you are in the diode archives v5n1



Dear Diode,

I’m glad you’re not called Rheostat
or Cathode Ray Tube or Bertrand, no one
should be named Bertrand, not even
and especially Bertrand Russell,
who henceforth and retroactively
is Billy, Billy Russell is famous
for not being Wittgenstein, who is famous
for not being languagey, who is not eager
for a water slide, raise your hand

and leave this poem, this life, this anniversary
will last a year, when it’ll be time
for another, you’ll be six,
you’ll look back on five and wonder
what happened to your skates,
if you should start dating
that pogo stick again, it’s great
to be a child, a kangaroo, a literary magazine

in the morning, before your nap,
before your mortgage, when you look up
and there’s a mountain and everyone
points out how many fingers you’ll lose
to frostbite if you climb it
and plant the flag that announces
to the world, here is a flag, but you climb anyway
and look down and wave
whatever’s left of the left hand
of your diligence, when the hard work
is done and you can smoke
the sky if you want to

Rumination with roots in ruin

The day a tornado half whisked half shattered
her house away, I was smelling
mown grass as you might the wood
of the confessional, if you believe
in telling a man in robes the thoughts
you’ve had of the neighbor’s daughter
in detail, so he might picture her
bending over as well. Or is that you
not you? And my friend was picking
a dildo from the embarrassment of rubble
when I spoke to her. Or her lover
stood in his underwear, in what had been
the road, holding a survivor, a bottle
of Jim Beam in his arms. Or ants
were the first to reach the child’s body
in the tree. Please excuse my imagining
less powerfully than a tornado
poetically imagines us into pieces.
Like the start of something, the grass,
each time I smell it, the farmer
going by and by, row upon row
of such slight and screaming
decapitations, a combo of the French
and industrial revolutions
that finds my olfactory bulb
and switches on the word spring, the word
sweet, the word ______ (here I tire of language
invoking its kin). And you, does that happen
to you? Your mouth is open
but you don’t want to fill it,
you want to reside within the moment
of all possible sounds, all necessary
shelters? In the one for-real picture
she cell-phone sent, a chunk only
of blue sky, like a bonnet
upon the end-times, as she looked up
from drywall and crib sprawl
into absence of all but a certain
wavelength of light. Do you find that
lovely too? And since you
have been no one or anyone
in this poem, will you be God now, the eyes
I feel upon my brain, the churning hand
behind all of this, what we can’t know,
can’t speak, the it and the who and the how
of the sweet smell and the train
bearing-down sound people say
explodes their thoughts just before time
is deconstructed into before
and never more the same? God,
upon whose shadow I will lay
such whispers as are
and possess my soul, and say
of the storm, the storm
has passed, and say of the storm,
I am the storm.


Ode with t.p.

What did they do
before toilet paper?
Let me look that up.
O. It’s as one would suppose,
ate bread, loved the children
who didn’t die
in childbirth or of cholera
or were crushed
when ignorance fell upon them.
My favorite use of snow
is not what Eskimos
did or do with it, since they don’t
have corn cobs or pebbles
and typhoid killed
a lot of children too. Americans
invented a softer
Sears catalog to carry
to rural homes all the things
one could dream of
wiping one’s ass with.
This body is the only place
that will have my soul
so far, until it shits me out
and I go to pieces
on an adventure I won’t get
to write poems about. If I knew
I’d have other chances
to walk around town
carrying the mast of a ship, I’d wait
to look like a misguided pirate
but I don’t know
which stars I was born of
so I call them all
my parents, the dead ones
and the living, the bright
and the shy and your garden
and hers are also elegant
prescriptions of light. Let’s say
looking up at the night sky
is like writing a letter home
or there are over five thousand
companies producing toilet paper, how
can I be sad or want to hang myself
in the company of spoons
or wear a fog colored shirt
to a rain colored party
and not ask the prettiest girl
what she thinks happens next?
There are even estimates
of what percentage of people
wipe from front to back, I’ll admit
I’m one of those
who feels the mouth is a disguise
of the ocean, that we are all
beautiful surfers
catching beautiful waves
and crashing at the end, brushing
skulls and knuckles
against rocks and popping up
bloody and eager to enter
once more the white foam
that refuses to hold us,
and to which our blood
is the simple singing, please.



