Immigrations: Speculative poetry
edited by Joanne Merriam
Table of Contents
Editor’s Introduction • Joanne Merriam
like sentinels • N.E. Taylor & Kendall Evans
What Not to Say to an Alien • F.J. Bergmann
Old Sci-Fi Films • J. J. Steinfeld
On Learning Earthtongues • Terrie Leigh Relf
With Light-Years Come Heaviness • Peg Duthie
Ghazal • Joshua Gage
In The World Above • Carol Dorf
Not Quite Dark Yet • Berit Ellingsen
Patching Wormholes with Pancakes • Chris Benjamin
Patriot’s Day • Marge Simon
tongue lashing • Julie Bloss Kelsey
Adaptation • Jeffrey Park
like father, like daughter • Lisa Bao
The Spacefarer Thinks Back on the Distant Earth • Phillip A. Ellis
On the Return • Susannah Mandel
in the anza-borrego desert
taking on a spiky hide
as if ghosts
flickers of light
refugees from sedona
when the winter tourist
flocks rolled south
all solitude denied
flickers of light
memories of not here
spikes in storms
long centuries pass
saguaros stand like sentinels
in the desert’s dry tides
spikes in storms
awash in lightening
water is uneasy
alien essences become
skeletons of electricity
coursing through cacti hides
water is uneasy
the itch of spring
blossoms come too hot
the desert owls have fled
their woven hollowed nests
are filled with golden glow
unblinking eyes wide
blossoms come too hot
burn out too fast
sentient seeds observe
concealed within thorn-clad saguaros
armored in hardened cacti hides
awaiting the coming climate changes
invading aliens abide
sentient seeds observe
a carapace cracks
What Not to Say to an Alien
They claimed to be migrant laborers,
not refugees, but were evasive about
what had happened to their home
planet. We offered them sanctuary
in sewers and rock crevices, cracked
pavement, fissures in foundations,
where they could flatten out
against cold stone or metal pipes
at night to discharge their dark
energy accumulations. No method
of harvesting their odd output
for profit had been developed
as yet. They emerged in sunlight
to fly; clear, vibrating membranes
that (by social contract) swooped
to pick off English sparrows,
Asian ladybeetles, and other non-
native invasive species in mid-air.
Ours lived in a cement culvert under
the driveway. It sent away for
pamphlets about unilateral nuclear
disarmament and plastered its walls
with anti-proliferation stickers.
Sometimes it would flap awkwardly
from door to door, fumbling with
a clipboard, proffering a petition
against reactors or waste storage
facilities. Clouds seemed to disturb it.
We learned not to ask about weather
forecasts, never to mention winter.
Once, when the sky had stayed
overcast for a week straight,
we heard it screaming.
Old Sci-Fi Films
All the elderly man
nearing a hundred now
watched were old sci-fi films
from the 1950s and 60s
a collection of videos
the envy of any film buff
over and over, nothing else
not sitcoms or the evening news
his favourite Plan 9 from Outer Space
for reasons beyond irony or sense
claiming Bela Lugosi
was a cherished friend.
The film-watching elderly man
ate well and frequently
though mainly whole-grain bread
drank skim milk by the jug
kept up his spirits
by singing in a language
no one in the seniors’ home
waiting for them to land
on the lawn of the seniors’ home
and take him back
to a planet
where age was irrelevant.
During each viewing
he laughs several times
describes the beauty
of his childhood home
its complexity and richness
and pointing at the common room’s
larger-than-life TV screen
tells everyone in the room
they got it all wrong
not even close,
those silly, silly Earthings.
On Learning Earthtongues
Cold not here so much but hothothot with sun so dark can. After starjumptrip so new sensations these: warm and tepid and scalding. These words difficult to tongue but try we yes try we and laugh at mouth roofs tingling. Earthpeople so many words have with cold and teach them more we do, but translation difficult, take words many explain to and their tongues, their tongues like Ionian slugs fat and hibernating. Words glorious things are, yes words glorious like gravity!
With Light-Years Come Heaviness
from the can of pickles
brought by the latest messenger,
jarred by its new logo,
in a blink.
Your tentacles stir the air, seeking an errant word in my tongue.
Every attempt I make at your language only burdens my tongue.
Caress me with the tides of your accent, the polished moon of your beak
Unrolling waves of makijita purred in my tongue.
Take me to the sunsets over hydrocarbon seas.
Teach me the names of your colors, every description absurd in my tongue.
Alone in my cabin, I practice pronouncing the thick cream of your syllables,
cephapolodic sounds spoiling to thick curds on my tongue.
Our moons unscroll their psalms across your mantle. Let your kiss
teach me a prayer without words, only your breath stirred with my tongue.
In the World Above
In the world above, Time closes
her book, puts away her pencil, says
“Let’s have lunch,” or “turn out the lights.”
In the world below, seasons disappear
into geologic eras marked
by plumes of sulfurous gas.
When I lived beneath the sea,
water as blood, blood as salt,
I found friends in the low songs
of the whales, though even then
much was lost to my limited ears.
In the house above, I raise
the windows at night, and behind me
the husband closes them. I could
breathe the sea if they were open.
