Christopher Cokinos



Your ear worm needs to sleep so you sing a story

5 milligrams long, then pillow-talk parts per million and that clip          

from Godard someone you hardly know just sent you.

It won't be long before "When the glass broke,

sand covered the sensors" is awarded The Century's

Best Sentence. The prize jury is anyone left.

What does love look like then, when the biggest shadows

are cast by dunes, the ocotillos and yucca buried, stunted

like letter-press manifestos or the PET scan

of a world gone deeply screwed? There's good coffee

on the way to the stadium, stenciled archetypes

on helmets and whatever. So it's time to start feeling better

about feeling better about feeling hopeless :

the smell of a tree, revolution impossible, the future

more present than the present, the past a wide

wooden hallway at the top of wide wooden

stairs in a house behind the church, grungy sunlight

Sunday bright and the lewd, luscious

roses, that wallpaper peeling in empty rooms, fixtures

without bulbs and the first toilet you'd seen without water :

anagrams mixed up beyond childhood : flower,

skull, hourglass. You sensed it, the grown-ups too,

whose voices from the parking lot should've been louder,

how everything started from there. You

smelled of incense and smoke from snuffed candles.

After the Pleistocene, there was the midwest

and all those megafauna

corpses rotting in glacial melt,

neither rising nor collapsing.

It'll be like that, only drier.




Pin to the taskbar your addiction to poignancy,

Becker's observation that there is an overabundance of truth.

If you were solely animal, to find the yellow legal pad

would be to sniff the black moth

she found in her study, then make sunlight your bed.

You'd like to put off entropy at least till Tuesday,

Tuesday being, always, the saddest cubicle

unless you think in days after tomorrow, so you sort of skip it

and hump day and already Thursday looms

like a wormhole to Saturday coffee and a giant pancake

in the barrio, with Christopher Smart and your Heinlein novel, retro

futurism warming a decade in your belly, you're so busy building

that genre's history to archive debt and bedlam

you've forgotten to tell her you remembered

the waitress in Tulsa you both wanted, a languid

spraggle at a conference hotel, name

badges dripping like syrup, black skirts and blue ties

smelling richly of having fucked if that had been utopia.

The fact of pointlessness is increasingly pleasant under the right circumstances.          

Sometimes they're stalking lizards.

Sometimes they're curling in your arms, some guttural

mutation that makes us all sleep better. Electricity,

beta-test the spell-check from writer to writher, from create

to creep. The Golden Age is the Golden Rave.

Because your poems at 27 about being 24 hadn't read enough

and the only way to get it done before the long accord with silence

is to transmit 74 lines from Fragment B,

part 3—the only good poem anyone's written

—and bury in the time capsule every photo of a periscope.




...the rocks are ringing, the rocks are ringing the mountains.
—from a southern Paiute song

His robot spider clicks black toes

against the metal floor. The technician

puzzles circuits, a tool gleams.

Nothing is plumb. Actuators seize.

We shim the gaps with plans and bits of song.

We coax motion from signals.

In river channels, rocks surged then rested

for a long time. The spider tried to climb them.

Not so long. Sunlight peels shade.

We do too, darning this place to some other,

there's a road not far from here. We go,

scooting another lens to sandstone—spectrographs

blossom–and we figure the traverse needs,

next time, this other route, our practice :

the balky wheel that we make turn, the auger,

studious patch, line breaks marked with arrows,

a chord that fills our commons

during sun salutation—as it should be,

the heart rate's variable. But things go wrong, mostly

history. Communiques

radioed with razor wire, uranium tips, like math

or music, a universal speech. The broken

tanager laid between brick

and thorn, smell of hay in the tired air.

Stanchions grip dirt to herd electrons

where something lived : throat,

fibula, village. Splinter

Incorporated and shard.com

make tea for the elders, who still need convincing.

Country and biome, solder meet staple.

To repair the damage is to prepare the calendar,

a less sexy memo but still. Cells stitch

a pierce, the board is made

to file amends. And heartbreak?—makes us sing.

What else can we do

but fashion a decent happiness

and tell tragedy to go fuck itself

because we're in love and there's work to do?

The spider taps its feet

only when we tell it,

but we know the circuit's bigger.

Out there, we're speaking in mime,

refining gestures to explain

the states we're in. I'm Okay

means the hand on the helmet.

No More means the hand at the throat.

The arms waving mean Come Here.

The hand before the visor means I Can't See.

The hand on the helmet means I'm Okay.

So we pat them with our gloves and grin.





Where do these poems come from? From watching When Worlds Collide and The Twilight Zone on late-night TV reruns 40 years ago. From expecting bombs to drop on my broken family. From critical theory on temporality. From thinking that nature poets should make out with technology sometimes. From hanging out with scientists at Biosphere 2 and at the Mars Desert Research Station. From WordPerfect. From watching stars rise over Dyer's woad. From some kind of Anthropocene mindfulness? Well, possibly. Certainly from the British New Wave science-fiction magazine New Worlds. And, so, as ever, from J.G. Ballard. From doing a lot of email. From not writing prose. From the murals of Charles Knight. They come from some sort of faith that in retrofuturism there is not only nostalgia but some keys to making the next century a bit better than it's looking to be. Also, from the love of the weirdness of sounds, of sentences, of line-breaks. Sounds that fill the times between. No meaning to begin with. What is found.