The Problem Now


The problem now is not only do we not have the right answer, we’re not even sure we have the right question.

—Richard Berendzen, astronomer


While the discovery of a seemingly ageless universe occasioned the remark, it reflects the disorientation I experienced in trying to explain God. I did not have answers to questions I wasn’t sure were right. The main point of inquiry was how could God be personal. I stumbled along a road of platitudes centered on the vanity of any attempt to personify a supreme being.

As my catechism taught: there is only one God—a supreme being who is omnipotent. In a word, almighty. A word used to describe that which we cannot conceive, a wonderment, a bewilderment, something without shape or face or speech. God is an amorphous something, a something which probably is not living or breathing. And yet we wish it were a father, a father with a face. We wish it were alive, we wish it were breathing, of body and soul, walking among us, conversing with us. We are desperate in our want to belong to it and it to us.

In the face of this facelessness, man attempts to create not something out of nothing but something out of everything. Why it may take on many looks can be answered by the man who sculpted a dog out of wood; when asked how he did it, he answered simply, I carved away all that didn’t belong to my dog. This idea may go a long way in explaining the variety in religions: Catholic icons, Hindu cows or craven images.

The form invariably dictates the character of our faceless God and likewise the steps required to worship it. There is all manner of ritual and sacrifice, some conducted in unfathomable crazes and rages, all an effort to understand why we are here and for what purpose. To answer these enormously troubling questions we ascribe to God certain traits—again depending on the people and its temperament; implacable and cruel, noble and gentle, all knowing and all enforcing, benign and merciful—or merciful and yet vengeful.

Certain quarters assure themselves that the Bible is the bedrock. This supreme being spoke, someone was listening and happened to have a pencil. Please strike that; it reflects prejudice. Amend it to read: God spoke and someone heard. And now we are the keepers of the word of the supreme.

The universe, as best we understand, is 18 billion years old. So I asked myself is God’s message comparable to the travel of starlight: uttered millions or billions of years ago and only now reaching us? Or have we looked inside ourselves and seen part of the Big Bang, part of the Word? The news article suggests as much, for its claim is that the universe is older than its stars. But such a statement lends credence to the notion that God first created the word, then the other stuff such as the sun and the earth. Were we known before we ever were?

No, we are here, illusion or no. It is just me, just you. And what we do matters. Why? Not because of any cosmic cop. No naughty or nice syndrome in the galactic. Because there are others ahead of us whose lives will be directly affected by what I do or don’t do or deny or uphold. Inasmuch as I am part, I am the whole—the whole of mankind behind me, the future cascading before me. It is for me to determine the course of mankind. I am influential, if not powerful, both in word and deed. What I say to myself in my darkest moments, all men will hear, what I do in the darkest corners all men will eventually see. My temptations are all men’s, my victories belong to all, for I am one who came before and part of those who will come after.

I once thought that we, all of us, were God. Write such nonsense off to the struggles of youth. Now I see that we, all of us, those before me and after, are history, we are a story being told and retold, one that goes untold and at the same time is unfolding. We are players, we are parts, and we join in the whole.

Once in the ardor of my rebellion against the deity, I prayed for an extraterrestrial visitor. I wanted to ask the alien if Christ had ever come to live and die among them in order to free their souls from an original sin. I prayed to a god I didn’t believe in to have them answer no, so then I could challenge the testament in its entirety. Now I understand the alien could answer yes or no, and it wouldn’t matter. We still face the same condition—lost subjects of a supreme being that is omnipotent.

How can I be sure there is a God, after all it wasn’t long ago that I denounced the concept and discovered that I lost the fear and loathing that accompanied it. Lost the fear but the terror remains.

To paraphrase Rand, God is a terror because we cannot know it. It is closed to us, mindless of us. And since it is absolute, it is absolutely closed, absolutely inconsiderate. We stand before it unable to divine our way, much less a destination we cannot reach even if we knew it. Without purpose and intent, we face the horror that is ourselves, we confront but cannot communicate, we speak but no one, not even ourselves, hears. We cannot fathom or discern so even our actions become suspect. The terror is within and without, at all times relentless. We know God by the terror and in just the same fashion, we know life by suffering. Unamuno said as much.

