The current Census operation is wrapping up quickly (good thing, too, according to the numerous citizens who have been contacted in person or by phone four and five times now — at least according to them). And I am busy keeping up with the influx of work to correct (nope, not a teacher any more: make that — “check over and pass along”). So I searched for a poem to present, discovering in the process that although I have used stuff from the Bicentennial Year liberally in this space already (try a search on “1976” to see for yourself), not everything in that creatively fruitful era was good. And I may just do a post soon on that subject  — bad poems from a time of evident inspiration. So here is one from the next year, my first in Jackson County, before I had even begun to teach (I think, although August 29 is pretty late for school not to have started, even 33 years ago).

I have a notation attached to this poem to tell me that, the best I knew at one time, this was the first poem I wrote in my new home in Maquoketa, after the unpleasant staff reduction sent me packing from Ft. Madison. Although I had a girlfriend at the time, the Coe College student (who would dump me in just a few more months, on my birthday ironically/appropriately after just over a year together), you would probably not know that from this sour/savage bit of  “advice.” Perhaps the signs of the approaching split were unconsciously apparent even to me, unadmitted.

On the other hand, I know I felt I still needed to take lessons from my job loss, as well.


A truly inappropriate knife, but this is more or less the model I carry, as I have done for almost forty years. I think I am on my fifth…

Arrowhead, bayonet, dagger, knot.

The knives of nature are double-edged

and keen: don’t force them; cut only

easy and without effort — time stabs

slashes and bruises you enough, shaves enough

blood in its quick unspoken passes. Don’t

reach for life’s thin knives as they slice

past at you, lest you lose your fingers or

your hand, lest a thoughtless point

pierce your eye and spill your brain.

Blood is ink: preserve it for the songs

your love will have to write; don’t waste

it on yourself — let others bleed for you.

Love carefully, for love’s a rare sword,

razoredged, hiltless, with two points.

It’s awkward to handle; better to thrust

it from you (don’t hug its steel), and love

will spinning like a star return to you

to spit your heart. Fear not,

for love allots you little enough.

You can know nothing only remember that;

so lose cheerfully, and sever everything —

such cutting unites. Discover that sword dance.

A book’s a blade, like love, cuts

you as well as others: words reveal

and conceal pain as bright as steel

infects the air and laughs as ice.

Speak foolishly only, you have

no other choice. Words pass out, severed

breath, to cut you tomorrow. Remember,

nature’s knives all burning turn

and take your blood. Recognize them.

Possibly the first poem in the new house on Emma Court in Maquoketa

29 August 1977

I donʼt really think thereʼs anything too hard here. The imagery of knives had me fascinated (check back on “Freyaʼs Steel” about that), although I think it fits here.

And I donʼt know if it works as one big stanza or if I should break it up. If I were to do so, the breaks would probably come before “Blood is ink” and “You can know nothing only.” But I donʼt know if those phrases or the sentences theyʼre in deserve that much attention (that they would receive if they began stanzas).

Oh, yes. I stole my street for a character in “Mantorville,” didnʼt I? Emma Court always made a fascinating fantasy beloved for my imagination and may have been one reason that I liked that schmaltzy Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour time-travel, love-story movie. (Yeah, I knew the name, but I liked my temporary description too much to drop it.) A pity Emmaʼs not playing that romantic role in the story.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Pushing at the Limits

Yesterdayʼs post still needs your attention, folks. (I admit it was long…) But for today I thought, as itʼs been since Fathersʼ Day that I last put up some verse, I would treat you to my most unreadable poem of all, one that derived from just too much Joyce (and a personally pompous attempt to ape his technique in Finnegans Wake, as noted below).

Perhaps one of the most personally meaningful lines in Shakespeare for me comes from the mouth of Hamlet: “Oh, ʼtis most sweet, when in one line two crafts directly meet.” The Prince is speaking about mining and undermining in siege warfare, but I have always heard it (as the intended reference first of course but also) as my favorite definition of poetry. A poet (like Joyce) packs all the meaning into every word and phrase as possible, and then through the magical medium of reading acquires some more in the reader. So in a poem lots of various and varying meanings are all pulsing along together, sometimes in conflict with each other — but all there always.

