20 Questions

When a tree loses a branch,
does it experience phantom limb syndrome?

Does the lizard whose tail regenerates
ever tire of second chances?

Who was the first to shed their body,
the rattlesnake or the gestant mother?

Do nibs of spine and femur
belong in a memorial urn?

                                        What was the sibyl’s last prophecy
                                        before a wind bore her aloft?

                                        Did she retain her gift
                                        after dwindling to a linseed?

                                        Why is petrified wood a gemstone
                                        but not the shorn trunk’s cicatrix?
                                        Do the measures of a song
                                        echo the segments of a silkworm?

If you’ve never regarded a squirrel’s cheek,
how do you react when one rubs it on a leaf?

Do you bring a hand to your cheek,
and is this a reflexive response?

When you startled three squirrels on your evening run,
did you feel rueful or lonely?

If the inner surface of the hand is a palm,
what do you call an acorn without its husk?

How many bike rides did Setsuko Hara enjoy
after she retired from acting?

                                         Did she keep any of the outfits she wore
                                         as Noriko, Noriko, and Noriko?

                                         If we’re given a name at birth,
                                         why do we get to keep it when we die?

                                         If you chose a new name before dying,
                                         would your loved ones be able to pronounce it?

Is a common language truly common,
or do we say that just to undercut the seers?

When your toy deer broke its hoof,
what did you do to pacify it?

Did you speak to it in a hush
as the toy blood flowed?

Can your syntax stanch a cut,
or is that the stars’ doing?

Sad Allusions Only


According to the New York Times Spelling Bee game,
“mollity” isn’t a word, though I seek
softness everywhere these days, a temporal placeholder
I use earnestly to corral time without denying it
a margin of certain ambiguity and the space to settle,
dissolubly. “Molality” boasts dictionary and
Wikipedia entries—the amount of moles
of solute present in a solvent, it is so self-evidently
a property of practical import that before an image
can offer itself up, I have already returned 
to the thought that my mother’s deathbed 
had been a site of intimacy ten months ago,
had been my most recent, until the painter
placed his head in my lap and noted, 
without apology, that the hair
I likened to wheat was probably dandruffed.  


It turns out that not every gay is familiar
with Todd Haynes, whom I cited last night
instead of Sirk or Fassbinder only because 
I assumed he had at least seen Carol
(though I will always prefer the turgor 
of Far from Heaven), and that the abstruser 
my references, the farther apart 
our dates will occur, which smarts
even if this boy doesn’t read books and once 
remarked that MacArthur Genius Meredith Monk
looked “like she hadn’t been fucked in months.”
Well, her album’s about grief. In not one 
of the thirty-six interviews I’ve watched 
and re-watched
does Amy Adams mention loss, though 
she clarifies several times that her interest 
in aliens came second to her interest 
in motherhood when she agreed to play
the introverted linguist in Arrival. Hostile
to the prospect of aliens, my mother never saw 
the film, despite her love of Adams and my mangled
explanations of time’s hypothetical strangeness.


In this paper, I will argue that 
explanation cannot be
poetic or 

Taking a Walk with Nicole Kidman

(circa 2004, the year Birth premiered to bemusement and prudes’ cries of prurience)       

              She’s one inch taller than me but an ambler, which equalizes our gaits. We address her bare legs in Birth because although the film is utterly wintry, she is never seen stockinged. “I was cold one day, and then I wasn’t,” she recalls. There’s an archness to her laconicness that evokes a mollusk’s muscly foot, so I decide not to pry. Heading south on Mercer, we nearly walk past the Angelika without discussing the Birth poster beside its entrance. “How would you describe your look here—a glower? tickled stupefaction? delight’s turbid inception?” “How often do you think about space debris?” she asks. I am intimidated by her election to answer my question with a question. “Seldom, but I suppose cosmic trash is inevitable, right?” This terminates the conversation. Her favorite cereal bar, Milk and Cream, is five blocks south; on our way there, I am struck by the word petiole, which can’t characterize her willowiness because a petiole is subordinate in size and function to a plant stem, but plant stem is a feeble metonym for this human’s stature. I don’t share my petiole thoughts with her. “I mustn’t neglect the symphony scene. You arrive late and flummoxed, having just met the prepubescent reincarnation of your decade-dead husband. The camera fixes on your face for several minutes. How did you prepare for this? Did the close-up daunt you? Are you familiar with the theory of rapid facial chromatogenesis?” By now I’m speaking melismatically. She walks ahead of me. “On the set of Dogville, directly on the set itself, Lars drew the outline of a bunny in chalk. Until foot traffic erased it, that bunny was my most formidable scene partner.” Am I the bunny of this walk-and-talk, I think to myself, or is the takeaway its erasure? Sadly, Milk and Cream is closed on Tuesdays.

Paul Bisagni (he/him/his) is a lapsed classicist, one-time applied linguist, and current MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Idaho. His poems can be found in Dream Pop Journal, Afternoon Visitor, and Tilted House and will soon appear in Heavy Feather Review, TIMBER, Guesthouse, Harpur Palate, and Ethel Zine. Alternative versions of him float around Instagram and Twitter @sapphojane.

*Image credit: Still from Yasujirō Ozu’s ‘Late Spring’, 1949.