Trina Burke
Absolute Desire

And what draws your eye is:

a lack of parallel structure.

Inattention to the layering

of hundreds of nanowires.

We do not denote

in numerals. We leave that

for the gods. And who

is the goddess of numerals? What

obelisk do we devote to her?

What leads our ignorance

to labyrinthine asymmetries?

We are so, so lost.

No more breadcrumbs,

no more pocket lint, no more

unwound wool to mark

the way. Now is the time

for wandering concrete-

shadowed paths, for resting

a forehead on the meet

of cool, improbable corners.

Does the dream of citrus

belong here, then? The neighbor man

grafted his trees, a different fruit

for every branch. We called them

Frankenstein and twisted off

the pluots, the tangelos. Left

Valencias for the birds, with not

such easily scalable peels.

Sold not lemonade, but lemons

at the stand on the corner—

to kind neighbors with their own

lemon trees at home. Is it kind

to pay for what is abundant?


Is that ham?

No, it’s kosher.

Security question

for removing

device-degrading impurities

from regions of the wafer.

Gettering, a word learned

from work. Others:

epitaxy, photovoltaics,


How many concepts

can we hold in our words

at once? Questions

to keep one awake at night.

What means—

ways and means and averages and holding knowings and

            “Harsh, unkind!”

Grandmother’s apples:

one kind to eat,

one kind to bake,

one kind to preserve,

and she was never

                        so sick of hers as we were of citrus.

We grew our own

                        let them rot

on the branch, bought grapefruit

at the market for eating,

                        let them rot

in the refrigerator. To her dying day,

she still ate applesauce.


reconciled. Like work.

Like me—my tongue burns

of too much acidity. I would have

rather eaten the wild clover

in the yard, and often did

for the jaw-tinge tang of it.

Bitter grazing and grass stains

on my shorts.

Now you tell me: How do I

escape these aching straight

orchard rows, these turned furrows

where to look one way is to go on

forever, and to look another

is to trip, to hit a wall of silvery

second-best bark?


Father feeds peanuts to squirrels

and phones to tell me.

Mouths feeding. We believe them

grateful. What he means is

“I miss you.” And I say “Don’t

worry.” He’s losing

his hearing. Whatever father imagines

is better. Where he is,

bullfrogs call at night, a chorus.

If I won’t return.

On foot: cairns are piles

to go by, pyramid messages

from previous hikers.

Little play-acting mountains

among mountains. Cairns are

rubble, sure and somewhat harbingers.

Cairns are arrogant waymakers,

maps. Sounders of clack

at ground shift, tattle-tales.

Cairns are servile piles of pawns.

And when did a pawn ever tell you right?

Unlike the pole star,

unlike the grain of sand, of Abraham.

The grandiloquent perspective

of mirror glass.

Minor mined infrastructure,

approximation of order,

myth of the little guy’s triumph

with a sling. Take sleep now,

wait for a passerby.

Wait for company,

leader of the lost.


And how many mothers have I had?

Nurtured, in so many kitchens fed,

Prodigal, arriving

in some woman’s home, awaited.

Surrogate swallowed in hand-me-down

woolens. I am small for a reason.

Teach me your stories, then.

For what else have I come?

Barren sisters,

birth your care packages and I

will carry them. Stuck now

at table, sampling offerings:

gefilte fish and rooibos tea,

quail-egg omelets, instant

coffee and talk—a birth-gush

of so-long-wanting-for

a receptacle. That I am.

That this landscape is a clean slate.

My American patchwork man

hiding in an outbuilding,

eavesdropping voyeur,

window hearth-watcher.

My American Make me happy.

My spirit wells up

and overbrims, gumming up

the underbrush. My American

snowglobe for a shake this scene.

Conducting lives

in liquid constriction.

Wait. This country is wide-open space.

Big Sky identity.

            What exists

outside my western borders,

where level meets winding path?

The future abuts Canada.

This country feeds

buffalo, beef, beefalo.

My American red meat.


Waste no time on the advice of a stone.

Acquaint yourself with the horizon

as you were meant to do. Climb a tree to see

the char and abandon of the foothills,

your once-home a placeholder. Waste

no time on crop rotations and burial.


ribbons of dry riverbeds form no moat,

no boundary. Waste no time deciding—

you are free of rose and plague,

the very immolation of aftermath.

                    Climb the hilltop

and seek the carrion birds. Waste no time

worrying about absence.

You are breathing clean,

tasting your own saline sweat.

You are making ready

for visitors. Waste no time

beating mats, making

beds, preparing a feast

of duck liver and white bread.

Waste no time wishing

for reprieve. You are free,

you can see as one of many.

Kettles and murders and herds and crowds.

Lay your eyes upon all you’ve mastered.


Of hair taboo not to cut.

Excruciating     how we listen, forced

to hear.             So run.                         Run as fast

as you wish.     Speed

of desire,          multiple, multiple

[rhyme here] substitute for echo depth.

Gut-drop,         the candy of worry.

Suck and forget the follicles’ reaping.

Let catch-up happen.     Slap the now-

barrier,             careening vertigo nausea.

Not I am cause-nauseous.         Avoid

hair-anxiety in favor of usage-

consciousness. Remember

only to flick-off the flatiron.

A building in New York,         among other

flat-and-iron things.

Placard-man, Placard-man,      what deals

have you today?          Braids and links

your ply-board armor. Paint-job

sandwich board for celibacy.

