Randy Cauthen







Down Here in the Chain of Being


Under the half-risen January moon that’s warmer

somehow than anything else tonight

three lowering clouds bound in stars:

more rain for this city of wet statues.

Night flickering in the street,

in dozens of rainwater pools, that moon

blurred differently in every one.


Beside me the monument to the Confederate soldiers

of Sumter does her job, which is

to stare sightlessly out toward the Atlantic,

while just out of her range of vision,

across on James Island,

a whole house abruptly goes dark;

there’s no one else alive tonight; the city’s mine.


Two thousand miles away from here,

twice my lifetime ago, in July, 1945,

at the Alamogordo Bombing Range,

on the night before the Trinity test,

in between thunderstorms,

the physicist Emilio Segre

(also unable to sleep) was distracted

from reading Camus by a loud,

completely unfamiliar noise.  Taking a flashlight,

he stepped out of his tent to find,

in a gulch that had filled with water,

hundreds of frogs making love.


« Whenever anything reaches its own perfection,

we see that it cannot endure to remain in itself,

but generates and produces some other thing.”

Plotinus, who was, they say, ashamed

of his own bodily existence, said that;

what he would have made of those frogs

reaching their own perfection the night

before the world changed, God knows.

Because he was ashamed, we know almost nothing

of him.  And the older I get,

the more convinced I am that I know less than nothing,

that life, the life, is taking place, here, but

just beyond my range of vision it shatters and reforms

like the spilt moon, like the split predawn:

those things that iridesce at the edge of the knowable:

the new child who remembers only a constant thrumming,

constant satiety, then a fall

[no stanza break]

broken by the cord to the mother;

the mutterings while asleep old lovers made,

all untranslatable.  Those things

that change color when held up in memory:

the inexorable betrayal of age becomes the knowledge

of how to love, how the heart in its long lurching

after failure sometimes grows wise:

it wants to break out of the chest and do nothing all day.




Night Watch


Wilshire and Veteran almost 5 a.m.,

strange signs are lit – the manicurist,

the Methodist Church, and random lights

twelve floors up where the state

and its subcontractors live, where

they just might be producing

the equation that will save us all.


It‛s a jigsaw puzzle.  If you could fit

together all these lights scattered

across the city you’d understand something

you can’t even identify yet.  For now,

the wheels that turn the world are silent.

The locked lit buildings announce

themselves to the whitened sky.




The Spirit Draft




Carrying a bundle down the road,

when she pulled back the cloth

it was an old woman’s head,

cradling it, it was important to protect it

though it was nobody she knew.

Protect from what she also didn’t know.

When the road forked,

she didn’t hesitate a second.

Then the road crumbled away

on the left down a bare steep hill,

down it flowed water, not enough

to say waterfall really,

when she turned round to see it it was

blood from her own vagina,

milk from her breasts,

water from her eyes.




She dreamed the trees had eyes:

not all of them, the broadleafed ones,

maples, elms, oaks,

and not all those

but many, eyes

blue like her own,

held in the palms of the leaves,

lidless, pupilless, but

somehow still expressive,

gazing on her without judgment or,

maybe, infinitesimally bemused.


Afterwards, for days

she remembered:  when she would

see an oak or maple

it seemed it had been

looking at her just before.

From this she took away,

for days, the easing of

a kind of paralysis of the will,

a sense nothing would ever change.












Randy Cauthen is Poet-in-Residence and Professor of English at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has also worked as a horse-drawn carriage driver, First Mate of an Erie Canal packet boat, disc jockey, bartender, and actor, most notably in the world premiere of Samuel Beckett’s “Radio One.” His books are Slow Night (poems), The Use of Force (poems) and Black Letters (nonfiction). His blog Killing Goliath (in collaboration with Tom Dolan, Don Aplin, and Mike Haile) was named by The Guardian (London) as one of the best American antiwar resources during the Bush Administration’s marketing campaign for the Iraq War.


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