But let’s take a more practical tack. Obviously we had no hand in nature, the construction of its laws and its obedience to the flow of evolution. What we create only destroys nature, be it intentional or inadvertent. We stake no claim to creation; we know only too well we are the results, albeit misguided and forlorn. So we harken back to the astronomers’ calculation of 18 billion years; even before the Big Bang the universe existed. Who or what introduced elements into this limitless vacuum? Who or what set in motion this enduring march toward human life so long ago? It is the height of understatement to say it was something greater than us, something far more powerful, and something that knew everything at once. God. This monosyllabic utterance will do as good as any, but never do it justice.

And now to the issue at hand. How to personalize this God, this cause? We are given to make-believe—out of the terror, the desolation, the dire need for the strength to live together and the stability to stand alone. At their core, all religions are the same—a statement of awe and the conditions which will allow us to live in awe. Since no one is successful in abiding by these conditions, there are mild prescriptions for forgetting the constancy of awe.

Concepts such as omnipotence are not readily grasped. In order to make God discernible we attribute to it certain human traits; thereby subtracting from infinity. The math aside, let’s take mercy. In our thirst for eternity we grant God the capacity to be lenient in the face of our transgressions. Likewise, we offer ourselves the chance to exercise mercy amongst ourselves since we strive to emulate the divine. The connection here has a clever duality—us to ourselves and us to God. Once connected, we are now associated. Associated, united. United, kin.

Now that God looks like us and acts like us we will know God when we see God. This goes to the heart of the adage—seek and you shall find. We don’t know what to look for unless it resembles something we have seen, something we know. When Lawrence of Arabia showed Arabs pictures he had taken of them, they did not know what they were looking at; they had never seen their own image. Given the ability to see God we can pursue God. We can search for it in the hope of finding a reason for our being here, our primary purpose. For man it is imperative that he understand why, that his presence has meaning. Who better to answer such soul-seated troubles than the one that made all things?

(One of the difficulties in writing the paragraph above is the pronoun—it. My tendency was to use—him. Why him, why not her? Again we have added a human trait, a He-God, not a She-God. By doing so, we reduce God’s stature. And ultimately the possibility of mercy.)

Other properties we ascribe to God are thought and actions. We say God thinks and acts, or that for God the two activities are one and the same. Additionally, we claim that we exist because we are in God’s thoughts. If we weren’t, we would die or far worse, never have been. What all this points to is our quietly raging dependency. It has been argued that dependency is the essence of religious sense. Once dependent, we are susceptible. Now the situation is right or ripe. Let’s play this card known as religion, for we are supremely capable of tricking out God in all manner of lore and luridness.

Dependency may not capture the entirety of the religious sense. Add to the mix the idea of wishing and willing. The wish to be known by the divine, the willingness to believe this is not only possible but very probable. One of the most accepted ways to accomplish this is to pray. Prayer in and of itself is a very humbling experience because you surrender your freedom to God in the hopes it can change your fate. Examine the idea closer and you can easily substitute praying to God with rubbing a rabbit’s foot. Each seeks the same end: a turn of events in your favor. You look for assistance and support. If what you pray for or rub the furry foot for happens, you are at a complete loss to explain how or why. You simply trust, perhaps in the furry foot or prayer. Does it really matter which?

The idea of an answered prayer bores in on the essence of a God that presides over us, that nurtures us, so much so in fact that God gave us its son in order that we might kill him and thus rid ourselves of the ultimate divine offense. This strikes me as nothing short of Pre-Copernican: the sun does indeed revolve around us, the universe orbits us. We are the center of it all. By extension, we are the focal point of God. In the center of this seemingly infinite maelstrom, this behemoth that has lived for 18 billion years, is the Earth. More important, the Earth’s occupants. We are the bullseyes in this galactic whirligig that we can scarcely comprehend. This is vanity of divine proportions. It is only outdone by the fantastic notion of in-his-image-and-likeness.

Are we capable of being everywhere at once? Are we capable of a cognitive process that exceeds thought? Are we capable of infinite mercy? Are we even capable of forgiving the slightest transgression? No! No! And hell no!

To add us to the equation, to couple our characteristics to that of the infinite, is nothing short of arrogance. More to the point, by our ascription, we weaken the idea of God. Is God arrogant? When you are the only one who is and all else exists in time, what would be the point? No, the point is that there is grave danger in anthropomorphism. We can make an arrogant God, we can believe in something akin to a cosmic cop. We can have a God who condones many wives or just one or none at all. We can have a God who says if you sin you will burn in hell or if you sin you will be born again under less than satisfactory circumstances. By and large, the gods we conjure are dangerous, very dangerous. Proceed with caution.

