Blackbox manifold

Issue 15: Christopher Cokinos

Fall 1962

What the wind breaks it also carries

– branches, fields, cities, the question

“What key’s been made that won’t be turned?”

In October your mother waddles with you

curled and wet and dumb inside her down

the aisles of the A&P, cart rattling

with canned creamed corn, condensed milk, Blatz

for your father who, like all American fathers, will

this evening fill every tub and sink with water

drowning Brinkley, Smith and Cronkite, a whiskey

sour no match for cortisol, adrenaline contrails

trailing B-58s and footage of Khrushchev and his shoe.

In Cuba, ivory-bills pluck weevils from the slash, Russians

flinching at the jungle flash of color, tinny

trumpet calls of a bird so huge they joke

it could drop their warheads for them. In camo-net shadows,

SS-4s and San Cristobal’s dirt. On the red-finned

Valiant’s radio, The Tornados play “Telstar”

as she glides down sapling curves of Suburban Drive,

guitars that sound like satellites if satellites were guitars.

But the song’s no good. Every crease and crinkle makes her cringe.

This will last for years.

At home the sitter’s turns duck-and-cover into a game

for sister, little red leaves, a wagon.

Between Playboys your father hid

that copy of Popular Science which said:

“Chances are, you’ll be on your own.”

He can almost see the roentgens glimmer in the air. Still,

the Bears are 3-1, Dragnet’s on, or will be,

and at the Sky-line Drive-in, Day of the Triffids,

wool blankets and cigarettes and popcorn and a flask.

We’ve talked our extinction to death. No one

in Indiana has read Robert Lowell. It’s Defcon 2,

and mother will stop smiling after you’re born.

There will be others, of course, the strangenesses sweeping through

your body, the house, a squall line of infected time : running

through glass, his mother’s lithium and shock, the face

in the curtain, your sister’s bloody foot. And that

silhouette in the bedroom door you’ll never stop dreaming,

screaming toward the hallway of the world, the place

where stories tremble first from terror corded into you

then toward resignation, such failures of coherence, or, rather,

coherence of the ciphers you have lately sought

(and made more of) to find your calm

not in purpose, not in meaning, but in these

sounds that fill the times between.


You searched for: elegy, then for ode

These are the things of the morning : liquid

pterodactyl, sunshine toxic, alveoli made hazy

with commutation. Inversions dull

the Wasatch like too much 3.2.

Coyotes edge woad. Sausage by semi, coffee

by Boeing, roofs newly shingled

glint fractures in a kestrel’s eyes.

Indicative of transmission: bars and spinning

icons, tones that interrupt. On a derrick’s lattice,

starlings perch in strange legations.

You’ve misplaced the seasons like car keys.

You watch a warm November on cruise.

Though something like fall scabs the ancient shoreline hills,

though resignation is unsurprise, the bones

of birds at the Great Salt Lake

are still hollow, steam still seeps

from a cheatgrass median, I-15’s little Yellowstone.

Beyond the faceted spurs, past bedrock salient,

in Tintic quartzite canyon waters, a dipper plunges

in the dark, water rising round her head

in a cirque as silver as glaciers

hung above Lake Bonneville. Decisions

mob everyone to breathe. Filaments attenuate.

How many speeds in this account?

Stansbury woke one Sunday morning in 1849

and wrote: ... the lake with is peaks ranges & islands

lay before us ... in great & peculiar beauty.




Flying Clouds, Arizona

Green wind slides bone

around desert marrow, lets the season

get its muscle back.

Everything walks again.

Coyote shakes clean.

The river runs one-day wet

past every underpass

bedroll, and every willow thrashes.

Methane’s flexing lens

leaks above the mines,

trashy sheen. Clouds

fly, buffelgrass

bends, shadow

– black basalt catches

shadow, welcome basin.

Windows slide open

to the city’s rainbow

– the xylophone of forgetful rain.

Christopher Cokinos is the author of three books of literary nonfiction, including, most recently, the lyric essay collection Bodies, of the Holocene. The winner of a Whiting Award, among other prizes, he has had prose and poetry in such venues as Poetry, TYPO, Pank, New Delta Review, Salon, Orion, Ecotone, Science and Extrapolation. A current manuscript, The Underneath, was a recent semi-finalist for the Vassar Miller Prize. The three poems published above are from a new manuscript, The Archive of Obsolete Futures.