Neil Aitken

Two Poems

Compile

This is how all small things come together at last.
The story I recorded night after night in code,

now made plain and simple, a liturgy offered to those
born of fire and desert dust, made lightning here

in this moment of translation, when the congregation
of lines, that collected memory, becomes a calculated will,

and something stirs each yes and no into a life
that will not be contained, that presses on, anxious—

always asking what is to be done, who will do it,
and what is this message that must be carried

to the world listening outside these trembling walls?

Object

We are, after all, obsessed with structure, with the simple refusal
of chaos, the rise of a universe ordered by one's own hand.

We know the secret, that every thing descends from something else,
evolving one method at a time, holding within itself a little dream,

a little script of what is to be said and done at the beginning
and at the end. Buried in our hearts, a mechanic's delight in fitting

things together, in the elegant marriage of form to function.
Here we write and inscribe our will into a reasonable architecture

made intelligent by craft. This thoughtful world of intersecting lines,
an elaborate web, or the scarce heard symphony of crystalline spheres—

whatever speaks to the perfection of an idea and how it resonates
across a page of memory. Like all imaginary kingdoms, it will fall.

Someone always arrives, descending from the floors above, clipboard
in hand, to ravage it—to unravel what we have spent weeks we weaving

together. And we will sit, wordless in our cells, without a thing to say
in response. Bare, undone, our hands opening and closing in fists,

while their lips move and their voices drone like locusts wheeling overhead,


Neil Aitken is the author of The Lost Country of Sight (Anhinga, 2008), which won the Philip Levine Prize, and the founding editor of Boxcar Poetry Review. His second book of poetry, Babbage’s Dream is forthcoming from Sundress Publications late 2016. A former computer programmer and past Kundiman Poetry Fellow, his poems have appeared in American Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, and many anthologies. He currently lives and writes in Vancouver, WA.


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