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Half asleep, I heard a pin drop.
The quality of light was strong,
it was changing weekly, but on top
of every new change was a lung-
like cloud with a violet
or oysterish froth burnished to pearl
by an untucked ray. Sleep debt
would only let me half-unfurl
from what I could not be prised from.
At the far end of the hall, behind a door,
I heard a pin drop. In another room
on the unpolyurethaned wooden floor
where gaps were growing between slats—
I could distinguish the sound from
that of a screw. I knew it from a thumbtack.
What was that dream,
that brain candy cottoned to, the flight
from a battalion, a mane slipping my grip
—as my ear divined a button’s bakelite
from a Lego—leaving page-worn fingertips,
the vita nuova every night rejuvenated
and dashed to bits by a baby’s complaint,
my aural monitoring of his lonely play syncopated
with forays back into the dreamscape?
From its no-backstory,
to my daylit past in waking, to recordless
and unknown history,
back again to what I knew: the sound of a dangerous
small object falling from his pincer grip
to the floor. I knew a crayon from a ballpoint pen.
A ballpoint pen from a felt-tip.
I knew the sound of his noggin
hitting the floor from the rattle
of a coffee mug. Jewelbox, toolbox,
my ears’ spindles chimed and tattled
out of dreamland, the dice in their cups
little movie screens on each side
playing different scenarios. A joke,
the child too quiet. What it belied
was that he might choke,
but I could hear what his digits dallied
and knew he was still gambling.
This is what it means to rally
for the future, as my father lambing
on all fours with him madly
termed “answering the call of life”
never knowing whence I came
or what dirt was made flesh on my behalf.
I grew the ears of a cat, tuft-flames.
I could have heard a seed growing.
A seed growing in their mirroring labyrinths.
Twin vegetal wombs in Eustachian tubes sown
with squill, which when the moss is absinthe-
green in the brownscape, is alone
the smallest simplest flower in the cold.
First flower of the year, Easterish
and yet it could be a bold
spy device, an earpiece.
Its cells assembled from history
outside my own window, as the light
stepped up—threw down—in mystery.
And though you say it is right
that no one descended from Uralic
pre-determining the cast of thought until
badly retrofitted in English,
I could not see this Siberian squill,
this earpiece, Easterish,
and not think of the cells of a language
in my sleep, growing out of the frost,
assembled from history, a burned bridge,
as the first division, from which I was lost.
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Reflecting on three monumental works of modernism—James Joyce’s Ulysses, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus—a hundred years on.
Both regulators and employers have embraced new technologies for on-the-job monitoring, turning a blind eye to unjust working conditions.
But I do miss the hymns, / the small, hard apples with their dimpled skin. I do miss / things.