Towards an Evolutionary Theory of Poetry

1.

Once upon a time, if you mapped the kinds of religious belief around the world, you would have colored the continents in with animism, polytheism, and pantheism. Monotheism would have occupied a small strip at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, and, numerically, it would have made up a negligible percentage of the world population. By the year 2000, there were only a few pockets, in Asia and Africa, where polytheist or animist beliefs still held; the vast majority of religious believers, on all continents, were monotheists.

The Enchantments

……Though it feels
like free will
……while you’re under the spell,

all ensorcelment
…………is carceral.
The sailor crunching

…………acorns in
in the jail cell
…………of a tubby

swine believes
…………his daily swill
is sea-dark wine.

…………You shouldn’t have
to sleep a hundred
…………years or even

ten to get the sense
…………enchantment
just enchains you.

…………It’s the breaking
of the spell
…………and not Calypso’s

abracadabra
…………that will permanently
change you.

…………You don’t need
a stranger to kiss
…………you awake,

but it’s love
…………for the stranger
that makes

…………the awaited
awakening
…………take.

The Rumi Variations

 

1.
My mother tongue had a single word for myself and yourself.
The word for self was God, so when you said “my God” you meant “your self.”

In our Book, she explained, everything means something else.
The words stand for God. The white space represents yourself.

Mahdi, Twelfth Imam, Messiah: Smoke rings in a cyclone.
Why show up, they ask, where you are barely present yourself?

In this city, everyone’s awaiting someone else.
The Immanence commands: Absent yourself.

You’re always asking us the way to Mecca.
Kafir, maybe it’s time you went yourself.

Echolocation

Chiroptera: The hand remade as a wing.
Back from the cave at least our voices come
To adumbrate us something like a home.
We’re chained inside the cave, but when we sing,

We see the shoutlines of our echoing,
Freedom foreshadowed, hooking thumb and thumb,
Chiroptera, each inkstained hand a wing
Brailling the cave our voices half become.

We place each other with the songs we sink
Like plumb lines spooling down the catacomb.
Stricken down but never stricken dumb,
We sing to listen to the shape of things.
Chiroptera: our hands are taking wing.
Out of the cave at last our voices come.

Deaths of the Eminent Philosophers

This one jumped into Mount Etna,
as free as free will gets.
This one died in his childhood bedroom
crushed by student debt.

This one sought the philosopher’s stone
and brained himself when he found it.
This one saw a horse get flogged
and threw his arms around it.

This one died chin-deep in dung,
convinced it would cure his dropsy.
This one overdosed on morphine
in Catalonia fleeing Nazis.

This one died of erisypelas,
a fancy skin disease
that sounds like the name of a soulless sophist
who snitched on Socrates.

The Weathervanes

What must be the last weathervane in Delaware
turns on its trusty, its unrusting pivot—
above the arrow, a harried copper hare
forever overtaken by the wind
that spooks her north-northeast and beats her there.
We feel the storm press flush against our backs
and run its breathy fingers through our hair.
We’re aware of the wisest direction to run.
We have always been running. It’s why we’re still here.

The Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery Floor

In all the hallways: Glossy shots
….. and capsule narratives
of Rachel, Kasim, Hailey, Mo,
….. the ones who got to live.

They never put up posters, do they,
….. of the ones they couldn’t save?
Naomi, Hunter, Mickey, Julie,
….. whose hearts were just as “brave”

until a seismographic
….. zigzag ECG
buckled the ribcage, tumbled the heart
….. headlong into the sea,

a dozen whitecoats clustered bedside
….. or trooping up the stairs,
the mother sobbing on her phone
….. assured and ushered clear

Escape Artist

No padlock.
No pick tucked
in your left cheek.
No chain a foot thick
from ankle to neck.
No straitjacket self-
love self-
hug. No gag.
No Hudson River
shiver shiver
dragged below
by a bag of bricks.

None of that for you, Houdini.

Only your skin
to writhe against,
to weigh you down.

Escape it if you can.

Before you drown—