The Museum of Obsolescence

So much we once coveted. So much
That would have saved us, but lived,

Instead, its own quick span, returning
To uselessness with mute acquiescence

Of shed skin. It watches us watch it:
Our faulty eyes, our telltale heat, hearts

Ticking through our shirts. We’re here
To titter at the gimcracks, the naïve tools,

The replicas of replicas stacked like bricks.
There’s green money and oil in drums.

Pots of honey pilfered from a tomb. Books
Recounting the wars, maps of fizzled stars.

In the south wing, there’s a small room
Where a living man sits on display. Ask,

And he’ll describe the old beliefs. If you
Laugh, he’ll lower his head to his hands

And sigh. When he dies, they’ll replace him
With a video looping on ad infinitum.

Special installations come and go. “Love”
Was up for a season, followed by “Illness,”

Concepts difficult to grasp. The last thing you see
(After a mirror—someone’s idea of a joke?)

Is an image of the old planet taken from space.
Outside, vendors hawk t-shirts, three for eight.



Upgrades/Bug Fixes in The Pillow Book (1002 AD)

I remember a clear morning in the Ninth Month when I had been downloading my melancholy all night.

When crossing a river in bright moonlight, I love to slide an extra sensory memory card into the slot on my second-to-lowest vertebra.

On some evenings in the Fifth or the Sixth months one sees workmen making fine, delicate adjustments to their patience.

A woman, who is angry with her husband about some trifling matter, goes to buy a limiter for her probity, updates the drivers on her curiosity.

My companions and I assemble at the front of the main hall, each of us terminating a background process related to disquiet.

Chrissy Williams

The Last Human

She was our glorious mistake, a child that grew
as buildings grow: straight up, then not at all;
dynamics reaching stasis; a waterfall that froze
and glittered in the sun; a perfect blossom
sealed in the acrylic of a paper-weight.
When were we sure? One decade on, or two?
Her changeless features made the timescale moot.
That ever-nineteen gaze surveyed our world
from newscasts, posters, magazines,
and all too soon from mirrors: her cool trick,
the knack that filliped age and death,
we failed to borrow – so we filched her soul.
Conquering the world in a billion faultless copies,
her carbon-backed DNA became a virus,
a loved disease (for who could look
her own child in the eye, and tell her that
alone among her classmates, she would age,
would die, and by a willed abstention?);
and then that first one’s quirk – incurable sterility –
became the price our pea-pod daughters paid
for immortality, the keyless lock
that sealed the door behind them.
Now, at last, I have become the talking point,
the outlier that once she was: a long-lived freak
of nature, not laboratory. The lines,
the stories of my skin are newsprint in an age
that needs no paper: all that dies
a natural death, dies one last time today;
and now, the golden sisters gather round
my bed, its antique curio of flesh:
one strokes my hair, one holds my hand,
and as I go, I look into their face.

Kona Mcphee

French Work

after Holly Pester

I never meant to see you walking out
at night, boy gap among the rose-rows,
my lulla my lulla, my etcetera.  I am
a mock of atoms.  Watching the bone china
seethe at dusk, praying for the gas gas,
making lace: French work.  It is an ugly
life.  With rough hands, made for quick
work.  Locomotion.  Things come to pass
away easier in the dark, sewing the baby
to sleep.  What what I wouldn’t give to change
my red-seamed fingers, the ridges where
the needle caught a thousand times.
In all my short life I never saw a tapestry
as wrecked as this one, baby, so dragged
apart.  Webbing.  What world we will
swaddle you in.  No more cloth to import.
I cannot speak of the owl your father –
Why talk politics when you could just flood
the engine with love and drive out
to the nearest bridge.  On the nights
you don’t sleep, baby, I stay with you,
stitching up my heart, singing bye-bye.
Won’t be long now, honey.  Coffining’s a kind
of bare love.  I hear the earth sometimes,
teeming with white roots.  Now the song
will fade to breathing, then stop altogether,
and like every other soaring film will pan
skywards, where clouds burst with joy,
and end with rain.


This is not a Garden

‘This garden, in fact, may not even be entered.’
–       from A Guide to the Gardens of Kyoto by Mark Treib and Ron Herman

This is not a yard, this is a garden:
new decking slatted over a tumble of roaches.
This is a yard full of potted tropical flora,
the lotus swimming in its own pool,
mosquito-eating fish guarding its stem.

I can’t know whether this is a yard
or a garden, though we ate out here last night,
the iPod snicking in its dock, soft lighting
making silhouettes behind the trellis.
This is not a garden, this outdoor, hosable sofa

or this bed where we never both sleep well.
It is a sort of park, public in places, this marriage
where amusements are scheduled and planned.
This garden, this marriage, is divided into rooms.
In some, others are welcome, like yourself.

This yard, this marriage, this bed, should be
like a garden – so many topics victim
to the secateurs.  It should pass like a wave
through the seasons, appearing to be young
or else gnarled, wholly taken by age.

A man made this garden for me, whether
I liked it or not.  After I had gone, he let it
go wild, to armoured holly and hawthorn,
the small beer of thugweeds, but in time
it will settle, a wiry daisy meadow, well-fenced.


The House was Quiet and the World was Calm

The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The reader became the book; and summer nightg


Was like the conscious being of the book.

The house was quiet and the world was calm.


The words were spoken is if there was no book,

Except that the reader leaned above the page,


Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be

The scholar to whom the book was true, to whom


The summer night is like a perfection of thought.

The house was quiet because it had to be.


The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:

The access of perfection to the page.


And the world was calm.  The truth in a calm world,

In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is the reader leaning late and reading there.


Wallace Stevens


Men Made Out of Words

What would we be without the sexual myth,

The human reverie or poem of death?


Castratos of moon-mash – Life consists

Of propositions about life.  The human


Reverie is a solitude in which

We compose these propositions, torn by dreams,


By the terrible incantation of defeats

And by the fear that defeats and dreams are one.


The whole race is a poet that writes down

The eccentric propositions of its fate.


Wallace Stevens


Now we are like that flat cone of sand

in the garden of the Silver Pavilion in Kyoto

designed to appear only in moonlight.


Do you want me to mourn?

Do you want me to wear black?


Or like moonlight on whitest sand

to use your dark, to gleam, to shimmer?


I gleam. I mourn.



Tess Gallagher


Here I work in the hollow of God’s hand

with Time bent round into my reach. I touch

the circle of the earth, I throw and catch

the sun and moon by turns into my mind.

I sense the length of it from end to end,

I sway me gently in my flesh and each

point in the process changes as I watch;

the flowers come, the rain follows the wind.


And all I ask is this – and you can see

how far the soul, when it goes under flesh,

is not a soul, is small and creaturish –

that every day the sun comes silently

to set my hands to work and that the moon

turns and returns to meet me when it’s done.


Alice Oswald