The Photograph

The photograph hangs on the wall by the window,
Three judges appear (one carries a folder)—
A tarot card reader, embalmer, engraver,
Without much to say and not much of it said
About the boot in the crib and the tire in the bed
The round faced man and the pot on his head
Painted with flowers and chipped on its edge.
And the cat near the door with its collar and bell
Flailing and airborne and mid caterwaul.
And the three-leggèd dog with her leash on
And sweater, jubilant, leaping— Mon Dieu! Grand jeté!
And the crow— O the crow! In its cage cawing “Fire!”
The crow crowing “Mayhem!” and “Murder most foul!”
The dog and the cat and the crow and the tire
The cage and the crib, the pot painted in flowers;
All in a frame with a sign alongside—
“Self portrait. Around the Ides of July.”
A ribbon is clipped and then hung for its owner.
It bears the word “Mention” and then the engraver
Makes a note on a form he hands to the embalmer.
The tarot card reader turns— She and her hat,
And addresses the room, “Ain’t no card made for that.”

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Cunningham

A red-winged blackbird sits, watching me, his fence post newly staked, bark on, topside down. At arms length, rusty fence pliers bounce along a span of barbed wire. One. Two. Three. “Hemlock, see, twists as it dries—” that’s Cunningham’s voice, “stretches the wire. Set one post wrong-way-to and it’ll sag right there.”

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Come a day I recall Seamus Heaney and with newfound pride—my own name and that red-winged blackbird down Vernon River way.

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Seamus Heaney, renowned Irish poet, wrote the fabulous poem, St. Kevin and the Blackbird.

Ball Card Heroes

With bat and ball and gloves in hand and on our way
we’d pass by Old Man Finch where when he’d sit and watch the world
one of us would wave. Most times he’d look,
he’d say—Ever tell you boys about the game?

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He stole our breath away, sure, a hundred times.
We were fielders for him, basemen, catchers and every ball
split seconds from extra innings in mid-flight-
from-outfield-to-second-base-and-home-plate night games.

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Peanuts, beer, hotdog vendors shouting,
with every other voice, shouting!
Out! You buncha losers! C’mon cmon cmon! Safe!
Allow the call or fault it, either way.

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We were ball card heroes, just the same,
with bat and ball and gloves in hand and on our way.

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This poem tells a story. Life, imagination, games, spirit of play, youth, heroes and age. Baseball! When I was a boy we collected baseball cards. Topps I think. We carried them in our pockets, traded them, flicked them across the schoolyard in games of accuracy, attached them with clothes pegs to our bikes so that they hit against the spokes when we rode and made motorcycle sounds (we imagined). Cards were toys. I don’t collect cards now but if I did I’d collect the most played-with cards I could find.

The Marking of Lives

This—  This is the closest we have been in forty-seven years. Graveside, I close my eyes. See again, her lips smeared, her head turned, as she had lain unconscious. Whispers of Other Men—   Immoral—   Immoral living—  Declared unfit for motherhood and I am only days from four. 

Before that, in white shift sitting at the foot of her bed and singing quietly to herself. Singing, brushing and lifting her hair. Letting it fall. She is lovely to me. Later that night, weeping, anger, fists and cries.  

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At fifty-one I look like him. Fist-Man. Father. He wept in Irish taverns filled with weeping, singing drunks. She had danced the Sunrise on Hastings, whatever that meant.  

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She was gone when I was taken. I was gone if she returned.  

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A Child Welfare office filled with nervous women, children dressed in Sunday-best and a faint wash of fear—   these memories, all memories, discomfit and jar.  

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A metal cup with orange juice. Warm, sweet and slightly bitter. The far end of the room. A bed made in a wooden trunk. Eyes slipping. Box lid closing. Sleep—  

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Bewildered, pushing, opened, the room lies stark, white and empty. No mothers. No children. No one waiting here. The lump that rises to my throat is the same one— the same one that rises in spasms from my chest on that dark-boxed, white-roomed and room-filled afternoon.  

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In forty-seven years I would stand above her on that overlooking hill. No words to mark her place, a plot numbered between other unmarked and numbered graves. Maybe she was gone again. 

