by Rush Rankin


To hold magical dominion over another person’s body one need only attain possession of his pared nails or cut-off hair, his spittle or his excrement; even his shadow, his reflection, or his footprints serve the same purpose.

—Ernst Cassirer




         In epistemology a specific can be tested
         because various other specifics constitute
incompletely a complete totality that functions

as a test within a totality which can't be tested.

         As a whole. As long as the totality exists,
no specific constitutes a doubt of the totality
itself, and thus, in that totality, no total doubt

exists, just the blank paper on which you type.



(The black crows on the white sky in a Chinese
         print draw attention from the peasants
         who are planting rice at the horizon.)
In this totality, when you spit
                           into a river, you'll hit it,
                  even should you sway about,
                  like a person standing in a boat.

         The accident is avoided, yes, but always
                  there, that possibility, a ruined life,
                           a gasp, your drowned body
                  seeking your son’s in the swirling
                                       bottom of darkness.



                  “In the long run, we’re all dead,”
         said John Maynard Keynes, to counter
                  a cliché, his mimesis a funeral,
                  his funeral a mimesis, as in A=A.

         Catching a baseball hit so high it disappears
                  requires more concentration, more focus,
                  than death, which requires nothing,
         negative space its own logic, says Epicurus.



         The bottle of pills whose fatal force
         a poet admires, the rattle of dried seeds
         in a gourd, the shaman’s magical refrain,
         his last right, remains the envied premise,
         whose implications, erased by the future,
         he fails to perfect, as when writing a poem.

         In a time capsule, its aniconica, its metonyms,
                  the invisibility of another world appears,
                           bit by bit, like the tiny holes in a net.


Alone at his office on a weekend night,
         still immersed in his trance as he heads

         to the men's room, unzipping as he walks
         down the hall, entering the main office

         by mistake, peering down at a trash basket,
         rather than the toilet, as though reading
                  tea leaves in a cup, the poet vaguely
         sees his future: that distracted guy groping
                  through darkness in an empty house.

         I mean, a full bladder interrupts a thought
         whose expression under pressure changes

its conclusion without noting what happened
                  in the silent pulse of its system.



                  Semiotic snow is falling on houses
                  and trees and graves all over Ireland

                           in the sad story by James Joyce.

         In their bedroom after a party, the drunk,
                           sentimental husband sweetly

         thinks about his wife as she, in a trance,
         distracted, remembers instead only her first
         lover, now dead, who sang in the snow

                           in the sad story by James Joyce.



Though often restrained, disaffected, remote,
fatigued by a roué’s logic, in Heloise the ideal
regret, the nun’s lament, that delighted child
at the Plaza Hotel, from a children’s book
         to cinema verité, a dazzling wife
offers the smiling focus, the attention,
         around which other people gather

to sing songs and dance. The mist of twilight,
animated by a gin and tonic, enlivens the mood,
like the blinking signifiers on a Christmas tree.



                  For over twenty years, downstairs
                  each evening, the besotted poet
                  in his stuffed chair beside his wife

                  in her stuffed chair secretly glances
                  over at her smiling at the TV. That
                  she’s so often pleased by everything
                  that’s decent, profound, and kind,
                  excludes, of course, the desperate
                  longings of secret lovers who stare
                                    through the window
                           at a world covered in snow.



         The hint of a sad face and the ragged grace
of a skinny dancer, the lifted skirt an odd, courtly,
formal nod in her drawing, her lines like vines
         and veins, her hair flashing in the wind,  

                  she twirls one time in her drawing.




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