Monday, May 31, 2010

Time's Passed

Time's Passed
by Gideon Burton

It isn't all the constancy of change,
nor that the past recedes with giant strides.
It isn't time is fast, or spreading wide,
nor that it's hard to contemplate its range.
What's troubling is the way we rearrange
the packaging; we change the terms; then pride
ourselves the past is fastened fast inside
events or periods we've made unstrange.
The past is not a line, a map, a thing;
like people: known and yet much more unknown,
compounding with the data and the dust
of what remains and what the present brings.
Its agents surface and submerge. We're shown
what was expected: ah, such pretty rust.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - Martin Ujlaki

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Temper Me in Time

Temper Me in Time
by Gideon Burton

How evenly the flowing water, cold
and clear across the rounded granite stones,
obeys that downward pull toward the bones
and tissued core of earth, a cycle old
as setting sunlight sliding into gold,
then orange, red, then deepening its tone
to velvet violets, with black its home
of peace and pause where time does not unfold.
Broken, and yet I would revise this line;
crooked, disruption that I would disrupt;
mangled and botched, again, let me amend.
For I would straighten even as I bend,
would uncorrode what I do still corrupt.
As evening evens, temper me in time.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - angeloangelo

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Insomnia

Insomnia
by Gideon Burton

The bait of sleep, the worm and hook of rest,
and so I dive and deeper dreaming dive
to pressured blackness, cold and yet alive.
My body to the sandy bottom pressed,
I breathe the salt in sluggish waves.
Descending yet, pretending there is sense,
with swollen hands I part the liquid, dense.
And nothing does, and everything behaves
as though some waking order gently rules.
A manta ray swims blithely through my skull,
and charging over coral comes a bull.
These mortals are, they say, such waking fools.
Comes morning, trances break in foggy rays,
yet linger ocean beds and endless waves.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - mattk1979

Friday, May 28, 2010

Wind

Wind
by Gideon Burton


With soft inflections caught upon my skin
between the twilight crickets' chirping thrum,
the summer tells me language of the wind
as time leaves off where starlight heat’s begun.
A pulse, a wisping, folds of clearest cloth,
the breathing air from canyons out to sea;
it circles back, a weightless, whitest moth,
and yet the wind speaks heavily to me.
Sometimes a smell that tells of forests near
or salty with the oceans’ memory.
It is the medium, the silent seer
that shouts among the branches of the trees.
        So teach me, flowing air against my cheek.
        Your presence is a gift that I must seek.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - Jingles the Pirate

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Korma Karma

Korma Karma
by Gideon Burton

The spices sleep in dryness first, hold back
their sweet and heat, restrained in piquant peace.
But cumin is a comin', oil cracks
and spits at onion, garlic; turmeric will grease
the saucy sauce a mellowed, yolky hue.
Then comes the cardamom and cinnamon.
The coriander, ginger, cloves construe
masala's mysteries. A Solomon
could not unweave the embered cooling burn,
foreshadowed by the vapored summons, smooth
upon the patient palate. I must learn
the map, must memorize this gravy's groove.
      My senses sense what wisdom tells in force:
      Good karma brings sweet korma in its course.
  

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - pyrogenic


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Layers

Layers
by Gideon Burton

Unlike the coats of paint that thinly stack
their history (the door was brown, then red...),
the layers I've detected won't relax
in mute obscurity. They pause, then spread,
at times like liquid dye that stains the light,
at times like cloth that bunches as it drops,
and other times the layers bind or fight
or squeeze and squeeze until the squeezing pops.
I've seen that layer one too many times;
I've shuffled that one deeper in the deck;
I thought I had unlocked that layer's primes,
Some things I hope that layer won't reflect.
      Like skin that grows acute or dull in turns
      Some layers cool, while others twist and burn.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr -  S├ęgozyme

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mucus

Mucus
by Gideon O. Burton

Lugubrious and patient as he slimes
his dark and viscous weight within my head.
He tugs his bitter taffy mass in crimes
of pressured pain and dripping dread.
A hundred tissues bruised with blasting blows,
and yet he lingers, stranding strands of crust;
gelatinous stalactites, grainy flow,
replacing brains with miles of muck and must.
In sour thickness smears my throat and lungs,
his wiggling jelly clogs each passageway–
I cough up gooey golf balls on my tongue;
in rasping pleas my alveoli pray.
     My phlegmy enemy, you shall not run:
     with antihistamines I end your fun.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - G.J. Charlet III



Okay, let me explain. First of all, this is not a photo of me, nor of my children. I'm grateful to the photographer who reached for his camera before a wash rag. The little nipper has a kind of world-weary stare on him I find authentic, something akin to the exhaustion some of us have felt from the drain and pain of this particular bodily fluid. "Why should I wipe?" he seems to say. "More will just be coming." Indeed. Maybe he is just braver than the rest of us. Keepin' it real.