Instead we sit at the table,
and always someone says, “I’m cold,
I’m cold; or pass the fish.” I’m tempted
to answer in the language of the whales
but the air is so stingy with reverberation.
Once you wish a world goodbye it’s pointless
to send letters home about the new one.
(Originally published in Occupy SF, 2012)
Not Quite Dark Yet
not quite dark yet
and the stars shining
above the withered fields
—Yosa Buson (1716–1784)
The straw mats are gray, their silk edges dull, lifeless, like the moon, like the oceans.
The posts are smooth from the hands that passed over them and the bodies that leaned into them, even for just a moment.
Inside its broken angle, the ceiling hides the night. The gable walls are blank, unadorned, no grating, no carving.
Where the hearth of your ancestors crackled, cold water now wells up in the sand. A single blanket warms your sitting and your sleep.
The sky rests on the summits in the distance. The fields are black, not tilled, not sown. No soil is left for that.
Once the sliding walls were fully opened, they could not close again. Now grit and dust hiss across the floor.
Patching Wormholes with Pancakes
It’s the long empty-earth time between harvests
and though I am fully of bounty
my fingers have idled above ground
for more than ten thousand years.
I’ve been to a dream-time college,
got a diploma in patching wormholes with pancakes.
It’s a high-growth sector—
no one wants outsiders from other dimensions
coming here and stealing our jobs.
The pancakes are made from corn
because everyone knows the darkness of oil,
and you need something solid yet fluffy
to absorb the shifting suction of science.
It takes skill to seal off a force of nature
with leftovers from five-dollar diners.
Facing that reverse hurricane,
flapjack bag slung over shoulder,
that’s where formula meets phenom.
Bar graphs can’t protect us from novelty.
My classmate was vacuumed away
in her first attempt at crêpe application.
Perhaps she has become the alien
to some xenophobic settlement
on the far side of the universe,
where the spring planting has just begun.
We plan this carefully
to renew their self-esteem,
their sense of identity.
A crowd is assembled
from the quadrants
for the occasion.
Blinded by sunlight
they stagger forth,
some grasping others,
some with arms folded.
Only two children
Weak with fever,
they must be carried.
Our guards dispatch
symbols of their nation:
tiny flags, statues, scarves.
A display of fireworks follows.
The ceremonies continue
through the afternoon.
One of the males breaks free
screaming curses in tongues
we do not comprehend.
A shot is followed by silence
until his body is removed.
True, we eradicated
their primitive technology.
An unpleasant matter,
but it had to be.
We found this planet
favorable to our needs.
We try to understand them,
with their oil-dark skin,
and a history of war
in the flash of their eyes.
We give them opportunity,
but they refuse to cooperate.
Perhaps it’s a question of diet.
Spirit at the great wall: A Tanka Exchange
by galaxy border patrol ...
barcodes on my teeth
Immersed in a primitive culture
you struggle to feel your way
through a dark labyrinth of taboos and
unspoken tribal conventions.
Do, do not, pretend you won’t,
stand, sit, walk, breathe, crap, chew,
smell just this way.
Kiss your sister on the mouth, your
brother on the cheek, a distant
cousin only within
an hour’s walk of a crashing waterfall.
Close your eyes and count backwards
from a hundred. Give a coin to
every fifth beggar if he’s wearing
Sniff your food before you eat it, take
no more than four items into
the changing room; silence your phone,
check e-mail only during breaks.
Don’t kill anyone unless you’re told to.
Don’t refer to masculine scents as
Your mind spins with the accumulated
minutiae—who could remember
it all? Not you, certainly, so don’t
even bother to try.
Kiss, bow, shake hands, point to your
belly and raise your eyebrows.
I pass no judgments, your demeanor
says, your customs are a deep
pool, I am a bottom-feeding fish.
From down here movements on the
surface are just a bit of refracted light,
easily ignored, quickly forgotten.
like father, like daughter
you were born in the colony
first of three sons
learning to read by
I was birthed in organic linen
longed-for precious child
under a single moon
reading novels about home
you got up at sunrise
to find the cheapest green-
house bok choy
raised from real seed
I never got raw milk
or nitrogen ice cream
but as many fresh
mangoes as I liked
now you wear an ironed collar
and light-faded sweaters
save up for a cherry table
and six matching oak chairs
I save my first paycheck
towards a spidersilk dress
the colors of dragonfruit
as bright as your silence now
The Spacefarer Thinks Back on the Distant Earth
Time is the void
that we travel through,
the Earth we shall not know
growing increasingly older,
while we, we age
as do the sequoias
of a vanished age.
On the Return
You are amazed that I came back liking the rain, but I can only tell you it is so.
Now whenever I hear it at my window, I remember being in that land,
where the sky is never left naked, but is closely, tenderly caressed by clouds,
and constantly gently presses your face like a moist giant hand.
And the sky is not left empty and waste, but is always good to breathe,
and is passaged by our fellow travellers, who murmur in low voices to us lullabies:
the squid passing outside the dream-pattering window, and the heaving whale,
and the great fish with their luminous great eyes.