19 January 2019

study hall

all the different kinds of lie

wondering if you remember
freeze tag

the Latin name for it terror

in, out:
a bookmark



the storm begins
in the kaleidoscope

between yesterday and today, lake ice

whether or not
the gun fires

someone’s owl at the end of act three

13 January 2019

heat mirage / where the snake went when I stopped looking at it

We believe we’re not like animals, we believe we choose what we do instead of having it chosen for us by biology and circumstance, but this is a fantasy. What we choose is what we had to choose. And the more you remember, I think, the less choice you have. They say those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it but I think it’s the other way round. History gives us ideas. History makes us feel like our actions are justified. We look to other humans to find out how to behave. History is the vast and troubling story of how humans have behaved. But it’s not troubling enough for us. In fact, sadly, it’s inspiring.

if I were tame the story of my feathers

somebody else’s garden I’m buried in it

10 January 2019

I haven’t come out of the forest in days; the shadows are the worst thing about trees; no, I don’t know who we should blame either.

what if the chattering of squirrels baptized me

and without any practice too whippoorwill

one last question from a voiceless insect

7 January 2019

Viruses and rage aren’t a good combination. I haven’t slept well in a while because I keep waking up to cough and end up spending a couple hours coughing and fuming. I’d like to give several people a piece of my mind but I suspect they wouldn’t be nearly as impressed by that piece as I am myself at three a.m. It hurts to swallow and think so naturally I spend as much time swallowing and thinking as possible. Sometimes I turn on the light and lie there furiously noticing that the world is not in the shape that I prefer and that no matter how many of my favorite cherry cough drops I suck nothing changes.

here’s january
a tunnel
under the snow



4 January 2019

In high school biology we dissected our way through the animal phyla, slicing into specimens that had been ordered for us from a catalog and whose blood had been replaced with formaldehyde for the greater convenience of scholars. I had previously thought of myself as squeamish but I turned out not to be, or at least not outrageously so. What was inside things, I admitted to myself, was worth seeing, no matter how appalling it might be.

spring rain
the worms
come to the surface

waiting for the future I cut a worm in half

segmented worm
the war longer than it looks
on tv

December 22


I forgot my own name today. Which is just where I’m starting. Tomorrow I’ll forget the name of the restaurant on the corner and the Greek goddess of love. The next day I’ll forget the oceans and arithmetic. There will be nowhere to sail, nothing to count. The names of clouds are next to go—no rain, so life itself begins to falter. The crops wither. Animals wearily circle their last resting place. The earth cracks and there’s a landslide of names. We don’t know what to call each other any more but here’s a cave, here’s some ice water, here’s my hand.

the ice booms
as we cross it

December 21

I read somewhere around 65 books this year, not counting the 90+ poetry books I read this winter and spring when I was judging the Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards contest. Most of the 65 were not poetry books because I was pretty much poetried out at that point. Mostly they were novels because that’s most of what I read most of the time and always has been since I started in on the complete works of Carolyn Keene (composite fictional author of the Nancy Drew books) when I was six and got obsessed with long stories about things that didn’t really happen.

(It’s strange to me when I talk about the books I’ve been reading and someone looks surprised: “Oh, so you mostly read novels?” Well YEAH doesn’t everyone? It’s always shocking to realize that everyone is not exactly like me.)

Because I’m always kind of jealous of the people who get to make those “best of the year” lists and always think I could do a better job if only anyone cared about my opinion, here is my petty, resentful list of my favorite 13 books I read this year.

My only criterion was that they had to be books I read for the first time this year, which is actually a significant limitation because about half of what I read are re-reads, and frequently they are re-re- or re-re-re- or re-re……re-reads. The books I really love I basically never stop rereading. I am still rereading some books I read for the first time at seven or eight. It’s still always worth it.

These are listed pretty much in the order I read them, not ranked in any way because that’s just exhausting. Also…13? What’s that about?

