Optical Pantoum

Optical Pantoum

This letter concerns your long unused eyes:
Be warned—while still seeing, you may vanish—
quick as light slips past its closed door. Your sigh
can’t kill darkness. Read these words now. You can

think through them later, by lost, cool lamplight—
Watch the letters with concerned eyes. Don’t use
fingers on this page. Follow, strict, left to right,
quick. Light fades behind that door. Sigh and you’ll

miss them the way you miss slyly thrown balls—
think later, swing now. Then learn to light lamps
while you can make out shapes you’ve known. Night falls
fast, like fingers counting strict time. Write left

handed now, read with broken eyes. Cast looks
past words you’ll miss, like the lost balls you’ve thrown
at diamonds you’ve never seen. Your breathed books
are made into unknown shapes. At night, fall

into darkness head first. Take the amulets
you’re handed now. Broken eyes look downcast,
but raise them to light before they forget
diamonds. You only see old books. So breathe

but be warned. You’re seen but you will vanish
into darkness. Misplaced amulets break.
They can’t stab darkness. Read these words now. Wish
to raise light. All that you’ve forgotten before

will return. This letter concerns your eyes—
a warning. Don’t vanish with the unseen,
still quick, light. Slip through doors. Unlock your sighs.
Then kill darkness. Be well. See. Don’t forget.

There Is No Z in Latin

When zero is added to a number or subtracted from a number, the number remains unchanged; and a number multiplied by zero becomes zero.

He taught her to count to zero
one slow night. Remember, he said, your place
remains here—left of the horizon.
See? He touches his V to her lovely X.
They cannot meet. She must carry
him. She trips on his zenith. They hit the ground.

He cries. She pants from effort. The ground’s
colder than emptiness, harder than zero—
a flat, electric pulse that carries
her lost message—found and replaced
by his long I. She remembers her ex
and ponders the long, empty horizon.

Future nights, when she’s quite horizontal,
she’ll see his ovate face. More ground
under her feet. Her long hands touch her X,
softly, counting backwards from one to zero,
then forward to an infinity of lost ground.
She knows exactly what value she carries.

He’s trapped under the tall V he carried
to her. Invisible below the horizon,
where there’s no air. So words stay still. No place
for truth or amusement. No touch of solid ground
or empty certainty. It all folds back to zero—
it always does. He never solves for X.

Back home, she feels his lost pain. Her X
remains untouched. She likes that—carrying
nothing like guilt—just a perfect zero
where a soul lurked. Beyond horizons
there are numbered games and divided ground.
She enjoys playing the maths of this place

His lonesome equation collapses—replaced
by a singular hole marked with a pale X
in some graphed laboratory. No grounds
left for divorce. She vanished, carrying
integers, her own null points on his horizon.
Their calculated pair reduced to zero.

Some nights, numbers carry her to a place
under the horizon. There, his V solves her X.
But now, it’s zero. Time’s an abstract ground.

Mark J. Mitchell has worked in hospital kitchens, fast food, retail wine and spirits, conventions, tourism, and warehouses. He has also been a working poet for almost 50 years. An award-winning poet, he is the author of five full-length poetry collections and six chapbooks. His latest collection is Something To Be from Pski’s Porch Publishing. He is very fond of baseball, Louis Aragon, Miles Davis, Kafka, Dante, and his wife, activist, and documentarian Joan Juster. He lives in San Francisco, where he once made his marginal living pointing out pretty things. Now, he is seeking work once again. He can be found reading his poetry here.

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