Joyce just tried to make the multiplexity of meaning multilingually obvious in Finnegans Wake, and envious, I played around at imitating his skill at combing many words into each stretched/distorted word presented. Trying to say it all out loud (as recommended for the Wake) works well but incompletely. Multiple readings of every genuine poem ever is necessary always.

And bellow them at the moon

But Is It Art?

Djuna Barnesʼ sketch portrait of Joyce after eye surgery — from Wikipedia

Sir Alloyseeus gerund-doppleganger groundhog,

bend your incorporal (real dead) ear this way.

Iʼm in tough strayts, con-fused, unsureten.

Render a reply.

Outside insigh doubt ankh out innkeeper than before —

my troubleʼs words.

Words are women, maenads, mayknots, gnats and nods

and mirrors, vane and merrytrickious, blooming words.

Rants of semensis, rinds of windywinding electricity

(so civilized) recharging retreating inscaping

berating and beating off and on-tellecturealizing:

intwo out often nineigh braykekeke coaxial axed and

antsirred all at ones. Blowing blown this away and that. Get the point?

Words are worse than — wrong! words are the

worsted mess itself, wonderfultonsfolliesbrrgene-ing.

Look: (all right, listen — look in the figurative preterate)

each precioshush pleads to make a mini-moustearaeon

menufactchurch mycrowcosmick mirror of the (eye-Kant-

be-cer-itʼs-there) outside nonmentalick varyturd.

Warysimillatoitʼs a word, but the Heisenburgerʼs

catsup pickles the palymer inside. Sinister to be sure.

Re-alley-T is Unmi, but talk is not listen, and is

ether sea? We wee oui, all the whey home (paean, peonye)

have a problem hear. Thatʼs the diffickletee there or

their or theyʼre: Iʼm drowning in the see explayned.

trying to play at Finnegans Wake

4 February 1978

I added one sentence in presenting this old fossil here today. I also cannot decide still if “sea” shouldnʼt be “si.” I also (after the initial post this morning) just decided to change “weigh” to “whey.” An improvement or not? The etymology of “weigh” attracts me still. (And my minimal multilingualism is even more forced than the Addressed Audience used in his big book of dream[s].)

Yesterdayʼs important post was long, so I will keep this one short and see if this poem can explain (explayn?) itself…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Chill Wind

Yesterday, Janet, her visiting sister Diane and I brought their mother and father to Potosi, Wisconsin, for a day at the Potosi Brewing Company. Dianeʼs appearance was supposed to be a surprise (although to get her mom to buy into the idea of celebrating Fathersʼ Day yesterday, Janet had to let Betty know what was up; we hope she didnʼt spill the beans). We had lunch and sampled the various beers, toured the National Brewery Museum, and shopped at their little souvenir store (where a couple of years ago Janet bought me a very pretty maroon Potosi Brewery longsleeved shirt on our first memorable visit, when we initially hatched the plan to bring Bing there for Fathersʼ Day sometime). It was a great day and a fine weekend altogether.

I like getting the family stuff with or from Janetʼs family. My own is scattered somewhat, and brother Paul has been busy as a preacher on weekends for many years now, even before retiring and receiving his actual appointment with the United Methodist Church (which he has now, and Janet and I will have to visit to hear/see him preach some weekend). Margaret is ensconced a couple hours north, Davidʼs snugly busy all the way west in Iowa, while Stephen is imprisoned in northern Minnesota. And both of my folks are dead, my mother dying of cancer just months after Janet and I got married and my dad going just over a year later. I miss them more than simply on card holidays, particularly since I regret what a graceless and ungrateful (and oblivious) little lump of dung I was (and probably still am). On the other hand, being parentless is a stiff prod into actual adulthood. My father once told my mother, when my maternal grandmother had died, “The winds blow colder once your parents are gone.”

from the Potosi Brewing Company website

I wrote this poem back in 1979 — lifetimes ago for some of you — shortly after my birthday when I heard from my sister (I think) that my dad had suffered some kind of attack or seizure or episode while getting into his car after a meeting for his job, at that time Media Services Director for the Area Education Agency (number 16, if it matters). The incident didnʼt amount to much, and my father didnʼt die until four years later, on his way to work near Christmastime when, while he was trying to fix a frozen brake line under his Media Services van, the jack he had used to raise the vehicle skidded out on the icy roadside and the van crashed down on him. So the event that inspired the poem really didnʼt mean anything. Oddly, cold weather did get him, however, I guess.

