Online Exclusive

Four Prose Poems
“I wrote this letter …”

I wrote this letter to explain my withdrawing myself from school

In school, the brief schooling I attended, the benefits of water were endlessly extolled. (Eckhart Tolle, mindfulness, a tripart time, a mermaid time, a time that just was not going to work for the mountains.)
     They told of the sperm whale, of the gray whale, of a baleen that filtered the good in and the evil out. They told of music that echoed through the waters as through the millennia, that humans had been forced to invent a false ear in order to listen to. I was expected to rejoice in the invention of this ear, to fit it gladly to my own, to kneel at the sea and listen to songs prehistoric, yet newly marketed. To soak in the essence of that threatened by extinction.
     Yet what of my own extinction? What of the disaster I had been born into, set into like a jeweled watch face into the center of a slab thick with fossilized creatures.
     Amidst death, I was expected to be a thing modern, shining, newly updated. I could not miss a second. Time could not stop for a second, yet for the creatures around me, time had stopped.
     I was forced to go on living, to keep time, amidst death.

A warm fuzzy dark-blue monster. Grover monster-clock that might make me, I could not concern myself with a theoretical extinction. The whales would be fine. Soft, blubbery, lubricated by the water of life, lubricated by the sea that God blubbers into when he gets too sad about the mountains, no amniocentesis death-needle could penetrate those slippery sacs of whaleness.
     No, it was the mountains I was concerned with, deeply concerned. They could still hurt, for they lived even in their death. The mountains, those huge, dead, still, dry piles of whale-crumble, rotting as surly Snidely Whiplash as though they were soft, sending up gases into my unconscious and into my well as surely as they were soft, rotting cheese, gases odorless and invisible yet more deadly for all that.
     Yes, this is the lesson to you, dear teacher: that it is not only the living who can die. That one can die without having lived. How ridiculous your extinction anxieties strike one who was born dead, lived dead, died, and in death, continued dying. The line between life and death is not a mathematical absolute, but utterly fluid. In the mountains where I am from, men and women flit across it many times each day, and some, regardless of physical alteration, have been known to pick one side and hover there for millennia.
     The canary in the mine is Tweety Bird. Mickey Mouse and Snidely Whiplash are there too.

And what of the mounds sounds of the mountains. What of the psychology of the mountains must they be analyzed. The sound of the mountains an ear trumpet metronome metronome tuning fork gramophone.

An eye chart of Hebrew letters blurry vision from radon and denial

Extinction—she was born extinct




I ordered a Virgin Mary, but they brought me a Marilyn. Marilyn Monroe is the Virgin Mary. I asked could they make the Marilyn a virgin. I sent it back and asked for a virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary is a shimmering blue drink made with dew and tears, not alcohol. An energy drink of sapphire light, glints with hints of platinum, goes down smooth as one of Marilyn Monroe’s liquefied silk negligees. Marilyn martini, a tumbler of Marilyn?

The Constellations

The telephones are smashed, disabled, more wheelchairs than telephones at this point. Their rotary dials are Ouija boards, Chinese zodiacs. Huge wooden sundials. Muscular dystrophy phones, a wasting disease of phones. The phones of astrology are melting, making it impossible to get a good reading. The line for Sagittarius goes to Capricorn, etc. All communications scrambled.

A Cure

It should be obvious that Mercury is nothing but a hard little wad of thermal underwear. Still, this desire. This insistence on knowing Mercury’s core—his core temperature. A regular thermometer will not do. Its tip is too blunt. Since all earth thermometers are pale plastic imitations of Mercury, with white hospital telephone plastic standing in for the hard thermal wad. Diamonds may cut diamonds, but Mercury cannot take the measure of Mercury … not even if Mercy (Mercury) were white flour and the thermometer as clear, blunt, open, and harmless as a glass measuring cup. In the end, a long-needled gold syringe is needed … the sound of the prick piercing layer after layer of thermal bottom, ever denser. Even more resistance at the very end. Agony unknown! Galvanic shock! Gold touches gold! Gold tooth—stripped nerve.

Jupiter Chess

O the sun is a golden hourglass, it leaks stars. Jupiter: green liquid, bands of onyx and jade, white mist which is fat. Jupiter takes up too much room in the night sky. It is decided to starve Jupiter down to the size of a normal planet. But soon they begin to suspect Jupiter hasn’t gone anywhere. They pick up the phone and hear Jupiter laughing.


A green world, Venus. Green as the mermaid tail a lady should have had but did not.

I knew a girl plump as a pearl, her hair’s redness streaking downward like rust. Her face the flat and luminous beauty of a stingray’s. A friendly smile that did not raise its corners. Small eyes. Stringing jewels with her before she became unstrung. Flummoxed by the world of fire, they let her escape to the water: in lieu of the assignment she was allowed to construct a net of freshwater pearls to hold her mind in place.

War Chest

Mars chess: each piece carved from something harder than alabaster: hatred. Mars plays against the night sky.

