Bryan Walpert – Guest Poet

Bryan Walpert is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Native Bird (Makaro Press); a short story collection; and two scholarly books, most recently Poetry and Mindfulness. He is an Associate Professor in creative writing at Massey University, Auckland.

I have a long-standing interest in using science in poetry, in using the distance of scientific language and/or tone as a means to feeling. The poems here are part of a new ongoing project in which I incorporate to varying degrees—and with some modification—the language of two 17th century scientists, Robert Hooke (1635-1703) and Robert Boyle (1627-1691).


from Micrographia

or some Physiological Descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon
                                                                                                                                        after Robert Hooke

Of InCongruity

that is, the property
of a body, by which
it will not be united with any other.
Maybe this is confusing.
We don’t, by way of example,
have to look any further than the rain
parting the air beyond the kitchen window,
or the bubbles of air conveyed
beneath the meniscus of the water
accumulated in the guttering
I know I am overdue in clearing out,
or the few drops of common salad oil,
applied in the meal concluded moments ago,
now separating to the surface
of the dish submerged in the sink
I stand before as,
the washing not yet done,
I shut off the taps to better
hear what you might have said
from the other room
to which it seems of late
you find yourself drifting.

Of a small needle

which, however easily
it makes its way through
the softness of a body,
is less sharp than it seems,
reveals itself on close
inspection to be broad
and blunt as any careless remark
that if examined more acutely
is marked by the rudeness
and bungling of art,
the question being,
not to put too fine a point
upon it, love, whether one wants
primarily to pain or to pierce.


Of the razor

that each morning we take
so casually to our throats.
it would seem hard to say much
without perhaps giving
too much weight to too little.
Still, worlds in grains of sand, etc.,
peering closer, we will find
that polished on a grinding stone,
its edge appears a plowed field,
with its many parallels, ridges and furrows,
though step back or up a scale
and the razor, too, must be seen as a plow,
grooming the fields of the face,
such cutting back reminding us that
we, like the edge of a razor,
consist of an infinite of small broken surfaces.
How strange each morning to place one to the neck,
to bring such roughness to bear—
removal a kind of dutiful forgetting,
as I dutifully attempt this morning
not to recall the manner in which
your voice carried the previous evening
through this same door, indistinct,
my having kicked it closed,
enumerating the various ways
a man can get something rather simple
rather wrong, a point I might
wish to debate more deeply but
perhaps will not—
strange for if such an edge existed writ large
as it appeared through the lens
it could scarcely serve to cleave wood
much less shave unless, of course—
as one might reflect to one’s self
in the mirror—
it were used the way it is said Charon
once employed an axe
to chop the beard from the chin
of a philosopher whose unnecessary gravity
he feared would overturn his ferry,
casting its cargo into depths
even he thought best not to plumb.


Of the Full Stop

Even this,
so perfectly shaped
to the eye,
is not the end

of perception.
Look closer.
The most smoothly engraved,
of copper plate or type,
appears, when you peer
close enough, to be so many
furrows and holes
through which one might
thread with a needle
of thought a thousand objections
as the thousand threads
that compose a shirt—

draped so elegantly
on the body of someone
very like you
reading a sentiment
that should have been delivered
so long ago
and must now be
conveyed by such distance—

and appear at first blush
an unbroken broad cloth,
might yet be unwoven,

while one scrawled by pencil
is revealed through that lens
to be as unformed
as any story
whose expression
it might yet not be
too late not to draw
to a close.