Poems by Joan Retallack

A I D /I/ S A P P E A R A N C E

for Stefan Fitterman

for Stefan Fitterman

1. in contrast with the demand of continuity in the customary description
2. of nature the indivisibility of the quantum of action requires an essential
3. element of discontinuity especially apparent through the discussion of the
4. nature of light she said it’s so odd to be dying and laughed still it’s early
5. late the beauty of nature as the moon waxes turns to terror when it wanes
6. or during eclipse or when changing seasons change making certain things
7. disappear and there is no place to stand on and strangely we’re glad

for tefn Fttermn
1. n contrt wth the emn of contnuty n the cutomry ecrpton
2. of nture the nvblty of the quntum of cton requre n eentl
3. element of contnuty epeclly pprent through the cuon of the
4. nture of lght he t o o t be yng n lughe tll t erly
5. lte the beuty of nture the moon wxe turn to terror when t wne
6. or urng eclpe or when chngng eon chnge mkng certn thng
7. pper n there no plce to tn on n trngely we’re gl

fo fn Fmn
1. n on w mn of onnuy n uomy pon
2. of nu nvly of qunum of on qu n nl
3. lmn of onnuy plly ppn oug uon of
4. nu of lg o o yng n lug ll ly
5. l  uy of nu moon wx un o o wn wn
6. o ung lp o wn ngng on ng mkng n ng
7. pp n no pl o n on n ngly w gl

F G  K Q U
o n mn
1. no n w m no on ny no my pon
2. o n nvly o nm o on n nl
3. lm no onny plly pp no on o
4. no l o o yn nl ll ly
5. l y o n  moon wx no own wn
6. o n l pow n n no n n mn n n
7. pp n no pl o no n n nly w l

o n mn
1. no n w m no on ny no my on
2. o n  ny o nm o on  n n
3. m no onny y no on o
4. no o o y n n y
5. y o n moon wx no own wn
6. o now n n no n n mn n n
7. n no o no n n n y w 

1. n n n n n y n y n
2. n n y n n n n
3. n n n y y n n
4. n y n n y
5. y n n x n n n
6. n n n n n n n n n
7. n n n n n n y  

1. y y
2. y 
3. y y 
4. y y
5. y 
7. y  



Procedural note:
The disappearance moves through the letters of the alphabet (and the source text) in this way: Beginning with letters A I D S, it spreads to adjoining letters B H J C E R T, to F G K Q U, to L P V, to M O W, to N X, to Y. Part of the source text is from “The Atomic Theory and the Fundamental Principles Underlying the Description of Nature” in The Philosophical Writings of Niels Bohr, Volume 1, Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature (Ox Bow Press, Woodbridge, CT, 1987).



Archimedes’ New Light
Geometries of Excitable Species

Mortals are immortals and immortals mortals; the one
living the other’s death and dying the other’s life.
— Heraclitus

bodies cleave space of        all the triangles in the prism :

one glimpse of cornered sky in        all the triangles in the sphere :

fleeing over cardboard mountain with        all the segments in the parabola :

grey morning blank aluminum        all the parabolas in the sphere :

their own cold love song breached        all the circles of the sphere :

abrupt start of rain        all the vertices of the prism :

clacking sticks
night barks
window blank



Reason is a daemon in its own right.



another song whose bird I do not know
around them in us we were very they
what comes to mind in this five second cove
lacking usage equal to the noun she chose
all different before he heft laughed defiled gravity lost again
interior angles exposed collapsed into each each
the terrible demonstration of fluid dynamics beginning again
areas of distortion the burning vector fields


more mathematics of the unexpected:
the total curvature of all spheres
is exactly the same regardless of radius



Lacking experience equal to the adjective she chose
scratch abstract sky shape
hoping for more


struggle to flee her altered nativity
repeat story of stilt accident
no the drama has not abated


exhausted boy soldier reads book numb
rag head taken by stiff light
fig one triumph of the we’re


empty listen ridge cold whistle
unison whipped wide awake
box of spook salt


not a coast but a horizon not a coast
blank seas soak grain senses demented
sense of thigh once now not yet juked



may deter may bruise
bequeath before death
green countdown bluebook



she said now that she thought about it
she thought it must have had something
to do with that feeling of self possession in
the moment after the apostrophe took hold

One’s        .inclined.plane.the.body.inscribed.in.the.cylinder.

a stock image
a rhetorical device
a dubious gesture
an obsolete hope

One’s        .section.the.parallelograms.which.are.inscribed.in.

quadrant spoke motion
a prod to come to life
meddlesome meaning meaning tangent

One’s        .the.segment.bounded.by.the.parabola.but.this.is.

sordid alignment of slippery parts
please hold that place stretch the we
jelly throat made good hold that note

One’s        .impossible.and.all.prisms.in.the.prism.cut.off.by.the.





no such five illusions
no vowel exit mutters fruit
my no flute war
torque valley breath
gun cold air cont’d
night barks windows blank
grey morning’s blank aluminum
its own long cold burst that kills
a look cornered sky

One’s        .inclined.plane.all.prisms.in.the.figure.described.

geometry of the tragic spectrum
eye caught in grid
this thought empties itself in false déjà vu
the echo seen but not heard
the absence of x had been distracting all along





Rationalism born of terror turns to ecstasy




Note: This poem includes language from Geometrical Solutions Derived From Mechanics: A Treatise of Archimedes, Recently Discovered And Translated From The Greek By Dr. J. L. Heiberg, Professor of Classical Philology At The University of Copenhagen. La Salle, Illinois: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1942 (Copyright 1909).



The Magic Rule of Nine

Your sonic suit may not be a perfect fit. You’ll learn to
get by. Just don’t assume that all art is all about victory
over death all the time. Not to say one shouldn’t enjoy
not being dead. In the swell of many a meantime,
many have been known to divert themselves with great
success viz. civilizations’ greatest hits. Take the
discovery of  “The Magic Rule of Nine.” That the
sums of all the numbers within the sums of all the
multiplicands of 9 up to and including 9 equal 9 is
numerically melodious (bird singing in tree) to the
species that longs for more to it than a first glance
affords. Someone will say if you really think this is
magic you don’t properly understand the decimal
system (bird falls out of tree). Who among us doesn’t
long for magic. Who among us understands the
decimal system.



The Ventriloquist’s Dilemma

Birdsong entered our words and left with migratory
echoes insufficiently dispersed. We weren’t designed
to perceive most of what surrounds us or to fully
understand the rest. Maybe it’s true that differential
equations drove the teenager off the road. The self-
propagating slope remains unhindered in its x-y axis.
It’s really difficult to find the language to say these
things rigorously. Sound waves break on the shore and
make one feel unwelcome. And too, there’s that
conspicuous absence of real metaphors in nature.
Sorry, meant to say, there’s that conspicuous absence
of real nature in metaphors. Someone will always
claim night flew into a tree. The placement of (those)
words in a line.