In the end, we are the children of creation. We act in earnest, for we want to survive. Survive our own death.











Timothy L Rodriguez has published in English and Spanish. His novel—Guess Who Holds Thee?—is available on Amazon. His fiction and poems have appeared in over a dozen national and international journals including New London Writers (UK), honorable mention in an international short story competition sponsored by The Writer’s Drawer (Israel), Main Street Rag, Heyday Magazine, and Stoneboat Literary Journal. His novel—Never Is Now—was serialized at

Tent 4: Towards a Theory of Home


I’m not Canadian. I share with Justin Trudeau a past as an English major, but that’s where my connections with Canada begin and end. I’m not Canadian. I’ve told them this now three times in three different tones, but they don’t stop: “We love Canada. It seems like such a peaceful place and we are peaceful people. There are many opportunities there to pursue education, and there is also a lot of land, and Canadians are such lovely people. Like you.” Yes, Canada is lovely. But I’m not Canadian. Wallahe, I explain, I’m really not Canadian. I’m just here to ask you a few questions about what it’s like to make a home here, in these tents, in this camp, not knowing when or if you’ll return to Syria. “We won’t. We are happy to make Canada our new home.” A refugee in a different tent had explained to me that there was a rumor going around that Canadian relief agencies would interview refugees that were being considered for settlement in Canada. As hard as I try to redirect the conversation, the father of this family continues to turn it back to Canada. Finally I acquiesce, in a way.

I’ve actually been to Canada. They perk up. Once. Just once. It was as nice as you describe it—as peaceful. I went to Montreal, where there are many Lebanese who resettled there during the civil war. And now Syria is having its own troubles, which bring you here. Can you tell me when you started decorating your tent? What made you begin to treat it as a home?

Silence and looks. What was I doing? Flying into Amman as I’d done every summer of my life, this time two things were different: I came with a mission, and also a baby. And they were intertwined. My not yet one year old son deserved a mother who took all that supposed firecracker energy of hers and did something with it; helped the world in some way slightly bigger than sharing a good poem with a good group of well-meaning, comfortably raised, 18 year olds. So what was I going to do? I was going to just walk into the refugee camps, and ask the refugees themselves what it meant to them to be homeless, and then I was going to fly back to my concrete, well-powered, well-watered, well-air-conditioned, house, mortgage, car, family, job, and write all about it—theorize it even. That’s cute, my mother, daughter of refugees, says, attending a “teach-in” about the crisis. That they think they can talk about it that way, with all that theory, that they think that does anything.

The father in the tent returns to Canada. “So you’re not from the Canadian government?” No. Wallahe- I promise, I’m not. “Do you know anyone there?” No, I’m sorry, I don’t. He turns to his wife, frustrated and embarrassed, wipes his face, and begins to speak “I thought finally…” She places her hand on his back. Syrian wives, known throughout the Middle East, for their ways of quietly controlling home situations, of being “the best” wives.

I ask her now, directly, “What is it like being a mother here, a wife, a sister?” We are sitting in the middle of the expanded tent—they have attached three tents together with corroded metal to create a sort of courtyard of their own for their family and their brothers and sisters who have also come from Syria. A village within the village that is Zaatari’s west side. The frustrated father takes this as his out.

“They know all about the raising of children, I’ll leave you to speak with the experts,” and walks out. My guide, also a man, walks out too, and I’m finally left as I wanted to be, mano a mano, madre a madre.

“You’ll have to excuse him,” the mother explains, “we thought you could help us out. We have been here almost 4 years now. We still think of going back every day. We left everything there. We expected to come here for a few months. We’ve been here for three and a half years. We still think of going back there of course. Most of my family is still there and nothing is complete without my family. We have freedom here, inside the camp, we can roam freely. But we don’t leave the camp. We tried, once, but they raised the rent in Amman and it wasn’t possible for many refugees to live anywhere but the tents. But they have been kind to us here. We are free to roam within the camps. Holidays feel like holidays. The schools here are not the best and we want an education for our children. For our sons. We hear that in Canada…”

If the tent had a corner, the teenage girl who is quietly watching me would be standing in it. There are sheets of cloth creating the semblance of a doorway between the metal and the attached tent, and she is standing in it, herself in sheets of cloth, like every single other woman here, hijabed, warm to me, and tending toward the plural pronoun. I ask her what she’d like me to write down, before I leave, back to the states, not to Canada. What she’d like for others to know about her and their lives here.

