In the Beginning, There Were Only Probabilities

I guess the HIV- and AIDS-inspired poetry I heard today generated the idea for this one. Miz Quickly‘s prompt was to write about luck, good or bad, and I decided to walk the balance beam between the two. (Or, maybe one foot firmly planted in each, aha!) Rest assured: this is not a true-to-life situation, though I’m sure it could very easily happen to people. And if it ever happened to me, I definitely do not think I would be this vicious. I can equate that waiting for test results with quantum physics in the abstract; in the real world (and given this poem, what is the “real world”, anyway?), I’d be shaking right with him on those chairs.

The title is a quote by physicist Martin Rees, and I love this quote. It has the right amount of religion and science that the awe of quantum physics ought to inspire (as Niels Bohr suggested).

In the Beginning, There Were Only Probabilities

In quantum mechanics, the idea of Schrödinger’s cat
is that the cat is simultaneously alive and dead,
poisoned or irradiated in its box. And two universes
(torus-shaped, immeasurable) bleed together inside

until you open it. We are also always in two states
waiting for an outside observer to tell us
what we don’t trust ourselves to know. It’s like this:
sitting at the clinic on hard teal leatherette cushions

while the clock clicks its tongue and I am
flipping the National Geographic page by page.
You are biting your nails. In one potential universe–
and here, I can unfold a glossy chart full of graphics

to explain this– a chemical machine plays marbles
with your blood, knocks loose a few antibodies,
and the nurse’s plastic wand will come up POZ.
In the other, the inverted world you hold up

to examine in light, there’s no such things as
consequences. You don’t want to tell me which of you
forgot the condom, who was so T’d out of his mind
that even the thought of transmission was sexiled,

miserable on the stoop as mislaid ideas often are.
And that’s fine; I accept many things. For example,
in a closed system, entropy increases. Probabilities
always, eventually, add up to 1. You can tell me

he didn’t look sick, that normally you’re so careful.
Schrödinger’s cat is doomed whenever that first atom
splits, and leatherette creaks when you start
shaking, even though the room feels warm. This is

the longest twenty minutes of your life, but also
another life: one bullet-dodge, one crucifixion.
Look, the hard part is perceiving both at once.
Even our best scientists have no good explanation.

Snooze Button

Oh hell, one more, why not. This is a combination prompt for Adele Kenny (who is exhorting readers to write about “dawn”), NaPoWriMo (where the challenge is to write something that you would never say to a boss, loved one, etc.), and We Write Poems (the prompt being to write about your first thought when waking). This happened last week, and it’s a pretty dashed-off version of events, but I just wanted to do one more bit this evening. And with my alarm clock misfortunes this morning, I suppose it’s been on my mind. Ta for now!

Snooze Button

I dreamed I was playing cards with my boss
and my brother, and I called my boss a cheater,
which led to a sudden change in career
for me. And my brother was on my side

(yes he definitely was not allowed to play that
when he did), but it didn’t help much.
Then, it was all a sudden violet light:
dawn beginning to breathe on the window,

nodding the new snowdrops awake. And me,
too, still pissed off at my subconscious.
What good is beauty when you start out
irritated? You close a wound with needle

and thread, not this brand-new-morning crap.
That’s what I would’ve said, anyway:
until there was the broad sight of your back
turned away from me, curled like a boat hull

washed up on my sheets. You sleeping
and me, possessed. Now and then a beam
does reach in to wave away the steam.
The night phantoms give way to a floodplain

poured from caramel, laid out next to me,
a map without boundary or name. That is
something to get behind, a thing to press my
lips against until it stirs to life.

A Quantum Prayer

Sometimes you have to just dump some words out and see what happens. This is for one of Donna‘s prompts, to use the following nouns (pilfered from lines she’s been writing in February) in a poem. Deep breath:

snow, sky, day, sun, shadow, mango, summer, shimmer, season; desire, faith, something, hours, knots; map, land, compass, points; dung beetles, starfruit, hijabs, uncle, thumbs

I fiddled with one or two, but managed to get them all in, I think. The other two prompts – to use the verbs, and to use one line as the headwords down the spine of a poem – will follow and be (I hope) easier. This one led to a gumbo poem where everything floats next to everything else in their shared juices. But you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, yeah?

Last night at the poetry workshop, we talked about poems of ideas, which this definitely is. There’s not a lot of concrete guidance or establishing shots to invite the reader in, and I apologize for that, since (in light of the assortment we read/discussed) I think those are definitely both my strong suit and my reading preference. But I do like to have the expansive thought balanced carefully on top of the lush image; I want my poetry to shoot the reader like an arrow from a well-described bow. And that got me thinking about contrasts and coexistence, which glommed this piece together.

(I hope Donna eventually releases those mysterious poems with all these words, because I suspect they work much better than this one.)

A Quantum Prayer

If I’m going to have faith in something, I want it to be
counterpoints, the idea that each object has its shadow
stitched along its outline. Give me a shimmer of depth
to trace with an outstretched thumb.

But if I’m going to have one desire as well, let it be
to lay down in my negative adverb. “Not”s and “never”s
cover us like hijabs: yet we are still there, underneath.
I’ve spent hours being and unbeing at once.

I believe in the fade of season to season, the sucked
mango in summer giving way to a map of snow.
But I want to blur the days together, compass them
into one simultaneous sky.

Let the living crawl with dung beetles, and let the dead
gnaw on starfruit. Let our aunt and uncle deities descend
to stride the land. Let us know annular eclipse, half-dark
sun pierced like a listening ear.


