The old philosopher
is sitting at a table
in a casino somewhere
playing an irrational game
of poker—or maybe it’s
some variation of rummy.
The numbers on the cards
are too small to read but
there are a few earth and
fire cards with single digits;
several that have
square and cube roots;
an incomplete set
of infinite decimals--
Feigenbaum’s and Apéry's constants;
a product of seven perfect numbers;
two jacks; and that king
combing half a sword
through his coif
of well-conditioned hair.
I’m in the shower
when a faint whiff
of my old shampoo
carries me to a memory
almost totally erased.
It’s not the smell of a soap
or a lotion from youth. I’m
in a room, a small room
somewhere. I take
a deeper breath but the scent
is gone now, and the breath
of memory with it.
How many rooms
have I been in,
places my mind
will never return to,
but burrowed something
so deeply inside me
I can never recall them?
disappear into a small
black hole, like the one
in Plato’s billowing sleeve
where he disposes of cards
no one dealing
will be able to retrieve.
Pets for Poets
In these poetry anthologies collected
atop this glass table on my porch, I skim through
the titles for the familiar. The sun dawdles
behind the eastern hill, but trade winds
have gently rolled me out of bed in search of poetry.
Amidst the predawn silence, I scan
the printed lists of authors. With each familiar name,
I picture the poet sliding
open my screen door and sitting at an empty chair
around my table. It isn’t large, but they all fit,
one by one, each poet finding a seat.
What surprise me are the first two animals to appear.
Not because they are foreign to this tropical island
but the sudden and simultaneous appearances
of an eagle and a bear startle me,
though not Galway Kinnell, who smiles meekly
as the bear saunters up and curls by his feet,
nor Alfred Lord Tennyson, when the eagle perches
on the railing behind him. I barely notice
the caterpillar inching along the table
in front of Robert Graves, or the mole
who blindly finds his way
to Wyatt Prunty’s pant cuffs.
Here, I realize, is where their poems come alive,
the animal object of each poet’s work
waddling, crawling, swooping in
around the table, around the open anthologies,
pages, as if alive,
flapping in the early breeze.
I look around and everyone is partnered up,
poet and creature, two by two,
I’m the odd one out
(like the dodgeball draft
in fifth grade gym),
the one without an animal
poem, a literary homage
to some critter or another,
though Maya Angelou has stood up first
and taken a walk down the beach,
having let her caged bird fly.
Look, next to Maxine Kumin’s bullet-pocked woodchucks,
there is Richard Eberhart,
petting his groundhog like it’s a lapdog.
And everyone is fawning over the two of them,
the proud poet parent and the lucky little bastard,
famous for being dead enough to catch the poet’s eye,
with his slowly blanching ribcage that no longer holds
his cute little heart.
Robert Lowell sits over in the corner
with his winsome and fragrant skunk.
Delighting in the pair,
the others don’t even bother holding noses.
How exquisitely Lowell has shined
his light on that nocturnal beast
and her surfeit of babies waddling behind her
like a row of ducklings by the plastic lids.
Paul Muldoon is sharing his troubles
with a hedgehog, but, as with Lowell,
his eponymous varmint comes slowly to his poem,
where Muldoon riffs first about a snail
which gets to tag along with the hedgehog
because of the secret they share. The hedgehog
wins all the attention, though. Maybe his
hard-to-get shtick, his reputation as a recluse,
is the trick. Which I convince myself
I want a pet for my poetry,
an endearing one I can claim for myself,
like the bluebird for Charles Bukowski,
who loves his little guy,
all in all, though we might suspect
his tendency to be abusive--
that is, if Bukowski would ever
let us see it.
I can’t summon Blake’s tiger,
nor his lamb, not any of Stevens’
thirteen blackbirds, the goose behind Du Fu,
nor, of course, the albatross
slung around the shoulders of Coleridge.
Anne Sexton, wary of these birds, keeps
her little earthworm in her pocket.
Ogden Nash has dibs on the fecund turtle
and the shy chipmunk. Roald Dahl has his pig,
gorging on philosophy. And Elizabeth Bishop,
with her fish and her armadillo, seems--
as far as I can tell—happy enough, and not missing
the curious moose that’s ambled away again
across the bramble north toward her home,
the impenetrable woods. Life’s like that.
The partners lead each other away,
birds and fish and fowl and mammals and poets,
off to the various corners of their respective notebooks.
I am left alone, in a futile search for wildlife.
This yard, I know, is home to a mongoose.
He rummages through the nets of shrubbery.
Other days I have seen him, shadow and teeth,
slip between the ginger thomas,
his spoor of little paw tracks along
the sandy ridge of the property line.
From the porch I scan the tufts of grass
hoping for a glimpse of him, his low form
darting behind fallen palm fronds.
He is not there. I walk the steps down
into the garden, around the cement corner
of the house. I spot no tail ducking into a burrow. No,
there will be nothing for me,
no sublunary friend from the animal kingdom
to impel me with poetic inspiration.
In this dreary cloud pocked dawn,
even the creatures of the constellations
have wandered off ahead of the morning.
The sun, now in bloom over the crest of the hill,
peers across the valley
at abundant fauna, none of which
is, at this moment, scurrying across my yard.
Greg Hill is a poet and an adjunct professor of English in West Hartford, Connecticut. His work has appeared in Pioneertown, Six Sentences, Instant Noodles, The Blasted Tree, and elsewhere, and he earned an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. In the free time afforded to a father of three young children, he composes experimental music for piano using cryptographic constraints. Twitter: @PrimeArepo. Website: https://www.gregjhill.com.