Her mother chimes in, “We want them to feel with us, and to think about us. We just want to go back home.”

I promise to write that down. This is a story—a very short one—not even a story really—the introduction to a story—that hasn’t been written yet, that aches to be penned by someone better than me—but can’t yet figure out how—can’t yet find a place for itself—is afraid it won’t—before it’s too late. I have spent two years theorizing, academically, professionally, socially, pedagogically, lyrically even, about why it is important to share the real story of the refugee camps. I’ve been asked by the world’s experts what this is that I think I’m doing. Is it an oral history project? Is this about testimony? Is this for American audiences? And when I am pinned and wriggling on a wall I just say well it’s all of those things, but mostly it’s real. It’s important.

Ma tinsounah, she says in that plural again: “you all, just don’t forget us.” She is engaged at no older than 15. She says this warmly, strongly, sadly, seriously. “They are already forgetting us.”

Not everyone is forgetting, I say, quieter than her. I have wavered today between insisting on not being Canadian, and echoing the century of camps mantra to never forget. I want her to know she is not forgotten, alive, in the cloth, but I also need them to know I am not Canadian, that I’m not the way out.

“If they aren’t forgetting then how are we still here? We must be forgotten.” How can I make a cowardly amends. For what she has said to me? We’re not all forgetting, I say, quieter than her, because she, 15, engaged, living in all kinds of cloth and no walls, no way out, no Canada, deserves the last word.

I thank them for their time, and look back at the girl in the sort of corner. “Zhoorouna,” she says. A single word that means, “come back and visit us when you’re next passing through.” “We will be here.”











Yasmine Shamma is a Junior Research Fellow at Durham University, where she is completing her second book project on Refugee senses of home. Her first book, Spatial Poetics: Second Generation New York School Poetry, will be published with Oxford University Press in Autumn 2018. She is also editor of The Aesthetics of Joe Brainard (EUP 2019), and creator of the poetry mapping mobile app, Stanza. She has lived worked and studied throughout the (east coast) USA, Middle East, and UK.

My Trump Journal


Soon after the 2016 election, I began keeping a journal on the Trump Crisis. Excerpts appeared in the Sun magazine in August, 2017. Here are further selections. (Some entries are tweets, for which I have retained the original capitalization.)



Academics must be excited about the Trump Presidency. At last, they have something truly new to study. I imagine researchers choosing their subtopics this week: “Neo-Fascism and the Postal Service,” “The New Authoritarianism and Walmart,” etc.




Hey, you fucking fascists! I’m a Jew! Come beat me up!



Hillary wasn’t running for President; she was waiting to be President. She thought her election was inevitable, like the iPhone 7.0. The voters punished her for hubris.



Trump is our first post-literate president. He writes tweets, which are all correctly spelled (mysteriously) but he’s never been known to actually read. Though he kept a copy of Mein Kampf next to his bed during his marriage to Ivana, she defended him by saying he never read it.



Meditation for White People

Close your eyes.

Pay attention to your breathing.

Listen to the sounds around you.

Continue breathing, aware of your inbreath and outbreath.

Now think of your own body.

Imagine that you have dark skin – brown, deep brown, even black.

Imagine yourself walking down the street, in the body of a black person.

Imagine how the world looks if you are African-American.

Imagine how the world looks at you.

Return to your breathing.

Slowly open your eyes.



“I’m glad I’m old,” my 97-year-old father said to me. “Hopefully I won’t have to live through eight years of this bastard.”



Trump’s Cabinet appointments are a juvenile attempt to demoralize us. Don’t fall for this! Remember the Trump Era Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the Fascism I cannot change, the strength to fight the Fascism that I can, and the correct political analysis to know the difference.



Plus I’m dusting off my most successful bumper sticker slogan:





The Bible

blew up in

my face.



When Trump shuts down Saturday Night Live, pack your bags.



It may be said of Trump, without irony, that he has a genius for stupidity.



In the 1960s they used bullets. Now they assassinate you with WikiLeaks.



Future White House sex rumors:

Trump’s a hermaphrodite.

Mike Pence is gay.

Melania was born male.



Racism is an addiction, like methamphetamine. There should be a 12-Step program for racists.



Misread headline: “Trump Budget Seeks Big Tit to the Military”

[New York Times; the word was “Tilt”]



Homework assignment: Civilian crime is down, but government crime is way up. Explain.