About five years after his death, I finally acquiesced to Janetʼs wishes and started having a local garage change my oil for me, instead of jacking up the car and truck and scrambling around underneath, yanking and wrenching at the ill-placed oil filter(s)… After that Christmas of 1983, every time I got down to go under the engine, I felt a little scared, even with the truck not just up on a jack but on those sturdy red wheel ramps. On the other hand, not changing my/our own oil was surrendering yet another thing my father had given me.

But back to my poem…

I donʼt have much verse about my family at all, but I did write one Mothersʼ Day poem in 1978 (which I was too busy in May this year to remember to post, what with Census obligations — never agree to work seven even partial days a week for any job, brothers and sisters) and this one. As itʼs Fathersʼ Day today, hereʼs a cold shudder of my birth month for the season.


Youʼre bittertrue, November,
to laugh down my dad,
shivering by starlight,
helpless keys in his hand:

Bitter, November, to remind,
you snowfingered mousemonth,
tickle his heart and snickerly
suck the warmth from his mouth.

November, bitter coldkissing,
never to speak, but spit glazes
on branches. Sheathed twigs
crack — loud, bright windtraces.

Old Novemberʼs bitter faces
float like frozen moths
from the huge night,
immune to a fatherʼs coughs.

after my father suffered some kind of event leaving a work meeting too late at night

16 November 1979

I know my father wouldnʼt like having a brewery embellishing my post on him for Fathers Day.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Ending the Longest

With these last three sections (9 and 10 plus an epilogue to equalize the prologue with which the poem began, although the number twelve is not necessarily as important numerologically as the number ten), we reach the end of my longest single poem (although I assume most actual readers have realized that it is essentially composed of smaller poetic units that just donʼt quite stand on their own as individual poems). I also hope that weʼve observed that without the prologue and epilogue, itʼs all just science. Right?

The mysticism is all just in the framework (or whateverʼs left).

Part 9 explores the creative possibilities of utter darkness, into which all sparks of light are cast by the simple force of gravity, pure and essential. As astrophysics is basically mathematics, we are back to numbers, too, of course. The physics of creation and annihilation overlapping at the ends of time intrigue me. Also, black holes were still relatively novel at the time I wrote the poem. The black-hole caused lumping of galaxies (and their relation to quasars, a theme I ended up deleting from the poem back in ‘84, although I dearly wanted to include and explore the most luminous objects in the universe) has since become commonplace and accepted. I wonder today why I chose (or didnʼt choose) to mention only four people by name: Hawking, Gell-Mann, Russell and Wittgentstein… And no females, except my imaginary australopithecine. Whereʼs the Shekhinah, then?

More literally, I like right now to call part 10 “Tinnitus,” having over the past several months noticed that I have developed that annoying symptom of screaming celestial crickets sibilating constantly, a supernatural susurrus whispering and rustling at the very frontier of my high-pitched hearing. I hesitate to complain, knowing friends suffer much worse — actual Ménièreʼs Disease, for instance — but this unreal scratchy feedback is evidently a part of my life now. I have tried (irregularly, over May and now into June) to cease aspirin-consumption, having been a daily doser, and I have wondered if caffeine is a causative agent, having increased my caffeine intake as a Census operative, consuming a convenience store cappuccino a day. (Too much of me for what was meant to be an utterly impersonal poem: thus the tone and voice, which I am afraid the plethora of links may have undermined.)

10 does refer to the discovery of the evidence of creation, effectively proving the Big Bang. Is this unheard hiss, this darkened light, expended energy, the remnant (soulless) sparks of creation?