He is sure that her depression makes her weak. But when Mars tears away her black squares—underneath is solid gold, myth and mist, her breath and tears, the amniotic dew. In mourning she does not move. She stays still and exhales golden mist, edifying, humidifying.

Mars makes so many mathematical moves that soon the chessboard is infested with them, tangled with complicated equations.

Let’s Tune Neptune

Neptune: orange gases banded with a mess of golden guitar strings. A guitar that cannot even manage to take on the shape of a guitar, really: a fibroid of a guitar, the raw genetic material for a guitar and its strings, plopped from some uterus into the night.

And I am given this. And told it is a gift. But I do not know how to play it. My instinct is to train the mass into a guitar. To funnel the gas into the right shape. To comb the tangled golden strings with a hair pick until they are straight, to pluck away the excess and throw them into zero gravity.

But more and more, I stare at what I have, and determine that to “arrange” Neptune would be tantamount to murder.

That perhaps I do not play it. It plays me.


They (what happened to the clocks)

Today, I was told it was too “primitive” for actual consumption. They offered. They, folding layers of udders into a nipple-pink slab. When I asked for a sample instead, more of them were fossilized with terror. The proprietor was making a new batch cold as I was.

Some had fevers, the polishing hurt so. Some were deemed ready for one of the clocks’ temperatures. What they handed me, though, was swollen, bloated, dense-packed, strips of gold thatch. The clocks, what catastrophe. They, gone into petrifaction. A gold coleslaw, some mistake. Her inside me.

Back at the shop, an interrogation. It was time to tell what happened to the clocks. They—a scoop of creamy breast milk swirled with deposits of crushed dry gold. When I responded well to that, I was up and thrown in the garbage. There were small creatures inside me. Home décor. I was polished. I was a mirror, reflecting everyone’s gold, a gold-shot mist—the survival of the spirit, or dissociation. (She a watch worn on a man’s wrist.) Huge mute. I shone at what price. The sun glinted off me. The sun the moon threads of blood needles. Redemption comes from a cloud with traces of stone dice and chess sets.

Bottles of gold, shreds of gold in bottles. The proprietor’s pain, my own, and all the customers demanding to know thermometers and compasses and what is wrong with the clocks, what. Me, I could no more feel than a piece of fossil with touch on it. The Hong Kong was the artificial else inside me. They ground me, chiseled me. Ancient dusts lay on my personality insert. A tiny clock cut part of me away, and set something in disaster.

They had been alive. I had felt them move in me.

Now their deadness was gold scoop—a hemisphere, a tiny dome. Someone’s floor, swept so cold. Dry, they had gone into flavor: a smooth.
The scoop petrified them. (That is, her.) She, not telling.


Double Jeopardy

Above our waists, we are dressed smartly as Freud in our gray jackets. That is all the audience sees. Below the waist, we wear our glowing blue boxes like the barrel and suspenders of the town drunk after he drinks away his pants: underneath, like him, we are nude. The refrigerated air blows over our nakedness, shrinks us like cellophane or perhaps like the doctors who had to clear us for this game.

With a little practice, it is not hard to pretend that the stale studio air is the breeze of Acapulco, and the blue glow of the panels we stand in, the shining waters of the Mexican cruise one of us will win after the rest are carted out on clean white gurneys.

Our limbic systems have been removed from our skulls—not removed! They assure us! Externalized!—and strung up around our boxes, the invisible wires leading to our buzzers. Each clue, each question, elicits the sort of terror that leaves aspects of our consciousness plastered to the ceiling. Ah, knowledge, knowledge. It is our knowledge they seek to elicit, and then to use against us; we must reply to their terrible replayed questions, and the more we hit the buzzer, which is our amygdala itself, the sooner we have battered it to a pulp and it will no more send electricity to the rest of the wiring: we cannot reply to the question: our knowledge is there but it is unconscious, hidden, unable to be spoken or rung in. At that point the circuitry is fried, we lose the game. In a sense, I have too much knowledge to play this game effectively: for the less one knows, the less one rings in, the more one’s amygdala is preserved. I know too much: my wires will be fried first.

Our nerves are chains of sparking gold that ensnare the Hope diamond of our amygdala.

So why speak, we ask. Why buzz in at all? Why not remain silent?

It is the dream that keeps us playing, the dream of Acapulco, the dream of our honeymoon in Acapulco, the beauty of the bride who, overcome with the painful disease of her yearning, is always, always fainting into the water, her black hair like a veil, that bride who is always dying and never dead, the bride with a gown white as bandages, as your fear-pale face, as the bones of the dead, and here the bride is ours, and now her wedding gown is pure as God, not the whiteness of bandages and fear—the whiteness of life. The dream of being glided to paradise on a huge white ship that skims the waters, that proceeds smooth and grand and in peace and love like a bride. The dream of the hot sand on your chilled and aching body, where you will wed, drenched up to your ankles in the waters of the liquid blue diamond, the shining blue of Acapulco’s waters.

Samantha Stiers has contributed to Conjunctions' online and print editions as well as to journals such as DIAGRAM, Black Warrior Review, and Puerto del Sol. She is the recipient of the Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award.