So far it’s been winter throughout the Trump administration – and it feels like an eternal winter.



I thought Trump was impersonating a half-mad English king – but no, he’s a fucking ROMAN EMPEROR!



One good thing about Trump being president: the stupid debate about whether racism still exists is over.



The last 17 years of the American presidency have proved that 1) black people solve problems; 2) white people fuck things up.



Actually, I’m for an ALL-transgender army!



Trump is making narcissists look bad. There have been great narcissists in history: Mick Jagger, Gertrude Stein, Thomas Aquinas, Leonardo da Vinci…



Trump is exactly like a Marvel supervillain: boastful, cocky, megalomaniacal, obscenely powerful. I just hope the Fantastic Four can defeat him in time!











Sparrow is usually reading Freud and Shakespeare. (He recently finished Totem and Taboo and The Comedy of Errors.) He lives in Phoenicia, New York. Sparrow’s latest book is On Certain Nights Everyone in the USA Has the Same Dream (Inpatient Press), a journal of his campaign for President in 2016.

63 Cantos


“the clocks spell time nonstop”
Jean Arp, 1938


Sanguine taint of time, despite the bright
Tempo, brevity remains the order of each day.
Go bless the blander corridors. Hang the pennant
Firm, despite the flapping, broken cup of wind.
So much can be said for this dose of dank ink.

During the days, weeks, and months we walk.
Often seen thieving, seems an eternity ago—
When the vizierial, the milieu venereal, time
Funereal, how it sprints past dismissive!
Noggin sozzled. Large yellow skull a labratory.

Today’s oilgopsony is a raw tobacco appeal scheme.
As we dig we bury. Our pencils are old. The paper ever
Older. One feels the blood boiling underneath, like as
A lover under crumples, abed. There’s always some
Things to whisper about, if you listen soft enough.

That lump that rests beneath your heart—there
Is where the timepiece dies every day. Where the sleep
Stops every other broken breath. Tactus, minim
Crotchet, nonce, evaporation around a bunch of quavers.
So the crowded stroll on a pattern of narrow pavers.

Old time cracks the path, and such is the cosmic engine
Idling all alone and hulking in the frozen street.
Cams on the automata, buried by snow each night.
Seeds are bones. Bones are broken near-Eastern dreams
Of taking stock of stars to know how old we’ll be tomorrow.

Sexagesimal dictates be damned. One eye on the calendar
And also a foot on the calendar and an empty string
Around each finger to aid in recalling what repdigit
Means if all you’ve ever known is the bijective base
Which balances your statue on one marble foot.

The corner holds a spacious bone room full of no patterns
Just red and blue and (randomly) the blue turns into
Green and the next time the green one goes, it’s white.
Such is the staccatissimo this afternoon.
My earliest memories will remain forever uncorroborated.

So data becomes time as light becomes time
As time wavers never and that’s a good no call
As the Quarterback Poets always say of a Sunday.
A blind spot echo dot, every day a carvery—
We slice and we layer, stroke upon stroke, like butchers.

Do more than sleep. If bones are dust and dust
Is glass, then what of flesh? Like when yours
Were naked nostrils, no dark, brown hair, no crisp
And brittle snips. But what then of bones if this is mere
Sleep without the outer crust of time as flesh. None.

As we dig, we balance, densely imbricated, because more.
Otherwise, always, somatoform, this mnemosyne atlas
This catastrophe in the rectangular rain, contrapuntal
Cloud pump, bedside, born in five different places. Not
Including Rome, where this luckiest spolia was born.

As if the building’s brick’s a skin, what is the heart? Toilet.
Take the “i” from “toilet” and you’ve a flat to rent.
And if time was flat, we would be broken, methodical animals.
And if rent was time, mine would be a palace at 4AM.
And if time was a palace, the decor would be angular and abrupt.

As such this train is time, a hurtling forth reflective
Of nothing so little as progress. The route is frayed
From to and fro and dithering hither and yon. Train
Is time, the table, the arrow—charts and chugging.
The surplus of words, too, needs a man and a wheelbarrow.

Contrapuntal Cloud Pump! Once (ago) one called
And bottles, cans and smokes appeared with sandwiches
From a small boy in a cotton apron down around his roll
Of ankles. His nickels for Archie. His dimes for The Bird.
Once (ago) we took the neighborhood for granted.