On her finger,
ten or twenty


Epic tale 

I married a shooting
star, a widower before
“I do.”


Building a church  

In a few hours, the praising of God
will roll across the country, east to west
as hymns, with not one
firecracker or bottle rocket
lit, or boulder lifted
by a thousand tongues, say
you’re God (you’re God), would you listen
to this mumbling or go bowling, a bear
beside you throwing strikes, sharing berries,
boysen, what’s that mean, that would be
one Rudolph Boysen, who convinced
loganberries and blackberries and raspberries
to have sex, there’s a sweet faith
for you, the Church of Juicy
Hybridization, succulent, something was
under the black and white tepees
nuns wore, once
upon a time, though now
it’s dawn and a horse
is doing the rosary of grass
with her lips


The human body is seventy percent Sargasso Sea

            (a reduction)   

Because we don’t think
of drinking water
as cannibalism or swimming
as incest, I gather
my agespots into a semaphore
and signal rain
to come love my skin
again, everything
I do is an affair
with water, go to Paris,
the Musée D’Orsay,
where the art
is boring but trains
once came and went,
see that, how fluid
dynamics govern travel
and poetry, or the mind
cutting the course
of its flow with liquid

Because think of water
as swimming, as gather,
my semaphore and rain
to skin again, everything
I affair with Paris,
the D’Orsay, where art
is trains once went, see,
fluid dynamics
travel, and mind
cutting course of liquid

Because water
as gather,
my rain
to everything
I Paris,
the art is see,
fluid dynamics
travel mind,
cutting liquid


This is the title

One year babies grew
in a field, row upon row
of our replacements, wet nurses
walking all night
among the dream of their crying, who slept
easily that season, no one I know, no one
I heard of, there was this girl
I liked at the time, I was twelve, she was thin
as tuberculosis, lonely as the day
after Christmas, one night
she gathered a bunch of the babies
into a pile and set them on fire, she alone
knew they weren’t babies, they were casings
around seeds that needed fire
to begin their lives, whatever
they were, they were diaphanous
and had wings and away
they went, one after another, and for the rest
of my days, I remembered her hair
smelled like it had been lost
at sea, and no one
touched that field again, brought hoe
or plow against its sex, and that girl
wrote the town a letter once, from Madrid
or Majorca, just to remind us
we weren’t forgiven 


Another holiday has come and gone

It’s shoot an arrow
into your ceiling day, I’m out of arrows,
I go to the neighbors
to borrow a cup of arrows, they’re making love
on the floor doggy style, in that
she barks then he barks
at her barking, then its over
and they circle in front of the door
to be let out, we’re trapped,
I tell my lover later
on the phone, do you mean us, she asks, I lie
and tell her no, I mean every other person
but us, we are free, we
are entirely wings and little bits
of fog and the open windows
of speeding cars and Carmen
at the end, when the performers
take their bows to the rush of air
from between our palms, forgetting
she is deaf, that she’s heard nothing
I’ve said, that this is a poem,
that I am out of arrows and more
importantly out of bows


Taking care

She was such a good liar the county put in a road
up the mountain to her house for the hundreds
of people who got off the highway each week.
You have a way with words, she’d tell them,
or the sky forms clouds in your honor, or ham
is good for you, or the cancer is gone,
and they’d believe her, a few even managing
to fly without wings or motors on her say so.
When she died and the women who wash bodies
for the grave were doing what they did
better than anyone has ever done a thing,
the bodies so clean they hummed, one of the women
noticed that the lying woman’s clitoris
was bell-shaped and told the other,
who rang it, a beautiful, clear ringing
they spent the rest of their lives
trying to describe to whoever would listen,
which was fewer people all the time,
until it was just the two of them, one saying,
it was like a song-bird drinking champagne,
the other saying, that makes no sense,
the other saying, it does spiritually,
the other saying, I know I was moved,
the other saying, to tears, the other saying,
exactly, the other saying, I could have rowed
away on that sound, the other saying, I did.