  • Born a Crime, Trevor Noah. If you’re interested in the human effect of legally mandated and bureaucratized racism, and also you would like to read about the most badass mother in the history of badass mothers, this one is for you. Note: Not a novel!
  • The Philosopher’s Flight, Tom Miller. Steampunk magic, alternate history, gender politics, telekinesis…there is really not anything irresistibly interesting that got left out of this book.
  • Brass, Xhenet Aliu. Set in a town not far away from the one I grew up in, powerfully evoked the familiar world of depressed New England former mill towns and their European immigrant populations and made me realize how much I had loved them all along.
  • The Power, Naomi Alderman. Yes, this is the one you’ve heard about. It’s as good as everyone says. Both compellingly readable and philosophically rigorous. Will not leave your head ever.
  • How to Stop Time, Matt Haig. Movingly and believably explores what it would be like to live a really (really, really, impossibly) long time…when everyone else you know doesn’t.
  • Asymmetry, Lisa Halliday. On everyone’s favorites list though I was prepared not to like it because it’s partly a roman à clef about Philip Roth and his 25-year-old lover (yes, the author) which sounds horrible, doesn’t it? But brilliantly, it’s ALSO about a man of Middle Eastern origin being unjustly detained and interrogated in an airport because…because it works, that’s why.
  • The Changeling, Victor LaValle. I know I loved this book when I was reading it; in its weird mix of realism and fantasy it is not unlike Murakami; but like many dreamlike books this one had faded in my mind to the rich texture of a barely-remembered but compelling dream. There are way worse things you could have in your mind.
  • The Expendable Man, Dorothy Hughes. Written in the 50s, a noir thriller that makes a stunning point, as salient today as then, by withholding one fact from the reader for the first couple of chapters to convince you to suspect someone completely innocent just because he is convinced, correctly, that he will be suspected.
  • Theory of Bastards, Audrey Schulman. If you’ve been looking for a dystopian novel that manages to also be an intense primer in evolutionary biology and also is kind of a love story and also (somehow) is really funny, you’ve come to the right place.
  • Severance, Ling Ma. This book might haunt me more than anything else I read this year. It’s a combination Bildungsroman/zombie apocalypse story and it works so much better than you could ever imagine. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder nervously whether you might be coming down with the fatal brain-eating disease that’s killing everyone in the world and if so, how much longer you should keep going in to your empty office and doing your stupid job.
  • A Terrible Country, Keith Gessen. I can’t stop thinking about this one either. It takes place in Moscow, where I spent a few months almost thirty years ago, but a post-Communist Moscow that is almost but not entirely unlike the Moscow I knew. And it has a denouement that, unlike the denouements of most novels for the last century or so, involves a stunning moral downfall that you don’t see coming until it’s already bashed your heart to pieces.
  • The Library Book, Susan Orlean. Hey, another book that’s not a novel! Or even fiction! But Susan Orlean writes like a novelist whose plot and characters just happen to mirror the real world so maybe it doesn’t count. Also, I loved being immersed again in the world that I left behind when I finished library school and didn’t get (or try to get) a job in a library.
  • Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver. Technically I have not actually finished this book yet, but I think I’ve read enough at this point to put it on my favorites list. The narrator/main character, unlike any of the other main characters in any of these books, is a woman not too far off my own age and her life is both disturbingly like and disturbingly unlike mine. Oh, also it takes place in one house in two different times of history and involves Victorian acolytes of Darwin, so I was never not going to like it.

Format breakdown: 11 novels, 1 memoir, 1 work of creative nonfiction
Genre breakdown of the novels: 6 speculative fiction; 3 contemporary realism; 1 thriller; 1 hybrid contemporary/historical realism

This actually seems like a pretty good representation of the kinds of things I read in the proportions I read them.

With regard to how much science fiction I read, I would just like to say that I think we’ve gotten to the point in history where science fiction seems so relevant to the range of our possible futures that it almost feels irresponsible to avoid it. (Also, it makes my brain feel good.)

Suggestions for next year’s reading welcomed in the comments.

December 20

I’ll tell something like a story.

Green and wonderful, the bird—whose Latin name I have forgotten, and also whose common name—sang in a bush full of poisonous red berries. We watched it through binoculars from the charabanc. You sketched it in pencil, lightly but with zest. The twentieth century edged on. I wore a cerulean scarf; later that afternoon you pulled it deliberately tighter around my neck, trying me. We were wading in a warm lake, water lapping against our knees as if it were testing our reflexes. We had known each other for approximately two hundred conversations. Blue spread everywhere, out to and beyond the horizon, up to and beyond the sky. Later still, in a den of iniquity, we joined in the singing of bawdy songs full of words I barely knew, whose melodies seemed to me—at that precarious time of my life—very like the melodies of the green bird, whose green I can still see when I close my eyes, here on a planet so far away from it.

cats’ eyes
the eye
of the storm

it won’t stop raining I’m a cloud

I tell it

December 19

I never knew till lately that there was so much middle of the night. I dream, I think, I think about dreaming, I dream about thinking. It all happens inside my head. Nothing’s outside my head anymore. I need something solid, three dimensional, but then I’d have to decide what kind of solidity I need and then it’s back to my head again. Should I go outside, but it’s ten below, but it’s two am, but I’m alone. I’m trying to let the words out but they’re stopping in my mouth or really somewhere even short of that. It’s like a swarm of bees in there, giving each other conflicting directions to the flowers. 

a wandering dog
nothing much
to be explained

December 18

The owl is hooting, high in the tree right outside my window. Up and down the street dogs are barking restlessly in response. It’s eight days before Christmas. The presents are wrapped and under the tree. My stomach is growling. A comet is flying by. Subject verb object, subject verb object. Subject. Verb. Object.

last night I had
the strangest dream

December 17

Our ability to remember the past but not the future can be understood as a buildup of correlations between interacting particles. When you read a message on a piece of paper, your brain becomes correlated with it through the photons that reach your eyes. Only from that moment on will you be capable of remembering what the message says.

Natalie Wolchover, “New Quantum Theory Could Explain the Flow of Time,” Quanta Magazine

When we examine the problem closely, we find that “time” is not the unitary phenomenon we may have supposed it to be. This can be illustrated with some simple experiments: for example, when a stream of images is shown over and over in succession, an oddball image thrown into the series appears to last for a longer period, although presented for the same physical duration. 

David Eagleman, “Brain Time” in What’s Next? Dispatches on the Future of Science

snow globe
a theory
about loneliness

before love she sets the thermostat a little lower

afternoon drowsiness
one more world
before it snows