When smattered, time is pyroclastic, runic ribbons
And beam tactics of imbalance—the eldest duo clock—
With tortoises for slow days and sparrows for fast—
And over the slobber job of lunch the carver eyes
Your corpulent neck, slicing it into second helpings.

Pay with each moment’s penny, every nickel
Is a minute, the hour’s a dime, the day’s a dollar—
You do the math, which never adds up, no merit
For the agglomeration of dollar models for if time’s a film
The week’s pass—just smash cut upon smash cut.

And say heat was such as time, you’d be the coal
Man’s wobbly wheelbarrow. If heat was time
Last Wednesday was a match-stick-head in the rain
And you would be the runny rivulets in a just
Above frozen gutter, played as it layeth.

The staves make the man—same tinted in hints
Of pink, chartreuse, lapis and their equally soft uncle’s
Bent out belts and padded layers. Softness
As the president said above his tenor where
The city manhandles the cloud pump, flooding flatlands.

So time, too, like the ladder as the higher you climb
The harder it gets. If rungs are staves then your boots
Are cellos. Death is for dinner. Break off a slab
Of the bread ring, but leave some ham for the little ones—
Their loaded map unlucky, one street sickly, a one siecle sickle.

Did you water the stone this morning? That way the news
Fuses with the concrete. That way the sage sand collects
In evaporation, the water disappearing like a siren, solemn
And sibilant, a loudness turning to a loneliness, cindering
The family shoes, the family wine, the family blanket.

We require no action, no drama, not ever any dancing
And certainly no spinning, only to walk a straight line
To the honest core of whatever matter remains to hand
And if matter was time, so the globe could be ours.
A declaration of intent, half slag-heap, half sylvan asylum.

Verdant and good as green as the path of a chimney
Sweep to start the morning is good luck or so
Says good Goop Joe thumbing through the almond
Almanac, soiled only by his dusty thumbs
Known best by his frosty, unfrisky forebears, blessed.

So time’s a gulp of fuel. So time’s an Archipenko.
The clock’s a goblin; the goblin’s your great uncle
And Archipenko will always remember when you
Captured the flag. Watch the numbers glimmer.
Watch them flicker for a minute in the crepuscular mist.

Remember it, probably the last of this bitterest
Winter. Watch the face of the angel, split by a fist.
Sad little laughing wet nurse of wine, see it weep as well.
Witness to the greatest grimace—who in hell can make
This cohere? Time is not a memory game.

Digression from the platform does a body good.
The clock’s a gorgon. She’ll eat your face off. Fly
Off the rails for her. Both arms are dangerous.
Consider nothing too reprehensible. Time’s a raging
Nerve ending and remains, as ever, never ending.

The dainty bloat of time—fat twins, conceptually
Concurrent. The slim slob, turbulent and trim, fit
Into a corner, a trouble of mud, another ham in the ether.
Another crumb of erasure. Time’s a heartless concierge
Giving nill with an eloquence of starry cloudiness.

All abud is the banter about burials.
Of the binds and the butterflies, the watermelon
In Easter hay, the very old book cellar called Ye Olde
Cheese Factory. With a similitude within you, leap forth.
Radio telegram your gusto code, your gusto cadence.

And would that time was the side of a truck, painted
Dark blue first, white second, light blue third, white again
And each time with differing lettering and logo
And baked a decade in the bitter city sun and blasting
Sands and thus skinned alive by nature daily.

This impulse is imperial, the laboratory empirical.
If time was a bridge, each brick would twitch willy-nilly.
Marchers traversing would do a shimmy in between quadrilles.
It’s a game that requires the hourglass to kneel
And just as the old nut pronounced, the breakers set to keel.

And so below—time’s a dray-horse clomping cobbles—
Smidge of snow, pavers smoothed in endlessness.
Sonny on the bridge in the snow all alone. The trance
Of river air, precious gibberish, quivering tides.
Ask the box of god who retells the tale in zenith and nadir.

The faster smoke advances in a blue shirt, staveless.
Distraction knit a sweater with two pencils, weaves now
Of warmth, the shape of heat to come, yarn that swings
Writ large on a body made largely of vapor. Weightless
As the wind what propels it forth with gusty ankles.

Hemorrhage in the wrinkle, fissure in the lacunae, glut
In the clefty folds that spin away centripetal. The dervish
Crouches in whiskers and silk and says make this sound
Like it’s floating as the wind makes the wood work while
The thickest string quavers like a feather not yet frozen.