A gift

At the end of the concert, the famous rock harpist
wants to lift his harp over his head and smash it
but harps are as heavy as the ocean. To bring roadies out
to smash his harp would be inauthentic rage. He settles
on burning his harp, the audience loves it and demands
an encore. He tells them he only has ashes to play
and they chant, PLAY THE ASHES. He plays the ashes
more imaginatively than he ever played the harp.
Finished, he tells the audience he has nothing to smash
or burn except the ashes. No one knows what to do now,
if the concert is over if nothing is smashed or burned,
whether to leave or make love and raise the children
born of these confused unions in the aisles. They make love
and raise the children to expect music to come and go
without the burning or smashing of what brought the music,
forgetting the famous rock harpist along the way. He’s old
and crossing a park when he sees a young woman
stroking a harp with a sparrow in each hand. He stops
to save the birds and show her how its done, holds his breath
in one hand, his piss in the other, and with a third hand
no one can see, touches the strings with a tiny volcano
he carries in his pocket. He knows he’s going to die soon
and gives her the volcano. Thank you, she says, holding
the volcano in her palm, the two of them
admiring how persuasively it fits, the sun going down,
the gyro guy packing up his cart and pushing away
the scent of lamb that has given the day
a significant portion of its structure and belief.

Some recent weather

The rain is pregnant with a shape
exactly like you, late to tell your lover
it’s over, who is late to tell you
he never loved you, also in the rain,
as wet as a goat in the rain or a statue
of rain in the rain, if there is one,
would have epaulets of rain in the rain
and be made of bronze or toffee, you are running
now in the rain, your version
of the human spirit, your very private instance
of converting sunlight when available
into vitamin D, for the energy
to believe we are more than energy, hoping
that you are wrong in the rain,
that it will never be over, as he
is hoping that he always loved you
in the rain, three blocks, two blocks, one block
to go and there his is, more lickable
than prophecy, like dew has taken human form
and put on a yellow shirt and shaved
in the rain, the rain so hard
you fuck in the rain and no one notices, the rain
fuck-shaped where you are fucking, an animal
with its mouth to your ear, and you
an animal with your mouth to its ear, everyone
on equal footing in the rain, the rain
speaking to your panting with its panting, the rain
washing away the rain

Ode owed to the mind of the mouth

Honestly I never wanted
to be an angel, the wings
so large, the purity
so difficult to keep clean, I prefer
a penguin’s unflying
flapping, to walk, dig a trench,
to chant myself
well out into the Atlantic
to the Azores, half way
between empires that have failed
to shine the moon, no need to land
or find a hotel or a spot
to curl and sleep
among the picture-tongues
of dreams, Azores, you are my life
as I say you, as rain
is the body of the sky
until it dies and has no idea
it ever lived, no memory
except in pools and lakes and rivers
and a glass of water
set on a podium for a woman
about to clear her throat
in a room in a building in a covenant
with dust and speak into a world
changed by what she has to offer,
if only a little bit,
which is to say, completely  


Bob Hicok’s most recent book is Words for Empty and Words for Full (Pitt Poetry Series, 2010). His other books include This Clumsy Living (Pittsburgh, 2007) Insomnia Diary (2004), Animal Soul (2001), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Plus Shipping (1998), and The Legend of Light (1995), which won the 1995 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and was named a 1997 ALA Booklist Notable Book of the Year. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, and The American Poetry Review, and have been included in five volumes of The Best American Poetry. Awarded an NEA Fellowship in 1999, his work has also been reprinted in the Pushcart Anthology. A selection of poems from This Clumsy Living was among a group of poems awarded the Jerome J. Shestack Prize for the best poems published in American Poetry Review. He is associate professor of creative writing at Virginia Tech.