The epilogue returns clearly and directly to traditional Kabbalah, referencing the Sefirot and the Gates and finally ending without punctuation.

Ayn-Sof (concluded)


The effect which causes
the gathering of stellar material into galaxies
could be superstrong
gravitational singularities

(the probable existence of which was first calculated by
wheelchair-bound Cambridge mathematician Stephen Hawking).

A so-called black hole
derives its name
from the dark fact that the intense gravity
resulting from star’s utter implosion
absorbs not only all matter
to the most charming quark
but also
curves back all energy, all light.

A particle at the inner edge
of the funneling accretion disk
around the singularity
a relativistic paradox of nearluminal acceleration:

in the instant of annihilation,
time stops.


In 1965,
while trying to locate
the source
of low-level static occurring
in Telstar communication satellite transmissions,
two Bell Telephone Laboratories
research scientists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson,
discovered a 3-degree Kelvin black-body radiation.

Further investigation revealed
that the faint microwave background
emanated almost equally from every direction in the universe.

This subtle hiss
is all that remains
from the energies released
at the instant of creation.

י א

ten elements they list by name in the language Aquinas could
not read, like Greek, which reach enchained from nothing
through angelsong to the mighty wrack where mortals scream.

ten figures in lightwheels breathe the matter we believe,
and someone counted four eights doors that made the faceless
void conceive: the silversilent sword of Words.

ten facets among themselves commune in complex webs of will,
and he who speaks their compound lights redeems the thickly
murky world and rides alone upon the photons’ chariot.

keter chokmah binah chesed geburah netzach yesod hod malkut

where’s beauty now, you ravenlunged and milkdrunk seers?
we’ve consumed the combination to your ancient, dreamy fears

July 1984
©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Longest a third time

Here are three more parts of my so-called longest poem. (I spent Saturday afternoon reading back over the Mantorville story in “Longer Items” and fixing some minor mistakes, trying to get myself ready to work today on writing some more. I also have to get into digital form the fifty pages, handwritten, that currently exist on the Sepharad fantasy tale, which in my writing has almost reached a climax, starting the denouement in chapter 6. It actually feels a little odd to get back into writing mode.)

About todayʼs portion of the poem…

Part 6 archaeologically deals with the invention of fire, of which we havenʼt much evidence yet (as noted below through the use of the near-incantatory list of prehistoric fire sites). Fire links to cooking, which as Lévi-Strauss observed is a key step or distinction in human evolution (from eating food raw), which brings us to DNA (biochemistry and evolution, I suppose) and back to hidden Structure(s).

Part 7 brings the visible universe down to earth through a kind of contemporary fire-use, returning the astronomical themes along with death (more biology perhaps).

Oxen and the alphabet get the Kabbalistic elements stewing again in part 8.

Two further parts will soon conclude this not-epic.

Ayn-Sof (continued)


Nine very ancient sites show evidence,
certain or possible, of fire use,
reaching back as far as one-point-five million years ago.
Four are African, two Chinese and three European:

Chesowanja, Karari, Yuanmou, Gadeb,
L’Escale, Olorgesailie, Terra Amata, Vertezollos.

More recently, use of fire is obvious everywhere
from the more modern Paleolithic to the present.

Paleochronologists can date organic material by measuring
relative amounts of radioactive carbon-14,
knowing the natural half-life of such material ―
occurring as only a single atom among
million million naturally here on earth ― is
5730 years:

and carbon is necessary in the twentysome amino acids
comprising all the varied proteins which make life work,
including wood to burn and meat with vegetables to roast.

A thousandtimes less complex than a protein or an enzyme
is the spiral molecule of deoxyribonucleic acid,
winding and unwinding an acidshaping dance
every time a living cell divides,
bearing in its assortments of polypeptide bases
(adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine)


which with incandescent chemistry encodes
the primal names of life.


After first in June of 1983
voting to install high-pressure sodium
the San Diego city council reversed itself
six to three
in February of the next year and
redecided in favor of twofrequency
low sodium lamps.
The choice prevented further
light pollution
of the night skies
for astronomers using
the nearby 200-inch reflecting telescope
at the Mount Palomar Observatory.
Acrimonious dissent
was voiced by one councilman
who felt the yellowish illumination
made pedestrians look like corpses.




