6.08 / July 2011

Two Poems

Children with Lamps Pouring out of Their Foreheads

Descend into the fact mine. We are here because

we failed fifth grade, we could not pass the bone unit,

we tried to pry up “greenstick fracture” and pried

“greenhouse fracture” up instead, it seemed logical

at the time, we saw panes of glass bursting out

of their frames because someone threw a stone,

and after class we told the teacher, “Children

were being children, and one of them threw

a stone,” and our arms hung strangely in our sleeves,

and she said, “Line up at the door, and lob yourselves

into the earth, and find what kind of stone it was,”

and now we are sentenced to mine-

not the stones themselves, but the color of their streaks,

what scratches them and what they scratch, industrial uses,

drillbit uses, music-extracting uses. We are mining where

they are typically found.

There is a gleam on each of them, like the small

yellow bird on the clean of a hippo tooth. As for us

we have no canaries, but a superscript hovers near

each head, th or nd or nth or st, they make our mere

numbers into Birthdates, our birthdates dart down

ahead of us and test whether we can live there,

and of course we can, and we make our way, bent

almost in half by huge ceiling crystals of what stunts human

growth. We practice room and pillar mining; we cut palaces

out exactly, each room we cut out is a study and the kinds

of columns hold them up, and the kinds of marble

make the columns, and the methods of polishing

make them shine. Then we move into the ore rooms,

one painted scratchoff silver with immutable numbers

underneath, one wavy with banded iron, like a spelling

workbook dropped in the bath; then into the rubify

room, where it means “make ruby red,” but a dash

is missing somewhere; then into the brilliant

cut room, where Fancy Deep Grayish Blue Facts are held out,

surrounded by glinting quote marks,

and the deeper we go the more we are the diamonds,

surrounded by sharp intakes of breath. Long years of breathing

the air down here have given us lung complaints: if sea stars are

all lung and tarantulas have four lungs, how can two be enough

for a Walking-Talking? Yet two is enough and two is a fact;

we cough and feel stabbing pains, we feel our own pickaxes

strike down inside us and pry up our chunks of pink

quartz, and we spit. We cannot be absent for the test-

the test is today, and the test is tomorrow. Flashcards

show all of their sides at once. Now when

a fracture jumps out of our frame, we know the right

word for it-a note is wrapped around the stone,

it says you belong to me now, it says stay where

you are, stay deep in the possessive pronoun.

It says I watch through your window, morning to noon

to night. The fact of our eyes is surrounded with squint,

we read the note over and over. The bone that we break

is the Radius, and points. And around it, arrayed in shine lines,

all the minutes of the day.

The Father of the Fictional Alphabet

Hovers over his invention, all spirals and lightbulbs and

whistles and bells, all knobs and dials and black balloons,

blinking panels and pinwheels, whirs and beeps and flying

signals, doors with smaller doors behind them, cuckoos

on juicy steel springs, mechanical catfish whiskers

trembling in currents of air, machine-made exhalations,

tuba polish for booming parts and trombone polish

for pumping parts. Mirror polish for mirror letters and

sunken brass for silent ones

and readout pours from every single slot.

The letters must be forged-the father of the fictional alphabet

wears protective glasses, and holds flat and round sounds

in the roaring fire and uses a seashell for flux, and then drops

each letter in a bowl of cool water, and they steam in the shape

of themselves, and the father of the fictional alphabet

rivets them to the machine: on all sides, in brass letters, it says;

and it belches black smoke and itself,

and white mice run in wheels inside it, a clearie marble

rolls down a track, and here is a slot for quarters where

you buy a chgnk chgnk sound. The letters have whirligigs

in them, the letters release hundreds of helicopters, the letters

have snakes that slip between stones, the letters grow parrot-

head flowers, and the letters are bodies settled with blackflies.

Why all the

nature metaphors-the needles here are slammed to green

as if the machine is a habitat, and the needles here are slammed

to red as if the machine is tooth and claw.

He had an assistant, a finger

quoter, who saw her best fingers fly off. It must be said she cried;

all her letters grew bulges at every end and these were called

their Teardrop Terminals. Her quotes turned black and came to life

and tiptoed through the works, flipped first/last letters everywhere

and not a single on/off

switch. The father misses her. The father is running on steam.

He takes off his glasses and breathes in the lenses and returns

the stems to his face. The machine breaks down and he gets it

humming. He is nearly a letter himself now, he hangs

a Teardrop Terminal off the sad end of his nose.

Ribbons of paper pour out and out,

covered with endless addition. The World Exposition

is tomorrow, and the father of the fictional alphabet

is ready to raise the curtain;

he lifts the last letter and locks it in place

with the last Universal Head Rivet, now look.

Patricia Lockwood's poems have recently appeared in Poetry, Gulf Coast, Denver Quarterly, AGNI, Poetry Northwest, and Black Warrior Review. She blogs at emperoroficecreamcakes.blogspot.com.