet bathypelagic ones,
and especially those too terrible or sly
even for Latin names; who staple
their menfolk to the vagina’s hide

like scorched purses, stiff with seed;
whom God built to trawl
endless cathedrals of darkness,
their bland eyes gaping like sores;

who would choke down hunger itself,
had it pith and gristle enough;
who carry on their foreheads
the trembling light of the world.

Car Dealership at 3 A.M.

Over the lot a sodium aura
within which
above the new cars sprays
of denser many-colored brightnesses
are rising and falling in a time lapse
of a luminous and ghostly
garden forever flourishing
up out of its own decay.

The cars, meanwhile, modest as angels
or like angelic
hoplites, are arrayed
in rows, obedient to orders
they bear no trace of,
their bodies taintless, at attention,
serving the sheen they bear,
the glittering they are,
the sourceless dazzle
that the showcase window
that the showroom floor
weeps for
when it isn’t there –

like patent leather, even the black wheels shine.

Here is the intense
amnesia of the just now
at last no longer longing
in a flowering of lights
beyond which
one by one, haphazardly
the dented, the rusted-through,
metallic Eves and Adams
hurry past, as if ashamed,
their dull beams averted,
low in the historical dark they disappear into.