Time is a slipped constrictor knot, tied by an anti-salt
With boards for fingers, mostly callous, harsh as hail.
One never sets sail with this mooring the keel
To port, not with this implausible hitch. And so
One never strays, but treads the moment, silent, vibrant.

How much for the flugelhorn? It might voice this outrage
Nicely without niceties. Time is a naked sneak thief
In the pawn shop window, jingling nickels, old as the drum
Beat night, buffalo smooth grit in every groove, dread
In the clink of tintinnabulation, such stinging musics.

If only time was an incomplete open cube avail
On Tuesday! If only dark broadness, surrounded
By women and a grey cur growling under hunger.
All dogs are preludes to the next dog’s day.
Dogs sleep, humming along with the thermometer.

Elsewhere, time’s a feisty list of necessities.
Bright list tells us how to tackle the canzone, the tenson
Or the triolet with our fist of thumbs and just a nub
Of Dixon soft between them. So, smudged, we go, so
Let’s to prayer as follows—with rancor and sorrow.

So we are sixty in a sequence of glistening sixties.
Some days the whole damn things dances left and fro
Right and untoward, like Monday the unguent, Tuesday
The slurp, Wednesday land-lubbing, Thursday a stitch
Friday an itch, Saturdays don’t exist, Sunday smothered.

Winter is a snitch, the game’s gone, but was a box-set
Complete—an earwig of pianoforte parabola torque.
Great changes afoot in the world of war! Rise!
And shine and praise the yellow Rhine from your distance—
Through salt and sugar, brine and dill and vinegar.

Over hill and lane, dell and dale, formerly eager
Ever after amid the gillyflowers, pot of glue, lot au feu
The cartoon tuba, the complete etudes, Newport
News to Perth Amboy, there is no ice in Italy—
All melted quickly by Greenwich Mean.

As any lucubration on the matter’s adherence to the form
Of time must surely delve quickly for to capture even
Its subject, much less any essence soever, so slather the mother
Of this, your bath, so cold in of doors, imagine
The out! Such a mincing jibber from the banderlog!

Towards a middle road, so says the oldster on your shoulder
With a snicker and ham-fisted finesse like a top-heavy
Boxer with fancy footwork as early 20th century
Eastern European folk music pours from an open window
Of an afternoon in New York City, late winter.

How many horses need we beat? Keep our thoughts
In our shoulders, hug our loupe with balance and tact.
Such the web, such the snare, such the traps
Of time, what whirrs, and dings, what slurs and sings—
Such hurtling ‘mongst the pennant and bunting.

The cluster of nerves, a knot, besotted. Announcer skis
With a gun, racing toward seventh place. Some bitter
Solace for a love of snow. Truck trails lace the medium
Backdrop, a skein of blinking, lambent and persistent.
Your weapon is but a spoon, sharped on a cell wall.

It is not absorbed, not this reflection, but stills
Upon the skin and lips and fingertips, such is
The hiccup, a standpipe, out front of an otherwise
Flawless mid century façade. So time is a list
Of torpedoes, a dragnet for aficionados.

How quickly does the frost melt in slalom
Down the window, avid window, averse to sweetly
Heated family-scapes, pencils brisk, tapers blazing
In vapor quenched, but time is thick ice regardless—
With a bright, melodic music drenching the trick.

Braces on a billow-shirted brickman in sturdy bootwork
Is the clock and the clock is a man of the world
Despite his collar’s middling browning among the black
Shoes he’s still but a medium stain, like a dance
Darkened carpet, well sun trod, well wine trod.

We slide and they slide and he never uses
Her eraser, sooner his shears or a quick blade—
Time skates a short track, nearly sideways.
Time is a brown-skinned middleman, foxed like paper
Under light and moisture, scripophily under a microscope.

Humongous switch double rodeo Japan, all caterpillars
Are lavender. All brads are hammered. Such is the dark
Night full of crumbs from the tooth of a drill what bores
Through pulpy knots of old growth turned sturdy into tables.
Turned tougher into rough-housing chairs under children.

Harrowing prayers, metal plated, who sleeps on a rock
Under a sharp burlap sack is a visionary instead
Of a technician. Hands off Des Moines! US out of Iowa!
The signs read over bones melting in an unforgivable siesta
Sun, deep as a mouth, gillyflowers in grisaille, they smoke
Like jalopies—a run with the bulls has its perils.

