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Karen Donovan

Bracket the Speaker

In order to come when called, the one addressed must notice 

something particular about himself.


This morning he is thinking about the boxwood hedge 

and how it wanted trimming.


But it isn’t the hedge so much or that oddness lodged 

in a place in his chest he once associated with love.


The weather seems directly aimed

at a spot adjacent to where he is standing.


He has expected news from a coastal village. 

He has been warned not to divulge his secrets.


He has paused in the street trying to think of a name. 

Like a rush into his mind, the hedge


and his wife of many years and a son who died at home. 

And this matter of crossing a street at noon


in the company of a small sweet voice, a one-eyed girl 

seated on a milk crate, playing a song.


People pat their jackets for change as they saunter by. 

He decides the hedge can wait.


A message is imminent from a border town 

he has never heard of.


In order to come when called, the one addressed must notice 

something particular about himself. 









It struck: a tiny cyclone of thought: my legacy

would be numismatic, a jangle-jingle in the pockets of giants. 

I was eating red licorice at the laundromat,


reading about trinitarianism, zoroastrianism,

Aztec human sacrifice. My jeans backed up into rinse. 

From behind the counter our evening attendant


chuckled into his cell phone like a partridge:

She should have cited that source.

What source, and who was she?


But when I looked around, every eye was locked on a dryer port

in multidimensional continuous partial attention.

No one noticed that corporations were greenwashing their resumes,


that new action steps needed to be taken.

I have waded by accident into a mating dance of miner bees. 

I have sworn emotional attachment to reality, specifically


at a campsite in Ohio, in a dark event involving a tent.

To wit: I could see it was a williwaw, a word I have vowed 

never to use. It stirred the verticals and was gone.


I went back to my book.









The more you read, the harder it is not to notice.

A woman making decisions always seems to wind up


soaked in the blood of some relative.

A moment of deliberation. Of weakness?


Meantime the guys boing-boing an abstract 

shuttlecock, slipping knee-deep in brains.


Somebody on the payroll wheelbarrows out the bodies.


This one had a choice.

Why not consider John the Baptist’s head on a plate?


Why not second-guess goggle-eyed Herod, ready to cede 

half the kingdom to a topless girl waving a veil?


How could he make a promise like that? 

Take it! Whatever! It’s yours!









Such was the age when lovers 

of God were misanthropes, 

lovers of humanity unelectable, 

and all allegory ironic


for the sake of deniability.

Let’s imagine something

we can’t kill, Staphylococcus 

perhaps or that army of echinoderms


chewing at the Pacific coast,

so simple, so ancient,

with an immune system to die for, 

pentamerous radial symmetry


directing design for

this jeweler’s case of a skeleton 

and circlet of five incisors.

Sea urchins set forests of kelp


adrift just eating lunch,

spurt aquanaut babies that pop

into spheres and colonize rocks. 

Heaving in spiky pillows and hillocks,


the benthos waves from its acreage 

a vast lawn of aerials synchroed

to tide, sprawls on glazy

sucker feet like epic simile.


Absurd, since you can split one 

with a whack, I’ve heard,

quick snack for otters when

there were otters, such was the age. 










Once a squat line of ducks appeared around the corner 

I relaxed. Situation: normalized.


The cove? The cove I suppose was tranquil, 

but the stove was aboil.


I was making sorbet the wrong way.

A voice from offstage: You always do that.


It was the pin tumbler.

He was about to gain entry.


The pipes hooted, the TV blazed. 

I tried to remember my lessons:


insert, align, rotate, click! 

Look deeeep into my eyes.


A perfect little mechanism operating perfectly 

with very little sweat. 










Of icy archetypes cored from the ancient blue poles, 

of sodic mists driven cold off bleached seawrack,

of certain square inches in the lawn,


yes, I was slavish in my enthusiasms,

restless, pointillist, jumped by carmine at street corners, 

my third eye going psychokinetic.


I framed the roof edge with a rhomboid of sky

and clicked, sought a pismire’s vision of goosegrass 

or hydrogen primes glued like garden snails to the rim


of the cosmos, blast craters, snake handlers,

babies on ponies. I dreamt up topology

for contiguous sheets then shook the mechanism out


to learn how my weird soul was laid

soft as a pillowcase painted with moonlight

across the surface of everything as if it were everything. 

Karen Donovan

Karen Donovan’s latest collection of poems, Planet Parable (Etruscan Press), is part of an innovative multi-author volume called Trio, which also includes complete books by the poets Diane Raptosh and Daneen Wardrop. Her two other books of poems are Your Enzymes Are Calling the Ancients (Persea Books) and Fugitive Red (University of Massachusetts Press). She is also the author of Aard-vark to Axolotl (Etruscan Press), a collection of illustrated short prose.

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