The ocean in these straits will ply
My fragile path with hidden phials
That float up only when I fly
Such flags as apparently beguile

The sleep of phantom eyes,
The kind of taunts that call
Up hints that used to rise
Inside the Magic 8-Ball

And now float up to haunt the sails
With deformed and twisted quotes,
Vivisected names that hail
Our sleep with demon throats,

Apparitions added from the glare
To formerly fair faces,
Now edited by the very air
And ripped to blazes,

And fashioned from their graves,
From whole frequencies of blessed
And unsuspecting waves,
A terrifying palimpsest.

December 7th, 2021


This is about a kind of shadow language which sometimes supplants files when they’re emailed, cobbled together Frankenstein-like from bits and pieces of genuine phrases, modern wraiths like St. Elmo’s fire that flits around masts at sea. The new files float up from the subterranean depths like hints from the old Magic 8-Ball, replacing our dreams with visions of the chaotic world beneath, a modern hell.

When I sent the manuscript of this book to Paul Hoffmann for laying out, five of the poems became garbled as I describe above, so the poem arose from the mechanics of publishing; it’s about this book, in a way.

I was reminded of Ulysses chaining himself to the mast so he wouldn’t be tempted by the siren’s calls, as today we have to navigate between false specters, ads that beckon us from either side of the news we’re trying to read, as Scylla and Charybdis would lure sailors to their doom on their rocks of the Straits of Messina. Scylla was a nymph transformed into a monster by a jealous sorceress. In Ovid’s Metamorphosis (translated by Samuel Garth),

In vain she offers from herself to run
And drags about her what she strives to shun.

Not as scary, but equally pernicious, as visions of the monstrous id that hides like a Kraken beneath the civilized surface of the airwaves.

A palimpsest is a painting or a place whose older layers become apparent beneath its surface, often during restoration.