But Our Princess Is in Another Castle: The Lost Levels

In the final stages of making a book, you need to make some Solomon-like (Solomonian?) choices about which poems belong in the larger scheme of the book, and which don’t fit.  Of course, first you need to ensure each poem can survive on its own merits.  In this way, from manuscripts I’ve cut poems that were originally published in lit mags, as well as poems that were sentimental to me–thanks, Faulkner.  Below are three poems that didn’t make the final cut for But Our Princess but which I think hold up reasonably well on their own.  Some of the images were cannibalized for other poems, but mostly I find these a little weirder than the rest of the book, and therefore less coherent, less fitting.  So I’m releasing these as B-sides, as secret levels.  They’re the areas the programmers don’t necessarily want you to see.

* * *

Minesweeper

Shrunk to the size of a pencil point, I walk among the actuarial tables laid out like a graveyard at night.  At my feet a grid of multicolored numbers glows, as if I’m dancing on the disco floor of death.

Gray men with gray hands doing gray work!  The widows in Tulsa!  Mosquitoes drunk on malaria!  A hangnail cut down in its prime!

It’s easier to run in a field than climb through some cobwebbed crawlspace.  It’s easier yet to circle your subject.  But sometimes I prefer not knowing what’s revealed with my next step:  a train wreck, a bull charge, the secret desert where they keep missiles like charmed snakes, a childhood memory of snow, the day’s first kiss with you.

Like a zealot, I plant my flags only in the most beautiful and dangerous places.

* * *

Sonic the Hedgehog

In the beginning, there was Chaos.

It’s easy to forget this, now:  the way our cars so reliably run.  There are rings around Saturn and our fingers, a whole fleet of them packed into a cigar.  There are emeralds which become people’s eyes.  Then there is the way your high-school chemistry teacher slapped a periodic table in front of you and said, Everything! is made of only these, and some don’t make anything yet.  Saying ununtrium, ununquadium, ununpentium like a litany.

Listen.  Do you hear music?

It’s the whirring of robots, the turning of gears, a plinky pinball machine, a chorus of woodland creatures at dusk.  Run faster, if you can.  You hear the symphony of blood, wind, and rubber.

In the beginning, there was Sound, and it took almost forever until a man in a flight suit broke it.

* * *

Mappy

It was the week the computer crashed, its hard drive scrambled as an egg.  Occasionally, a mousetrap would snap for no reason, killing nothing but time.

No one thought to call the police or the houseplants by their given names.  No one remembered to turn on the radio.  I was watching paintings to see if their eyes moved; you were trampolining between jobs.  Those nights, the television only played sitcom reruns, the laugh tracks like a roll of quarters washed down a garbage disposal.  Silver shards.  When off, it was a gray mirror:  the light through the blinds like paper cuts, the orange dot of a streetlight giving its science lesson about sodium, vacuums, incandescence.

It was the season of reheating soup in the microwave.  It was the year of carelessly opening and closing doors.

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