A means to saleable dry goods.             Wet-

tress headdress.            Bleach—transparent

solution.          There and not.


And of interest:

Most eruptions occur in May.

One such: Mt. Pelée. Martinique.

On May 7, 1902, one Auguste

Ciparis was arrested.

Accounts vary on his disposition—

fighter, public nuisance, murderer.

On May 8, Ascension Day, the mountain burst.

The pyroclastic flow. The city burnt.

As high as 400° C. Fast as Mercury,

the gases melted glass, metal,

and flesh at ground level.

Below, protected in his dungeon,

Ciparis was still badly burned

and went four days in like state

with no food or water, ignorant of the cause.

Found and sentence suspended,

he spent the rest of his life touring

with Barnum and Bailey, showing off

his rivulets of skin, his melted bits

in all the colors of sunset against

the gray slab walls of a makeshift

cell-on-wheels. When the credulous

patrons asked, “How hot was it?”

He might shrug his ruined shoulders

and mumble, “Hot enough.”

And I never saw it coming.

Linch-pin pulled, post-

catastrophe catatonia.

I was lost in productivity,

filled for want of worry,

carried on waves of paper.

I never saw the slow collapse

of wind, the choking

cessation of breath.

Gut-punch and ensuing

upchuck. Catastrophe

like a lahar, pyroclastic

in scale, at the speed

of unstopped barreling-

toward. And nothing,

not one thing, flashed

before my eyes. I sought

the seaside. Suspension

between above and below.

Expanses of vast,

with not one thing

upon which to fixate.

A childhood fear

of nuclear annihilation:

curled under-desk

bomb drills as blasted glow

beats brick and mortar

and all color awash

upon the cheek one

nanosecond prior to vapor.

Expectant stance: roll open

the window for the cold,

cold ever-winter, flipper baby

cancer scare. I know that no one

would live out thirty years, fifty

years if the world were ending

with his life. Expecting stealthy

disaster. Clever disaster.

A sun to shield me

from night. To filter

through fog kicked up

by dusk and dawn, to succor,

guardian of the wavering plains.

The drying sensation

of sun prior to next-day

burn pain. The stretched

feeling of face over

skull bone. Parched,

smooth, shiny like

new plastic.


And then there was the tiniest woman in the world.

...still, I gave her all my money.

Cotton-candy, all carnies are American and they had to show

        a little black lady kicked back in a recliner

        watching a black and white TV, eating thumbtacks

        and her sign said: I don’t speak English.

Others took her

picture without even asking.

                        I don’t speak English.

The teeth were the biggest thing on her.

                                        I gave

her my money, fistfuls of change and singles.

She couldn’t hold it all in one hand.

        35¢ fell to the hay-strewn floor.

I bent to pick the money up for her.

She smiled.

In that sagging drizzle-slick tent

        faces contorted, fingers pointed.

That one’ll come to a bad end

                                        Did you see and D’ya believe it?

Let’s go see the pigmy goat…

                                        Does it have two heads?

No, but it’s real small like the lady.

Hold up—where’s your ticket?

                                        No ticket, no entry. Please to step out of line.

There’s a guy with skin as paper brittle and as thin.

                                        Well, what about them?

                                        I read they have sex for fun, just like people.

Guess how many drops in the bucket! Win a Miata!

I know I can land a dime on that plate. I know I can.

                        This gun’s got no pressure to it.

                                Spit your gum out and I’ll get you some curds.

                                        The carousel’s the cheapest at two tickets.

                                                                        Carry me. I’m tired.


I can only conceive of

the Kennedy files,

the advent of quantum computing,

the decline of print-text.

You tell me what lies

beyond all that.

I do not have a language

with which to address the future.

Tell me how to talk

to you and I will translate

my stories. Tell me

what you wish to know

and I will tell it

if I know it. If I could

prepare for the means of measure—

the dingy boat lights

that section off your midnight—

I would begin now.

Can you understand the sentiment

if not the form or the words themselves?

Can you believe that I’ve anticipated

the general circumstances

that lead to you, if not

the specific details?

Can you anticipate

my hindrances and meet me,

with my prototypes, halfway

with your basket of maps?

What end is there now to fear?

That we are. If only the cut

should not be clean—

jagged and raw, a slow,

thirsty bleeding-out.

With no den to crawl to,

no saliva left in our mouths

to soothe the wound. And

still we are. Will we

manage to remember

how our bubble burst?

Have you any concept of neat?

Are you there?

Be you? Be you there among

wavering plains? When

have you ever and when

will you? Give us asunder.

Stuck petals of the warrior arcana,

you’ve spent your artillery in vain.

A point and a point-prick—

Good luck

to you and all you stand for.

The experience of immemorial time

had taught us formerly to count

our enjoyments by years.

I am—

just as crickets

draw time out. Turning up rocks

in the field with my boot-toe.

Expect me. I am coming.

We share the plain if not the hour.


“Absolute Desire” takes its title from the last line of George Oppen’s poem “Image of the Engine”.

The phrase Make Me Happy is a reference to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, wherein the monster addresses Frankenstein: “O! my creator, make me happy;” as he begs for a female companion of his own kind.

The lines I know that no one /would live out thirty years, fifty /years if the world were ending / with his life are also taken from Oppen’s “Image of the Engine”.

The lines The experience of immemorial time /had taught us formerly to count /our enjoyments by years are taken from Mary Shelley’s The Last Man. They are spoken by Lionel, the narrator and the titular last man on Earth.