Blackbox manifold

Issue 14: Sarah Howe

Sky is always the hardest part


I need to skype to tell you the Mayans

independently imagined the wheel

but dawn is still three hours away

in Petersburg: in your hotel room’s dark

a clock throbs its terminator eyebeam

red. Ever wonder how you died in your

last life? No, you wouldn’t would you. Besides

a bunch of early civilizations

share the selfsame gong. Maybe they burned you

at the Salem stake. The ancient Maya,

seeing no practical application

for the funny rollable disks, confined

them to children’s toys. What I mean to say

is, those who hurt you, I will eat their eyes.


The sun stutters up like a porny .gif

which for you pans the tracking shot of noon.

A fathomed ringtone gargles. Our breathy

pixels mingle, split, miss each other down

the wire. Does material physics call

for a personable God? You have spent

the morning caught in a shoal of tourists

muscling against the Hermitage’s stream,

instincts thick as curdled spawn. We invent

Him in our webcams’ image: electrons

made flesh, that panting beat, window onto

haloed elsewhere. We play at a game called

‘guessing thoughts’. My staticky words ping back

like ozoned heat, solipsistic plainsong.


The pesky moon, always bouncing away

on urgent business, its huffed thumbprint hangs

in the afternoon’s viewfinder. Same old

misery squeaks by on miniature wheels –

pinned through a clay llama’s ankles. This is

not a trope. Your on-train wi-fi means I

can hear how the tooth is hurting again.

The Mayans thought time was a wheel. This side,

only the busker’s plastic violin.

Is that a tunnel’s roar? Your jigsawed thoughts

I rotate, sort into piles of graded

cyan, the pieces with a telltale tranche

of moon. I have no idea what goes in

here. Continents swim and shrink around you.

Sarah Howe is the author of one collection, Loop of Jade (Chatto & Windus, 2015) and a pamphlet, A Certain Chinese Encyclopedia (Tall-lighthouse, 2009). In 2015-16, she will be a Fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute. Her website is