The initial letter of the alphabet
began its history as a consonant,
a pictographic representation
in the written traditions of
Ugaritic, Aramaic
and other North and West Semitic languages
about four thousand years ago.

The original symbol signified an ox.

The English vowel is pronounced
with some seven different sounds.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Longest Continued

The first part appeared on Wednesday, so you can click the link to review what you missed (or forgot), if you wish. The science tends to predominate today over the kabbalistic mysticism, once we get past part 3. But the whole point is that theyʼre one and the same — mysticism and science (or to use the contemporary misinterpretation effectively, “one in the same,” as that phrase would kind of summarize my themes).

Part three refers to the many ways of  predicting the future: scattering sticks (as in the I Ching and other Asian practices, but also worldwide — probably the activity dates back to the last Ice Age — early or middle paleolithic), ornithomany/augury as in ancient Rome, the chance selection of passages in (often religious) books — frequently the Bible and Qurʼan nowadays, and naturally astrology. The plan supposedly so-identified is four-dimensional to include time.

Part 5 is a random invention (a lot like my already posted poem, “Exhibit”) based on Lucy. Janet and I (with friend Kevin, who was then resident in or near New York City) actually got to the Ancestors exhibit mentioned, and Kevin and I distracted ourselves analyzing and arguing over the differences/similarities in early human and late Neanderthal skulls — thus entirely missing the Lucy bones themselves, which we had to go back and examine after Janet, on our way out of the American Museum of Natural History, mentioned how cool it had been for her actually to see the genuine Lucy. We both felt like major chumps (not chimps) but did return to see the relics.

Part 6 is pretty much just a summary/listing of some basic astro– and particle physics circa 1984 (and I own this bridge for sale, if you truly bought that statement…), the whole point being to move gracefully between the macro- and microcosmic superrealities… Nothing in that section is invention on my part, although strangely in posting the poem yesterday I added two new lines quite near the end of todayʼs portion.

I like how we begin and end with radiation in these three parts. More or less.

Ayn-Sof (continued)


The calcium in cowsmilk will be replaced invariably
through organic preference, depending upon its availability
in the biosphere, by strontium-90, the half-life of which is 28.8 years.

The bones
of such milkweaned calves
glow in the earth after death from cancer
and may be used for divination
in the month of August.

DI-VI-NA-TION: the ancient practice of puzzling

from random scatterings of sticks,
structures of internal organs from sacrificial beasts,
flights of birds,
haphazard selection of passages from sacred books,
flights of planets tracked among the stabled stars,


in whose webs the seers felt the Will of Fate,
reflections of an infinite four-dimensional plan.


The Australopithecine mandible
discovered at Laetoli,
Tanzania, in 1976,
briefly displayed among other original finds
in the “Ancestors” exhibit
at the American Museum of Natural History
from April 13 to September 9, 1984,
is that of an adolescent female,
who died of strangulation, although
the scientists could of course
not so determine
or even be aware.

Her death was caused by
an evolutionarily premature
descent of the pharynx,
resulting in an equiposition
of the tracheal and esophageal openings.

Her sex
and age were estimated
by examination of the extant dentition
(being nine teeth in situ)
matched to a statistical analysis of contemporary hominids.


Currently, physics perceives the cosmos
as a hierarchy of structures.

The universe at large is lumpy with galaxies

(and the cosmologists are pondering
why matter should clump this way,
contrary to theory),

the galaxies of star systems
(which may or may not hold condensed dust as planets),
the stars of hot gas,
the gas of molecules,
the molecules of atoms,
the atoms of protons and neutrons in a nucleus
orbited by electrons.

The light from the stars
is produced from nuclear fusion
and the resulting radiation
includes only a tiny portion of wavelengths
visible in the human eye;
light is composed of photons,
massless, chargeless particles
extant only in motion.