Old anew through hoarse basso, the new meets mythos
As avuncular legerdemain and legend alone
Without so much as a slurp of doubt, riding
An unknown river to a lesser known port
And always warmly welcome.

Terrify your way to the task past the cemetery
Where every day is a pile of fertile dirt
Full of lower orders who chew through
Solid rock like silt. So the globe won’t tilt.
They believe the wind can be hurt.

Mirth in helmets, mirth in an extra twenty minutes
Subtracted from the animal of your afternoon.
If time is a planet, be it Pluto—
Hurtling fast and tiny. New muscle, new memory—
Clanking like a hinge-flap on a sacred codex.

If time were space and heat, we are standing in swift
Back-draft, full immolation, utter despond.
All might and main to reach the golden Greenwich Mean—
Pig cheese and jollity of spirits. If architecture was time
You had a damn good run on the parlor floor.

So the eldest ring rides off kilter, wracking the axis’ brain
Glitter in a puddle, wreaking havoc nigh unto paroxysm.
Fish in the folds of the flag saw death’s last crust
Of sandwich, last huff of turtle soup. As hangs a darkness
On the mill-wind, so does this heartless grace, good as a girl.

Her bottled foot, her skirt flights. Her bellows.
Her smoky soot, her drab grab, a splash and a soak—
Faster scat than the lamp ever hangs.
If time’s a singer, her blue is old and slow, bitter
And low—a country window full of smoked meat.

The verge escapement, lso crown wheel, the gear train
Dark as Trubshaw, and clock is also watch, same
As fob is chain, is canonical as the sun, that time itself
Be hands and hangers, gaskets, washers, hex nuts, cap nuts.
Wrist and pocket, glass and face, sprint and pace, excelsior.

As the egg drips and, so, dries on sleeker marble
The same skein as the milk in man, white
Flake, only warm a moment, no more, and done in—
By air, tired iron or the endlessness of death, what happens
All the time—and if it were an egg, time would never.

Because he was dust, there could be no flesh, there remains no
Film in heart or air, no acetate of his brittle voice’s echo.
There is no dowsing ace of twigs discovering a small trove
Of objects he was known to handle, both because such ephemera
Was built to be buried and no one’s memory sealed this hole.

An exacting standard in the sun dries out such juice
As the nonce of inspiration—covered, now, in large, wet snow.
And cold, again, for the trillionth time, consolatio, so
Apropos as to add the chills to an overwhelming
Coolth, so the wild oil dries into a photogravure—astute.

Propelled, by force of place, by spondee swerve—
Hand over foot, head over hind leg, spring and hurdle—
Medallion and memento, sinewy mnemonics—
Spontaneity and pageantry in vocabulary. The haggle
Is with the arms and hands of time, not the feet of verse.

Because the gods are men and women, always have been.
So the type case is empty, save the short
Sibilant chorus of wrinkled leaves what dance randy walls
As the pugilist eats the turnbuckle, with a difficulty
Known in some more strident circles as impossible.

For who stands by still while ticking the chits?
To be sure, the trickster hangs nine whole days
On the globe’s over-arching tree? A cement mixer
Gets the drift—you swirl around proudly—
The mimicry of amelioration.

We grind in the round, humid room.
So time is a termite with a belly full of knotty pine.
Time is a sorrow of smoke, the remnant of ash.
The silly crook, the sillier cant, we spruce up
The façade in the deliberate breeze of time’s waving arms.

Because behind even the most mediocre of men
Stands a phalanx of women urging his betterment.
As he dries his eyes on the bloody wipe, his final arms
Around the shining of this hard won gift
From an unseasonably cloudless sky.











Scott Zieher is a poet, artist and co-owner of the contemporary art gallery ZieherSmith. His 5th book of poetry was published in 2016 to coincide with a solo exhibition of collages at Ampersand Gallery in Portland, Oregon. He lives and works in New York City with his wife and three children. With AMERICAN CHEESE & HAM, (A DRAFT OF 63 CANTOS), New Theory continues the serial publication of the sixth of Zieher’s proposed 13 volume, book-length poem project, TRISKADEKALOG. The work herein consists of lines composed in an original 1892 “Condensed, Comparative Record For Five Years” printed by Samuel Ward’s Company in Boston, and bound in maroon cloth. The volume consists of five lined entries, and a prefatory note urges “suppose, out of the multitude of matters that crowd each day, you jot down in a line or two those most worthy of remembrance.” These are 63 such daily efforts, un-retouched.