Gone before I could tell her what had happened, that I was sorry, that I would be a good boy, beg her— find me.  

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Eyes opened, I have waited long enough. The sun is hot. White lines trail across the sky. Paper from one pocket. Pen from another. I write. Roll tight and push as far in as this ground will allow.  

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White paper, ink. Graveside for her. Wayside for me.  
A mark was kept. A mark was left.  

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A deep breath in, not held and out.

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The Sunrise was a low-end hotel on Hastings Street in Vancouver. The bed-in-a-trunk sequence was as described. The orange juice had a sleeping drug in it and the trunk-bed was used to separate children from parents or guardians without a fuss. ’61. Alberta.

One Cat, Maybe Two

Raymond shifted his weight forward on the coffee
shop chair and leaned his cheekbone into the heel of
his palm. A childhood verse chided him in his
mother’s voice of over fifty years ago.

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“Raymond, Raymond, if you’re able,
get your elbows off the tab
This is not a horse’s stable,
but your mother’s dining table.”

It didn’t immediately connect to any
pictures in his mind but he had heard it enough
to know it was real. An hour ago he had been
at his mother’s side in the palliative care ward.

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She had appeared smaller than he liked to think of
her—had looked almost like he was seeing her at
a distance. She hadn’t greeted him, only closed
her eyes and said, “Feed the cats, will you.” It wasn’t

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really a question. “Yes,” he answered, but the cats,
whoever they were, must have left or died years ago.
The only living thing she owned, he suspected,
was the small Christmas cactus someone had brought to

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cheer her up. He looked at her again, waiting for
her eyes to open. They never did. Her jaw dropped
and that was that. Raymond hadn’t wanted to be
in the room when the nurses and orderly would

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come to take her away. He stopped at the reception
desk to say that he’d be in the coffee shop
waiting for his brother and sister-in-law to
arrive. They were late and he was thankful to have

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a few minutes to himself. From where he sat he
faced the open entrance of the café. There was
a couple sitting tiredly off to one side.
A man in a shapeless blue hospital gown and

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slippers shuffled in pushing an IV pole ahead
of him. Raymond heard steps echo sharply down
the hallway. Here they are, he thought, hurrying
needlessly. Bill and Marijke had been fast asleep

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at 2:30 am when Raymond’s first text message
came in. They never saw it until 5:00 when Bill
reached for his cell phone as he did every morning
right after Marijke turned off the alarm. “Damn,”

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he said, “No time.” Bill, “William” on his realtor
business card, and Marijke, were used to demands
on their time from potential home buyers. But they
usually had early mornings to themselves—

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breakfast, coffee, catch up on current events. Not
today. The text had said, “ASAP.” They hit the drive-
through at Starbucks on their way to the hospital.
“Hey Bill. Marijke,” Raymond said. Bill nodded. “Hey,”

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he replied and paused to look at Raymond, to see
if he’d say something else, “Is she gone?” “Couple of
hours ago,” Raymond said. “Should we see her?” Bill asked.
“Can if you want, I suppose. Maybe later,”

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Raymond said, “Did she have a cat? She mentioned cats.
I haven’t seen any for years. Did you take them?”
Mother might have mixed him up with Bill again.
Raymond looked at his brother who didn’t seem to

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be listening and then at Marijke. “She used to
feed the neighborhood cats before she broke her hip,”
Marijke said. “That might be it.” It seemed odd that
Marijke knew more about his mother’s life than

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her sons did. “Maybe you’re right,” Raymond said. “What’s next?”
“I’ll call her lawyer and get him on it,” Bill answered.
Raymond suddenly realized that his brother
had been listening. Marijke started to cry. 

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Raymond pulled some napkins from their holder and pressed
them hard against his eyes. Bill looked down and away.
Over the next few days life seemed to stop. Nothing
more than daily routines and only as long as

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they didn’t require much effort or attention.
Coffee, whatever was in the fridge—dishes sat in
the sink. Gradually he began to feel alive
again. It was as though he had been wrapped in blankets,

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hearing distant, mostly muffled voices, glimpsing
unfamiliar rooms and spaces when he closed his
eyes to sleep. Marijke had startled him this morning
when she called and said to the answering machine that

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Bill and she were coming over with something from
the lawyer and hoped he would be in. She didn’t
wait for him to pick up. She’d have known he was at
the kitchen table. They arrived mid-afternoon.

