Errand Upon Which We Came

Stephanie Strickland


Gentle Reader, begin anywhere. Skip anything. This text
is framed
fully for the purposes of skipping. Of course,


it can
be read straight through, but this is not a better reading,
not a better life. You are being asked


to move with great
rapidity. As if it weren’t there. As if you were a frog,
a frog that since it’s disappearing


thinks to ask,
for the first time, in which element it really does
belong. Leaping progress


will consist
in considering this and closing the book. Anything
else will represent a settled course.


Indeed, it is true that much has fallen
through the cracks,
but the most painstaking and willful path


will not recover this (recoverable?)
material any better
at all than the soft ziggy sampling butterfly approach.


Gentle Reader,
who labors, who tugs up roots to get beyond roots
 —as it were—do roots entwingle


space? Where do we mine that knowledge
of what cannot be precipitous, nor yet


What if the go(o)ds refuse
to go
to market? What then?


Will is broken by the trials of all folktales, the Augean stables,
the straw spun. A nail
that fixes the center so the register is true—


what the scale hangs on,
not what
the pointer points to.

More by Stephanie Strickland

Seeing a Medusa

Only that tinge of crimson-pink
like cyclamen flashing
drew me down, made me see you

in the heave of the wake, all
pale-jelly innard
on your side, resisting nothing

in the wash of green glass, clear gray, the waves
calm today, steady, as you slap
up and down in their hands—a nest

 of tentacles rolling with the foam,
 then hanging, white with poison. You collapse
 an inbreath of water, shudder. Glide.

Gone, before I grew faint
leaning over the boat; gone,
before I even knew

it was you—alive! Not knowing. Reliving
the blow, remembering: you, torn out, despised
and flung dripping to the waves.

Presto! How the Universe is Made

On your Mark, one first O/riginal Form; Get set, a second
angular Segment; Go—the next step, a Rule replacing
each straight side in the first by the second; if I take

a box and for each side of that box substitute a cone
or peak, to make a kind of star—then do again
what I did before: take the star-box

and where I find a straight-line replace it
with a peak, to make a starrier star, nesting the shape
even deeper in the figure, re-placing

peaks to make a Star-in-the-Box! Or, a Diamond-heart-
Star at every level (a shape self-similar); a shape
of extreme complication, in only a few—in five—

iterations, it already reads as texture and is rapidly
sinking as it plummets, repeating, into bonded
lock, where photons mediate, shunting between

heavy center, vibrant orbit. Or deeper, look. No,
look, a quantum leap: the burst box—the born star—is re-
emerging on the line, on the line or/and . . . . Repeat:

0 Shortcut to What?

0                        Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
                                    Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man”

Out the door every
day along High Street
to Sloane. Only the grave
there still and the grave gates, Egyptian
red soft sandstone. Every
day. Truth not flowing down
from a source; but, an exact
accord that makes the whole
simpler than the parts;
those bodies lost all winter
in the snow. The storm
in the night so great,
so erasing the man

so immemorably standing in it, at sea in it,
and the woman in batiste weeds of white at sea
in it on her widowed watching walk.

Gibbs spoke only once
in a Faculty Meeting, during
protracted, tiring debate on elective courses:
should there be—more English, more Classics? More? Or less.
They were astonished to see him rise, after thirty-two years,
though familiar with the high, pained-sounding voice: a man of snow
assessing. Not to be distracted, or dispersed into longcuts,
not to be turned from the whole entire empty mist
hanging in the cold air, not to miss—or
intrude on the nothing that was

in every emotional way,
Gibbs, hidden at home, creating the loneliness
he needed to assume just one responsibility—for which no thanks,
much complaining of it, some wonder. Lost, in the clouds of snow gathering
in CT over Transactions & Proceedings of the local Academy of Sciences,
the one un-evasion he accepted: shortcutting elegance by uncouth
statement that is efficient in every respect. The reward for
getting past the failings of language? To be found
un-readable. Gibbs rose. He said: Mathematics
is a language. And sat down.