Twentieth-century highenergy
atomsmashing experiments
have produced a baffling plethora of
subatomic particles:

pions, mesons, neutrinos, kaons, baryons, nucleons,
hyperons, hadrons, bosons, leptons, fermions
(including some overlapping family names)

in matter and antimatter
(which may be simply matter retrograde in time).

All the assorted particles in the cosmos
are considered to be
composed from various configurations of quarks
(usually bagged in triplicate),
the presumably ultimate subatomic particle,
the smallest formal structure in the cosmos.

The name of this particle was coined by a facetious
(and well read) physicist, Murray Gell-Mann,
from the gullscry
in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake
(“Three quarks for Muster Mark”).

The word in German means cream cheese,
and quarks are flavored up/down/strange/charmed.

Simply beautiful, we know and knew

Is there no Bottom to this dream?

“Quark” is among the oldest traditional family names on the Isle of Man.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

My Longest Poem

The longest poem I have yet/ever written originated at Northpark Mall in Davenport during the long weekend of my poetry-writing grad course that got me recertified for teaching purposes the first time, back in 1984. I still like it, all science and mysticism blurred together that it is — resulting from my reading of too many things that I have probably mentioned on the blog already (or can easily discuss in posts yet to come). After the long weekend, I feel too tired to offer explanations today, but the verse itself will permit a post.

Iʼm going to break it into chunks for daily posting and then maybe create its own Longer Items page later.

The title, “Ayn-Sof,” is a kabbalistic reference to the unnameable and unknowable (and nonexistent) First Cause, the actual Godhead, the source of each emanation behind and between the realities of the Universe, the Bearded Secret originating and uniting all energies, things and particular energetic components of possible things everywhere (and nowhere). The Hebrew translates as “Nothing” but can also mean “Infinite.” Also, as James Joyce knew, paring his elegantly godlike fingernails, when one starts a poem, one is making (the Greek meaning of the word) a Big Nothing that might be or become Something. Or not. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to begin this poem with the instant of creation — the Big Bang itself.

Here are parts one and two (of ten — to match the Sephirot).


The shapes which struggle from apparent chaos are strings
which lace the face of God: so count,
who may,
the multiple hairs in his huge beard
and shape at last his awful name.


When the universe exploded
from a single lightmad point of splendor,
possibly fifteen billion years ago,
subatomic shrapnel blasted into directions,
colliding, annihilating, bursting apart and
beginning time.

Cooling of the initial radiation allowed
the original quarks to group into larger,
more stable configurations,
becoming protons, neutrons, electrons
and their antibodies.

Einstein’s kaleidoscope’d begun.

If the energy of creation
is insufficient
to continue to propel the matter of the universe
apart forever,
the cosmos will eventually collapse,
the force of its own weight inhaling
all the scattered stars, dust, gas and light
to a single point,
perhaps a dozen couple billion years from now.

That instant of universal gravity
could conceivably
ignite again,
blowing up a new universe,
and some cosmologists speculate about
the persistence of any structure ― even the strangest
quark ― from our World into that imagined future

Contemporary measurements,
appear to indicate
the matter comprising the cosmos to be too small
at first ever to be gathered again.

Thus, each particle will continue its flight
from every other ― down to the upmost quark ― until
all energy is exhausted
and the universe is left
a lightless, flat and infinite waste
of inert and motionless unmatter.


“Nur der Satz hat Sinn: nur I’m Zusammenhage des Satzes hat ein Name Bedeutung.” (Wittgenstein, Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung, 3.3)

“The ‘experience’ which we need to understand logic is not that such and such is the case, but that something is; but that is no experience.

Logic precedes every experience ― that something is so.

It is before the How, not before the What.” (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 5.552)

“Die Tatsachen im logischen Raum sind die Welt.” (1.13)

Ludwig Wittgenstein
effectively demonstrated
the bankruptcy of metaphysical propositions
in his first published book. His friend,
mentor and follower,
Bertrand Russell wrote
An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy
while in a British prison during the First World War.

The Viennese bachelor preferred
watching American Westerns while munching
a pork pie
to enduring the intellectual vacuity of Mind.

Both are now dead.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.