R. Nemo Hill
Images courtesy of the author
A trio of luminous lines, perfectly parallel,
meet themselves in orbit near the rim.
As haloes then, in haze of heavy glaze
and heavier clay, they float—but cannot swim
away through space and time inviolable.
Instinctively I lift my level gaze.
The O appears, the bowl’s open mouth,
another halo, clay-lipped, cracked, chipped,
the hollow of its anchor-stone, an oath—
I am emptied by the sum of all my days.
Countless are the ever-earnest ways
in which we serve whatever we are filled with—
steaming mashed potatoes, patience, tears.
It lifts us up, this heaviness we’re tilled with,
we men and bowls, both patterned out of clays.
—for my grandmother, Isabel Patten
Pilot Model No. 402
(Belmore Train Station, Long Island, circa 1962)
It’s a stripped-down engine,
a rudimentary moment
of briefly harnessed tension,
the inner armament
of a single repeated gesture,
a skeleton with a spring
whose simple change of posture
is a tool for fastening
paper to paper to paper.
Every office had one
ready for the caper,
waiting for the action
The ad-men claimed, “A cinch!
To a boy, it did seem sleek,
a keen machine, a sprite!
—especially that week
when Dad, to my delight,
introduced me to
the worn wood panels
of that small one-windowed room
that smelled of trains and travel.
My nose at counter-height,
my ears heard times and places.
Squinting through the light,
I saw fingers more than faces,
I saw paper stubs and stamps
and pads of colored ink,
a bathroom with a sink.
Minutes turned to hours.
This is work, I learned.
As my amusements soured,
my idle fingers yearned
to touch this calm contraption,
all silver-bright and bold—
this mechanical abstraction
of violence controlled.
Sheltered from things sharp,
I was sagely scissor-shy.
But this spitter of steel sparks
seemed, to my wide eye,
to soothe all childish terrors
with its cool efficiency,
thwarting bloody errors
by its armored weaponry.
It does look military,
a brute that’s conquered time,
its wounds quite ordinary,
scarred with rust, begrimed—
a soldier, un-entrenched
from the pale quotidian wars
where the many spit-and-clinch
while the few are keeping scores.
The track’s been elevated.
The ticket kiosk? Gone.
I’m sitting at a table
that this stapler’s parked upon
like a dormant locomotive
just waiting for that shock
to make it spit, explosive,
its notch upon the clock.
A circle made of plastic, solitary,
uselessly abstract, quite ordinary,
no doubt mass-produced.
It seems uncanny
how one becomes memorial for many,
how memory, once prodded, grows and grows
and lines up rings in tidy little rows
and hears them scrape along that metal wand
whose magic bears the veil of the beyond—.
I’d forgo riddle, abandon the uncertain,
yet my backward glance reveals, behind the curtain:
Almost as disconcerting,
my nose pressed to the window, I’m observing
a vision of my mother taking shape
adrift on waves of bland white cotton drapes,
with needle and with often-tangled thread,
Inside my head,
ripples now, expanding through the void,
the fallen rings with which she annually toyed.
Curtains, likewise playthings, pull apart—.
It’s the ritual, not the riddle, of the hearth.
It may be age, its notion of time’s motion,
that has me lately struggling for completion.
I’m chasing ends. I’m running, far from home,
to an end that in the end will be my own.
If only I could catch my tail, and bite,
I’d flutter to the ground with no more fight
than this pale plastic ring upon my desk,
immune to time’s loose ends, complete, at rest,
It’s not, I swear, a riddle. It’s a ring—
a tiny thing, but all encompassing.
R. Nemo Hill
R. Nemo Hill’s most recent publications are When Men Bow Down, In No Man’s Ear, and Magellan’s Reveries, all from Dos Madres Press. Forthcoming is a first volume of excerpts from his Southeast Asian travel diaries, Just In Case It Isn’t There: Postcards from Elsewhere, 1988-2001. He is editor and publisher of EXOT BOOKS.