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No knock at the door. Bill was the older of the
two and was the most like their dad. And Dad had not
been the knocking sort. Not with Raymond anyway.
Bill and Marijke each carried a bag of groceries

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which they placed on the kitchen counter. “Thought you might
need some things,” Marijke said. “Nice to see you, Ray.”
She took a bag of groceries and made room in the
fridge for its contents: milk, BBQ chicken and

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eggs. She placed the bananas in a wooden bowl.
“Saw the lawyer yesterday,” Bill started. “He has
the will but it doesn’t amount to much except
for the house,” he paused, “The equity has mostly

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been sucked out of it. God knows what for. And there’s this…”
Bill dropped a large manila envelope in front
of Raymond. “I’ve already opened it. There’s an
envelope for each of us in there. Marijke

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says we should open them together because we’re
all the family we have now.” He tipped the envelope
on its end and let the two smaller envelopes
slip out. One each for William and Raymond. Bill picked

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his up and tore the corner of the flap destroying
most of the envelope in the process and
extracted what appeared to be several sheets of
neat handwriting. “It’s just a letter,” Bill said. He

put it into the inside breast pocket of his
suit jacket. Raymond waited a moment then picked
up the other envelope, turned it over and nodded
almost imperceptibly. He stood, walked to the

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shelf between the window and the back door where he
had made room for the Christmas cactus instead of
leaving it behind. Not sure about the light, he
thought, and leaned the unopened letter against the

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earthenware pot. “Not you, too?” Marijke shook her
head. “It’ll be like…” Raymond said, he paused, looking
at her, “It’ll be like not hanging up the phone.”
Marijke understood—he’d never open it.

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“I get it,” she said in a softer tone. Bill looked
blankly at his brother. And Raymond smiled a little
for the first time in a while. By six the next
morning Raymond was already dressed and brewing

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coffee. Usually he would head down to Timmy’s
Donut Shop for his caffeine fix. “Double trouble,”
he’d say, meaning “Double double,” as he always
did at Timmy’s. It amused him and often made

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his favorite server smile. “Too much trouble, you mean,”
she’d say. Human contact. Raymond guessed that some of
the guys at the corner table would be wondering
how he was doing. They’d know what had happened, of

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course, but they’d ask just the same. He poured his first cup
and walked out onto the back porch. Still a bit cool
out here, he thought as he leaned against the railing,
sipping his coffee as his eyes wandered around

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the yard. He’d have another cup in a while but
first he had something he needed to do. Raymond
sat down on the porch steps and slipped his feet into
an old pair of shoes. He tied them and flicked the loops

with his finger to see how the laces fell, to
make sure he had not tied them backwards and would not
work their way loose. Someone had taught him that a long
time ago when they had seen his laces come undone.

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He stood up and walked across the yard to the back
lane and the narrow picket fence, missing a picket
here and there and much of its original coat
of white paint. Some boys had probably pulled the missing

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pickets off decades ago and with galvanized
garbage can lids for shields spent a Saturday
morning sword fighting. The gate was leaning and half
open, held there by uncut grass, weeds and neglect.

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He stepped out and onto the lane that led between
the two rows of houses that backed onto it. Raymond
looked at each fence, each set of stairs and window as
he passed them by. A block later he turned and headed

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home satisfied that he had seen at least one cat,
maybe two. Another cup of coffee in hand,
Raymond sat on the top step. On his way out of
the kitchen and onto the porch he had stopped to

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turn the cactus in the morning light, stepped outside
placing a saucer of fresh milk by the porch door,
and sat down.

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At Least Until This Fairy Tale is Over

Her bags are packed, left by the door. She looks away waiting for her ride to come. Waiting.

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You met her on a holiday. You can’t recall who else was there. She’s moved along and left you holding empty air. Empty rooms and empty halls fill the days you’ve lost count of and left an empty bed alone beside you.