This weekend has come to an end far too quickly, and I am rather dismayed. But I suppose, as with all things, I will get through it. DVerse was asking for work that deals with growing up and caterpillars and change and all kinds of things. In fact, a couple months ago I wrote a little musing poem about moths, which never saw the light of day, that was specifically about adolescence and change and all that. Serendipity! So, I thought I might as well toss that out there as my offering for the prompt, and then go weep for the upcoming week. Ugh.

Also, “aurelian” is an archaic word for a butterfly-watcher/collector (also called a lepidopterist). So cool.


I have saved the better part of my envy
for the polyphemus moth, who grows from
beauty to beauty without even noticing;
but in an easy pocket I also keep

sugarcubes of mercy. Now and then
your path is crossed by bigmouth caterpillars
bursting through their own lime-green shoulders
with adolescence. Remember your own

and take pity, escort them to the overhanging
rhododendron or the potted fern. Who never
wanted a palm to lift their young dozens of
ungainly feet? And who never saw their own

angularity in the mirror, gave themselves a name
bitter to the taste? Carried caterpillars bristle
with thanks. Good fortune is when we find
something we can destroy, and we choose

not to. The polyphemus moth is a redhead prince
trapped in his armor, a crack-voiced spirit of leaves
and shapes that scatter underfoot at night, but
two months from now, he will tap furred wings

against the glass. You must open the window
so he can die his blessing. I have painted
all my envy onto the back of this moth,
two round purple spots on brown velveteen:

but the youths nod great heads with forgiveness,
caroling around town. If you catch one, let him
lay his body across your palm. Then release it,
like you do the idea of yourself as a child

when you have climbed out of a hard dun
coffin, and turned to see there’s nobody there.

The Rock Murmurs to Sisyphus

First full day of work in two weeks = this day was downright interminable. But I made the time to hang at the cafe for a bit and do some writing in response to Donna’s prompt at Poetry Mix Tape: the idea is to write the confession of a natural object, or to talk about a canonical character’s relationship with a non-human entity. Being an overachiever like I sometimes try to be, I tried to fuse the two together, and actually ended up with two different poems. This first one leans heavily on Camus’s interpretation of the myth of Sisyphus: the heroism of struggling against fate, and the antiheroism of struggling against what you deserve (thereby digging your own hole deeper, perhaps). I think the rock gets kind of a bad rap though.

Speaking of struggling against heavy weights, I rewrote this one about six times, which is why it took almost the full week to post. Then, of course, I had the second idea and got it down within the last hour. Go figure.

The Rock Murmurs to Sisyphus

You don’t begin to know a man until you can tell
his sweat from his tears. He is a man of toil, and
you can taste the bitter spark of it, rhubarb blade,
apple seed, all the poisons that are secret kin.

But tears. The first salt comes from devotion,
the knowledge of your own power; the second comes
when it is wasted. Here is this man compelled limb
by limb to strive, to show off, to conquer, until

his water dries into white flags on his face, mine.
Small surrenders to the almost of victory. And
still he rises again, burned by flickers of hope
deep beneath his brow. Don’t blame me: why

would I want to shatter that? My downhill roll
slaloms around his dreams: I want the sunrise too,
and feel its cold denial. But I bear no grudges.
No judgments. Only the miracle of round rock, all

gravity and equal and opposite reaction. Who else
deserves the curses of a man broken to nothing?
I will take them, keep them next to his strength,
and I have learned how to go on, just go on.

Cathedral Heights

One last poem before dinner! (I really have had very little to do today.) This is for Donna’s prompt of remembering a place earlier in a relationship and thinking about what it must be like now, so naturally I chose DC (where the Fellow and I met). I have some good memories of his apartment from this past spring/summer, before he moved. Maybe this is a bit more fanciful than reality, but at least it’s more pensive and colorful than the other two today.

Cathedral Heights

Someone else, no doubt, rises every morning now
to lean on the windowsill with their cereal bowl,
gazing at spires painted dawn-apricot, dawn-rose.
Do they have an old boxspring squat on the floor

or do they sleep in a proper bed? Does steam still
complain from each radiator, and white paint fleck
from each door? We could make a science of staying
two steps ahead. The landlord came in scrubbing

not twelve hours after you’d vanished north
for my sake. You, still peppering the walls, you
whose hairs notched the sink, whose warmth was
tangled in precious pitted sheets. Why do we starve

save for a beautiful eastward view? And for traffic
humming five floors down in time with the hourly
bells who sang with curved tongues? Once I awoke
wrapped around you and felt like the breathless maple

nodding just outside, green and full of suspended
disbelief. Who else is laying down a blessing now
on those tired wooden parquets and that cracked tub?
Do they ever watch the old pilgrims come and go,

waiting for the downtown bus? On summer nights,
do they open their screens? We gaze southward,
which is to say, we look back in time. We see this
and feel older, and prouder, but not too proud.


Craziest week ever at work so far. But I just have to make it through to the 20th, and then I can escape the city and go home for twelve glorious days. Can. Not. Wait.

This is half-for a prompt at Poetry Mix Tape. The idea is to use the weather to reflect something you’ll never forget, but the weather has been nothing much lately except for cold and somewhat gloomy. (My kingdom for some snow!) Rather than isolate a specific memory, this one is kind of meta, I guess. Will try to write another once the work stops flying at my head like a series of beanballs.


I don’t need the constellations
to remind me of my own mythology,
how I — and you, and everyone — have been
created, day after day.

Instead, my holy book will be
the city in winter, on a bare evening
when its bones jut and show through
dust-brown skin.

Two half-lit skyscrapers kiss
like the memory of every kiss.
Cars shatter through freezing puddles
and slip away like loved ones.

And the carolers under brittle trees,
the men and women in overcoats:
we’ve been all of them. We all ring
recognition on our faces.

Tonight is the first night
grass cracks beneath squirrel feet:
in my own time, I too have searched for
so many scraps, to stay alive.