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Every spring I look up the word “herbarium”

Every spring I look up the word “herbarium”

and consider making a flower press or buying one

from someone on Etsy and then later I open a book

and bits of dried plant fall out. Desmond opens Richard Scarry’s

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go and a mostly

flat, mostly-dried wildflower called “hairy vetch”

falls out, and I can only tell him it’s hairy vetch,

which is of course funny, because someone told me.

I mean I was gathering the vetch from the yard in front

of the church down the street, the one near the community

garden on New Hampshire Avenue, and someone called

to me from their car. “I think it’s hairy vetch,” he said.

I gave him the blank stare I give when I’m tired and

someone has unexpectedly done something kind.

If you haven’t slept well in years then questions about

what you have time for or whether sex is better than

sleep or whether sex or joyful activities like gathering wildflowers

can be part of any kind of revolutionary strategy

–those questions feel defeating. I did once cry reading Guy DeBord

on the bus to New York but I was very young and

already certain that my life was over, as it is every spring,

when I mostly ignore my body’s physiological response

to sunlight, rebirth and resurrection and instead

turn on my computer and meet the deadline. I’m being

extra sad about wage work for the sake of the poem,

and I really am that sad, but most of the time I’m fine.

I mean I’m ok with the fleeting nature of existence. It’s fine.

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I’m lousy with the concept of good enough // I guess it was whenever nuclear energy became mainstream that we started talking about severe emotional distress as meltdown


I’m lousy with the concept of good enough

and most of living is about experiencing reactions

so old they’re not even memory. If they’re rooted

in anything they’re rooted in family, or enough generations

of family to make them seem like culture. No one

likes feeling shame or rage but gun to the head

I take rage. Gun to the head is my hypothetical luxury.

I don’t actually know my patterns, but nothing slips by

all messages are delivered–This poem is me telling my project manager

that no, I don’t always read my email. A “raw confusion” is

not the opposite of a cooked certainty, whatever either might be.

But writing is an aid to memory. A book is a mnemnoic.

Robert Burton wrote melancholy as anatomy and somewhere

in all those volumes is something about “the anxious person’s perpetual

desire to start again.” That’s not a direct quote, but that is what

you do the morning after temporarily wanting to jump out a window

like Sally in the 1974 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Have you seen it? Watch it again. She doesn’t hesitate.


I guess it was whenever nuclear energy became

mainstream that we started talking about severe emotional

distress as meltdown. Self as reactor core. So, sometime in the

late 50s? I look it up: Not till after the 1979 partial

meltdown at Three Mile Island, which is why I kind

of know what Three Mile Island was even though I don’t

really know. What is the word for being extremely

but ordinarily tired? That video of gas station clerks

falling asleep while ringing up customers. The internet

says they were on opiates but I don’t see any fact-checking.

And wasn’t there an earlier video? And an earlier one?

Two women at work. Sleeping and waking. Working.

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I can’t clean the window so I clean my glasses and look at the cumulus clouds

I can’t clean the window so I clean

my glasses and look at the cumulus clouds. I never

thought I’d write poems about the weather and certainly

not clouds, but I guess I never thought I’d be a poet,

even a poet who can’t remember the names of clouds

and has to look them up later. I remember I need to ask

someone something but in the middle of looking for some

piece of information that will help me do that I forget what

and who I need to ask. My Google calendar is full,

but that does not mean I lead a full life, though I might.

I forgot to log my hours. I still haven’t requested time

off for the summer because I don’t know where to go

or how. Aristophanes wrote a comedy about clouds

and Aeschylus imagines them as a chorus of nymphs–

the Nephelae–who comfort Prometheus chained to

a mountain crag. Or does Prometheus imagine them?

I’m grinding my teeth and holding my breath again,

do you do that? Aristophanes, Aeschylus and Euripides

all had beards. I’m reaching for my imaginative powers

but my unconscious is all spreadsheets and taxonomies

and information architectures–which are really just

complex outlines. But even a simple outline is a narrative,

and I’m one of those poets who thinks a bunch words

together is a narrative. Well, it is. This poem is a dream,

and in my dreams I open the door and a bird walks in and asks for food,

or there are birds under my bed that need help. Cixous

says that women, birds and drams are a portal to writing,

or maybe she says we’re a portal to hell but hell is

a good place to be if you’re a writer willing to think

differently about sex and aesthetics. Or desire and aesthetics.

What she means is that it’s good to be dirty. It’s good to be unclean.

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I know it’s a sparrow but put on my glasses to see it anyway

I know it’s a sparrow but put on my glasses

to see it, anyway, stare at the redbud not knowing

the name but knowing I’ll look it up later

for this poem, this post-Romantic, post-Freudian

poem emerging now from my hopefully

creative and possibly dangerous unconscious

which is the source of my highly-individualized

creative power. What about that Romantic poet

who said that poets should know the names

of plants and birds? I learned French,

sort of, by memorizing Jaques Prรฉvert poems,

though never any of the left- wing populist plays

he made with Groupe Octobre. I buried

my parrot last week and couldn’t remember our

standard, goodnight routine, a seasonal list

poem of recently-sighted birds. The sad context

made me forget, though of course

I think about death every night, but I can’t

function if I think about it too closely when I sing

my parrot or babies to sleep. If I ever speak

at a memorial I will not speak from memory.

But now I remember the poem.

It begins with dabbling ducks and diving ducks,

then migrating and non-migrating shore birds,

then migrating songbirds, then familiar backyard

birds. The finches we’ve seen at the feeder this year

are purple finches, not house finches. No one has ever

described me as pursuing a problem with unbelievable

obstinacy, but “relentless” is one of my favorite

adjectives. Relentless love. Relentless interest.

Whatever. Was it Coleridge who said that

poets should know the names of plants and birds?

Or just flowers and songbirds, specifically?

I think Coleridge wrote about the imagination,

or had feelings about it. Certainly Coleridge had feelings.

I’ve taken my glasses off and I’m tired. The bird

I’m hearing is a sparrow, several. Now a crow. Now

a mockingbird. Now a sparrow, again.