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You met her one late-summer day, or was it autumn, who can say? Like falling leaves you fell one for the other. The mornings were the best of all. The evenings melted into dawn and dawn again.

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And then one day she said goodbye. Without a word, she said goodbye. Her eyes had someone else inside. You asked yourself when this all started.

Now every girl you see instead, and every time you turn your head, and all the names on every street, the colors of the sky at night, your bed at dawn, days pass you by, whatever tells you you’re alive tells you that you’re dead inside.

You keep her pillow by your own, wake up late each afternoon but still you wake up as alone. And then one day you’ve cleared your mind, you bring her back and let her slide away again.

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Now mornings fade from grey to green, and somewhere in the days between you catch an eye, she catches you and spends a night or maybe two. The hallway and the living room, the shower and the kitchen floor—what else had they existed for?

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Now every smell of every flower, every early morning shower and all the songs on every street, the colors of the sky at night, her kiss at dawn, the rising light, whatever tells you you’re a man tells you you’re alive again. Yet stories like this never end like fairy tales.

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And every smell of every flower, every early morning shower, and all the songs on every street, the colors of the sky at night, her kiss at dawn, the rising light, whatever tells you you’re a man tells you you’re alive again, at least until this fairy tale is over.

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Pannin’ fer Rhymes (an old miner’s tale)

Well, now– It was in the spring of ‘49 just ‘round Memorial Day in the Land O’ Freedom… or so they call it. Anyways, I was sittin’ up behind them hills… Y’know, nexta where God ‘n’ Hell musta had some sorta fuss or ‘nother. Sorta desert. Sorta not. And I was pannin’ fer rhymes– I kept comin’ up dry– when alluvasudden straight outta the ground there’s this tinklin’, twinklin’ musical sound. So I grabbed me a panful and gave it a twitch. Some verbs and an adjective peppered the dish. Good stuff, I s’pose. Fer a yarn they’d bin fine but not fer perfessional-lookers-fer-rhymes. I swished ‘em a little and shook ‘em again to see if that tinklin’ mightn’t be kin to the one that I found in the gully that night. It’d had to be good or it wouldn’t fit right. Them poets won’t shell-out fer less than a pair cuz one by itself leaves ‘em pullin’ their hair. So ya gotta find more than a couple that fit or poets ‘ll fake it and some ‘ll just quit and some ‘ll just hope no one says that it’s….. Y’ know….. Call ‘emselves “nou-veau” and claim it’s legit. ‘Nuffa that, I s’pose.

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I looks fer them twinklin’ musical words that rhymes like the first time they’s ever been heard. I sure ain’t the first one that’s panned in them hills. My pappy before me turned up a few thrills and somewhere or ‘nother done found a whole line. But me, I ain’t happy unless it’ll rhyme. They’re there, I can hear them– they tickle the breeze! I’ll stick it out long as there’s poets to please. If y’ expected a yarn or to hear miners cuss– I’s pannin’ fer rhymes and not prose in the dust!

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Hrmph! What’s that ya got there?

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Avatars:

Dark and hurried skies, forewarning end to all as sure as night the day; bodies heaped, bone to dust, ash of fallen prayer amounting in still, now silent ruins.

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Beings of abandoned cause, broken, dulled, awaiting eagles sent, gone a thousand years, here now returned; floating down a thousand skies to tell the way.

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From ever endless skies, shall we, at our arrival, our return, rejoicing, ask wisely (O so wisely), “Who knew?” and know and laugh again?

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Young Wm.

The point is, young Wm., you have no ticket
to the pantheon. Earned it? Yes. But in leaving
left the scrip behind; compared yourself
to erstwhile selves and having fallen thus
go now unbidden. Whilst you, young Wm., hailed
Lo! A fraud! A thief! or by some lower
hellish frame have learned that crueler hells
no doubt exist though like the pantheon
as hard to find. The point is, young Wm., you
have no ticket to the pantheon. Get on with it!

