Medium 9781574413090

Circles Where the Head Should Be

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The poems in Circles Where the Head Should Be are full of objects and oddities, bits of news, epic catalogues, and a cast of characters hoping to make sense of it all. Underneath the often whimsical surface, however, lies a search for those connections we long for but so often miss, and a wish for art to bridge the gaps. "Circles Where the Head Should Be has its own distinctive voice, a lively intelligence, insatiable curiosity, and a decided command of form. These qualities play off one another in ways that instruct and delight. An irresistible book."—J. D. McClatchy, author of Mercury Dressing: Poems, judge

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Cosmogony

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Lares and Penates

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Bower Bird

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Bower Bird

Old news, the midnight warblers worrisome to introspective bards, the nagging taps and jugs that left so many haunted, dumb, behind their coppice gates or chamber doors— but witness, now, this feathered architect, a bricoleur, exotic, who ignores convention, working long before he sings to gather fragile lumber, sticks and seeds, although, part larcenist, his favorite things come from the human world: milk caps or pairs of pearly buttons once attached to tags; matchsticks, cigar bands, red synthetic hairs uprooted from some coconut baboon or other Florabama souvenir, stripped screws, receipts, even the jagged moon of a fingernail blown, dusty, from the Hoover.

And steadfast to the finders keepers rule, this passerine Houdini will maneuver through apertures in transoms, cracks in attics, encroaching on such odd forgotten hobbies as medieval reenactments, numismatics

Hummels, and paint-by-numbers, hauling back whatever he can muster, though he’s less a petty crook than kleptomaniac, since unlike history’s most famous thieves,

 

Lady on a Unicycle

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Lady on a Unicycle

Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.

—Newton’s First Law

So Esse Pearl gets snowed in at the chichi condo of that married man she sees, and—you can filter this however you think fit— she’s upstairs, toweling off burst-bubble film, her chest chafed from his monogram, and he’s shut in the parlor, leafing through sheet music— but just the glockenspiel, he says, to swallow all the woodwinds in his head— when, glancing towards the porch to contemplate a scale, he sees a woman poised, it seems, above the fluff of shrubs before the sheer pink streetlights show her high boots turn a single wheel.

Now here’s the kicker: he goes back to reading, forgets even to mention it until they take a holiday months later (months!), like it wasn’t worth writing home about—and that’s the kind of man he is,

Esse Pearl says, a mess of grandioso themes the rest of us can’t hear; and (bless her heart) wrapped up in his wife’s terrycloth, she never knew what passed: a whistle-trill of spokes turned over salted asphalt, the easy lean achieved by holding on to nothing, the freedom of a body that can stop itself.

 

Same Lady, Different Unicycle

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The Truth About Effects

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Genealogy

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Genealogy

It had to do with little leaden things, a belt unbuckled, rumors, epithets they tried and stuck with, their inheritance: nearsightedness, short fuses, long regrets.

One said, you know, I’d hoped for more than this.

The other, why’d you think you get to hope?

It had to do with what they did, and didn’t, a mirror’s smears, hair nested in the soap.

Out of this blinkered logic, they begot the whole town’s whispers. Spoken like a curse:

Knocked up. A waitress at the Dairy Maid spread it (her second cousin was their nurse).

The baby, it was no surprise, grew up on powdered milk, saltines, government cheese— since lonely’s poor is worse, she bore another, as if bless-you was meant to cure a sneeze.

They tried. And stuck with their inheritance, but not a lick of sense, they reinvested, hell-bent to break the cycle, make ends meet.

She went to Junior College. He got arrested— it had to do with what they did, and didn’t.

One son took sides. The other never kept a promise or a steady anything.

He quit the church league, grew a mustache, slept, knocked up a waitress at the Dairy Maid.

 

Girl Under Bug Zapper

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Girl Under Bug Zapper

This haywire night, she’s back from church with neighbors, plain-faced Pentecostal types whose scowls cut through the windshield’s smears when her door slammed, no thank you ma’am or wave, who’d still be scowling, could they see she kowtows on rotten boards, the porch suffused with purple-blues no regal soul would praise, to maim a wayward gypsy moth.

She likes to watch them die, the stunned and stunted, slugs betrayed by falling salt, cicadas gutted, anthills razed like circus grounds after a hurricane, and while a kinder child might stray from incantations, cataclysmic winds of aerosol, or soda froth, her heart’s a mudcake shrunken in the sun.

Besides, she’s seen enough of them hooked onto eaves and storm doors, dull as leaves, and knows they’ll drop, spun from the shock of pain, or rapture, creatures slain in spirit.

Besides, she’d rather celebrate the world unhinged, its crooked scales and stakes, party-of-one who plucks these wings, confetti in her folded palms. Frail things.

 

Portrait of the Artist with Toothpick Bridge

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Itinerant

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Mnemosyne

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Mnemosyne

Mnemosyne, one must admit, has shown herself to be a very careless girl.

—Vladimir Nabokov

She’s no spring chicken, lately too consumed with baggage of her own, while yours, misplaced, circles the great black hole of files erased.

She smokes too much, but keeps her wrists perfumed, fanning a fragrance vaguely pickled, sweet, and, unamused, her daughters scrunch their noses at the whole charade, the floppy hats and poses

(by now, they’ve learned her rules are obsolete)— because she chooses sides in arguments, a trained conclusion jumper who disdains gray areas in protocol and brains.

“Ask St. Anthony,” she says, and circumvents attempts to call up ladyfingers, Dawn, and coffee…rubber gloves, white flour, while a wrist gets misted in the produce aisle.

White ladyfingers, gloves, coffee, and Dawn… and what else? Doh. Well, should’ve made a list.

Necessity’s a bitch and lack evades the logic of our best mnemonic aids

(like grade school sayings written to assist with spectrums, treble clefs, and unsolved Xs, the facts far less enduring than the fictions of Roy G. Biv, Aunt Sally’s dear afflictions).

 

Fisher King

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Bildungsroman

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Bildungsroman

We open with the girl, born premature and blundersome (asthmatic, pigeon-toes, a crooked nose)—hardly the cynosure her genes could’ve produced. God only knows what caused the mix-up, and why she won’t take her mother’s milk, or cow’s, but they agree nutrition’s crucial, and may make or break her blossoming. They call her Peony, and Kid, and though mostly a tragic spaz

(they blame this on an inner ear disorder), she sees, in common junk, a raw pizzazz that’s worth preserving and, an avid hoarder, builds shoebox reliquaries: dead bugs, pet pebbles and shells, goose feathers, bits of string, the last matryoshka stolen from a set, some origami swans. That sort of thing.

Yet formal education marks the start of something larger. Driven by a motor, the doctors say. She says, I will be smart, an astronaut or princess, so they quote her in the monthly bulletin, adding, Dream big! which resonates, a crucial turnabout: for so long powered by the whirligig of solitude, she seeks the world without.

 

I. Big Sandstone Building in Memory of

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II. Ecce Signum!

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III. Involution

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IV. Swan Song

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V. Dramatis Personae

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