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First night

I remember the moment you first saw the light
The moment you reached up and held my hand tight
The moment you took your first steps in the world
Each moment, each step— Now no longer a girl
I remember these moments, each one of them bright
Like the moment I held you that very first night

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First night” celebrates the birth of my daughter.

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RIPPLES (a hendecasyllabic tale)

While composing a sort of minimalist
haiku the other day I chose my moment,
entered the scene and observed, with pen steady
and on its mark, a frog. A pretty standard

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frog with tawny-green skin sitting in a tuft
of grass at the water‘s edge. Suddenly it
leapt into the air in a low gliding arc
and disappeared beneath the liquid surface.

Only ripples remained to mark its passage.
At least that’s what appeared to have happened. And
without further analysis Homo Saps
have always assumed that Frog (A) jumps into

Pond (B) and thereby makes Waves (C, D & E).
Homo Saps will, and do, assume anything.
The apparency of those motions, their Cause-
Effect relationships, is little more than

illusion for I am about to make the
most startling claims you’ve ever heard.
As I began my examination of the sequence
of events that culminated in the frog’s

disappearance, I was forced to blink and look
again. Something was wrong. The frog was normal.
The water seemed fine. The leap, unexpected
but standard by my estimation. Here, the

problem was the ripple. I split the moment
into fractions and observed that as the frog slid
down and waterward the surface tension seemed
to alter and break BEFORE any contact

had taken place. I have checked and rechecked this
observation. And the fact stands. As any
poetaster would do, I immortalized
the moment in my now controversial ‘ku:

green dapple
ripple laugh
Gplosh!

This has, however, been insufficient for
many and I have been obliged to describe
my findings in prose. As with all serious
scientific discovery, truth must never

suffer the dignity of rhyme, metaphor,
alliteration, line breaks, to wit, direct
communication, etc. The fact
of the matter is that Frog (A) must have had

an exact awareness of both the time and
location of that proto-ripple. I can’t
say (it would be unscientific) that all
objects, living things etc. have a

cognitive awareness that a rippling
within the fluidic fabrics of space-time
continua will occur, let alone when
or where. I attempted similar series

of arcs with small rocks and branches that I found
nearby and saw no prior ripple effects.
The similarities between two sets of
observed data do not at all indicate

that identical forces may be their cause.
Focus on this particular Frog (A) and
the events surrounding its disappearance.
I mention ripples in conjunction with the

fluidic fabric of space-time and I see
that some of you are a bit incredulous.
Let me put you at ease by dispensing with
complicated and somewhat biased quantum

relativist nomenclature, invoking 
time honored language of metaphysical
epistemology. This Frog (A) made an
interdimensional shift while moving through

Portal (X). It is commonplace to observe
on telescreens that when portals such as these
open in our universe that they form a
patch that is liquid in movement and texture.

What seems to be the bother is that Frog (A)
used the portal with an unparalleled sense
of accuracy and prediction. Although,
alienists have claimed that small cranial

capacities of these amphibiforms would
seem to belie such a conclusion. This is,
of course, not entirely without precedent,
to wit, our own Homo Saps, but I digress.

What is peculiarly interesting is the
possibility Frog (A) actually
CAUSED the portal to appear. This is much more
plausible than the myriad suggestions

of prediction alone. In either case these
matters will be fully investigated.
Meteorological anomalies
have also been explained, it seems, with this new

data. There is evidence to suggest that
repeated showers of frogs over several
European locations were the result
of reverse transit portals gone awry, as

will happen whenever any natural
phenomenon is harnessed or mechanized.
As this seems to explain fish, dogs, cats and such
animals that occasionally pour from

the sky it may be quite fair to surmise that
H. Saps is the only species truly stuck
on this planet. But that is merely my own
opinion. For those of you remaining, I’d

very much like to read a selection from
my latest work and from which observation,
I might add, led to my discovery that
it is NOT the wind that makes leaves blow: Rather,

the rhythmic movement of those arboriforms
that stirs the breeze. A movement familiar, I’d
add, to sports enthusiasts around the world.
Thank you for listening. I leave you with this—

feathers
leaves
dusk flutter

/curtain

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Hendecasyllable: A line of verse containing eleven syllables.