Why write a poem about snot? Is it not a cruel bastardization to transform a sonnet into a snot-et? Perhaps. I wrote this when I felt a lot like this little kid looks, and my defense is that I believe that literature is equipment for living (as Kenneth Burke said). Some people cope by way of heavy doses of decongestants; I cope with stanzas of iambic pentameter. So there.

A word about the first word. I had no idea what the word "lugubrious" meant when I wrote the poem. Don't even know how it popped into my head. Turns out it means "overly mournful." Go figure. The opening image of my poem is about a grieving booger. How tacky (literally!). But I left the word in there out of sheer sound value. I mean, listen to that word! Looo-gooo-bri-us. That is the sound of snot forming, an aural snapshot of that dark, goopy reality. So the word stayed. And I'm done apologizing. If you hate the poem, sneeze at it and move on...

Monday, May 24, 2010

After Poetry

After Poetry
by Gideon Burton


Of what remains, initially the shells
of words, so many husks of verbs and nouns,
there ought to be some substance more profound,
not moody mannerisms one can tell
are just the caricatures of better thoughts
now soured by the pregnancies of doubt.

It is as though a bureau drawer kept
a paper secret, mildewing, that left
no question, nothing like the inky grout
grown resident despite the bleach I’ve sought
with solvent rhythms, music, or the thrum
and swish of even sentences. Reserved
and waiting, venom still intact, the curve
of evening renders every speaker dumb.



Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Image: flickr - photine

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Forgetting Israel

Forgetting Israel
by Gideon Burton

From out of Egypt with a mighty hand
were they delivered, Israelites of old;
with miracles and wonders, signals grand,
more durable than pyramids or gold:
Jehovah's favor, paving dry the sea;
a fiery pillar, scorching Pharaoh's men;
the bloody waters, every plague decreed,
"I can deliver you; I have, and will again."
And yet how thin the memories of them
who gathered manna strewn upon the sands,
who knew the smoky mountain's thunder when
the great God made his entrance, darkly grand.
     How long, oh Lord, until we will be free
     from prisons of our dimming memory?

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - St Stev

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Morning's Reason

Morning's Reason
by Gideon Burton

I am about to reason through the strands
of cooling color robing warm the sky,
and I will question how the mist withstands
translucence as it toys with gravity.
You see, the syllogisms fizzle, damp
as dew along the morning's borders. Mark
the limp equations guessing how the lamp
of dawn will animate the valley, stark
with lumens, wan with wattage, missing all
the galvanizing radiation sprayed
in gushing luminescent waterfalls
across the startled prairies on display.
If only I could seize the airy seas
of atmosphere where breathe the waking trees.



Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Image: flickr - StewBl@ck

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Notre Dame de Paris


To me the social architecture of a cathedral outstrips its aesthetic wonders. A cathedral is a monument to a community, to a way of life, to a view of things bigger than one's own little world. It was Victor Hugo's novel, Notre Dame de Paris, that led me to understand a cathedral's power, and this one in particular. I think the high dynamic range of this photo brings out that sense of the glowing presence this building has had in Paris and in the imagination for centuries.


Notre Dame de Paris
by Gideon Burton

Great ribs of stone rise romanesque, then vault
Into the dark and airy transept's top.
Two vast and colored windows, round, will halt
And heat the light to rosy hues, not stop
The sight of heaven that two hundred years
Brought pious masons, carpenters and all
The cutting grinding laborers so near
To godly mystery, its silent pall
Uplifting with the buttressed walls of mass.
A vision, wafer thin and ruddy red,
In sweaty time to sons from fathers passed
Who saw God's finished house when they were dead.
       She marks the tomb of peasants, and the times,
       Part sepulcher, part temple, part sublime.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Image: flickr - xelcise

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Light Years

Light Years
by Gideon Burton

How is it that our ranging minds across
Both time and space can freely, widely roam,
As though it lay within our means to toss
The years of light aside as waves do foam?
The tides of sluggish time for us will rise
But half a sigh and then return us low
Despite those worlds we compass with our eyes,
Regardless where our starry dreams will flow.
My grandfathers, like distant planets, shine
Across the inky fabric of my past
In dimming rays, and I have yet to find
My kin, beyond one generation vast.
       Our minds behold what never we can touch;
       Our time, our space, three pebbles in our clutch.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Image: flickr - kern.justin

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Varanasi

I wrote this sonnet based only upon vague impressions about the Ganges and its geographical and cultural settings. Then, years later, I visited Varanasi and went out on the Ganges river to explore the ghats and watch the pilgrims bathing and the ashes of corpses floating alongside the tea lights set afloat. I decided my sonnet pegged it. Nice when that works out.


Varanasi
by Gideon Burton


Is this the thin descent? The liquid way
of gossamer and fear? The curry blows,
the crocodiles upset the Ganges flow
enough–not quite enough–to breathe the play
of wind with daylight. All that Muslims pray
ascends in minarets of spice below
the smear of yellow-gray that ebbs and grows,
that closes over India to stay.
The echo of the desert comes to rest
against the twining granite idols, mute
and patient on their broken bases. White
absorbs whatever we had stated best,
and salmon tigers prey upon our brute
reflections, sharpened past the point of spite.



Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Image: flickr - pyjama

Monday, May 17, 2010

Respite

Respite
by Gideon Burton


He’ll lessen these encumbrances. In time
you’ll find the dust to be the least of these
despite its progress: eyes to throat to knees,
the burdens empty every step you climb
along the cloudy mountain crags. The brine
you swallow thins its gruel and the fleas
that chew in grinding rhythms will release
their little jaws, will leave your skin, your spine.
But there’s no telling what might also go–
the bandage gone, the skin too pink and raw.
There can be curses heavier than mud.
But meanwhile in the curling currents’ flow,
be careful of that sharp and gripping paw
releasing you to silent, whitened blood.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Image: flickr - angela7dreams

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Wordy Wormy Path to God

The Wordy Wormy Path to God
by Gideon Burton

With warm abstractions fortune bathes my hopes,
as though the sound of words could baptize time,
could fast adhere to heaven’s dangled ropes;
as though her breath could cause the deeps to shine.
I also summon words and with them pray
to God, expecting, reasoning my way
to fond conclusions.  I have felt their sway
and thought I could with words cause peace to stay,
or at the least some mandate send on high.
But Babel speaks so clearly to my mind,
I fear the house I'm building as I ply
some wordy, wormy path to God. Resigned
to crudest tools, these forms of ink and air;
I wield them, spend them, send them, foul and fair.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Image: Generated through Wordle.net from the words in this poem.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Tentacles of Syllables

The Tentacles of Syllables
by Gideon Burton

Hold on – too many curling tentacles
of syllables.  The fusions didn’t hold
so well. I fear we may have grown too bold;
a smoking film upon the spectacles
betrays the oil of fingerprints.  This spread
of mumbling circumstance beyond the reach
of twine and knots, or these parentheses
(mean-spirited or kind) the last degrees
of nervous breath will still attempt to teach
old molecules to quicken from the dead.
The feint and wavering of upper boughs
suggesting second choruses (or more)
cannot achieve the crease that evening scores
along the sober whisperings of now.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - Tricky

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Plow of Time

The Plow of Time
by Gideon Burton

The plow of time, a cosmic blade that scores
the paths of Jupiters and wobbling moons,
that trenches passive galaxies, that bores
its twilight augurs into day's cocoon.
The scalpel time, irreverent and crude,
repulsing pulses, bleeding rhythms pale
and panting, corpses stiffening and mute,
the oxygen of oxygen grown stale.
The sickle seconds subdividing breath,
pretending order, overturning light
or black or shivering silence blue with death,
with thatched and snapping neurons, darkly bright.
    You bend or measure, clocking endless noon,
    too late, too thin to rhyme with now or soon.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - Lynn

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sea Floor


Sea Floor
by Gideon Burton

I’ve gathered every tentacle, I’ve swept
the ocean byways clean of every shell
and licked the patient coral reef. I’ve kept
each salty grain intact and swimming well,
and now I can at last return to sleep,
though far above the circling seagulls cry.
Just listen to the bony lobsters creep
their way to darkness, cool, before they die.
We’ll walk together, if you will, along
the sediments that ease our common steps.
Ignore the coarser currents, right or wrong,
but pause to feel what plankton swarms inflect.
Domesticated, still the waters flow
more deeply than the very fishes know.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - Raleene

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Renaming Water

Renaming Water
by Gideon Burton


As strange as this may seem – no doubt it will –
the water must receive another name.
Not what its color is or how it spills
across the oldest stones or how it frames
the patterned desert with its silent, white
abandon. No. Perhaps its oil, its crude
antiquity, the way it stains with spite
the spongy tongues we multitudes of rude
imbibers couple to its coolness. It's alive,
you know, malicious with its salty tides
for eons grinding sand the way the hives
of hornets prick the evening with their sides.
A name as sharp to sting, but in degree
sufficient for this moon that rips it free.


Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - Stuck in Customs

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Retreat

Retreat
by Gideon Burton


I will retreat to quiet words and few
enough to tender novel names for rain,
for sleep, for islands washed by rivers through
the thin conclusions of this season's vain
recital of the fragment elements.
They shape themselves to moister paths and long
conveyances of sound, the echoes spent
and spent again compounding in the strong
and warming currents, mouths inside of mouths
along these thin agreements, breath by breath,
by any reckoning a distant south
to thought, as chilling in its focused rest
as sleeping burdens waking, fog and mist,
a melding image, tongueless pushing fists.



Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - tanakawho

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fury

Fury
by Gideon Burton

As heaven’s rivers overflow, cascade
in shearing cloudbursts gray as coal and cold
as wet and naked skin by wind betrayed;
a tumult of the elements grows bold
as timid earth its muddy meadows shrugs,
then coughs in thickened rivers till their seams
unweave fresh powers that with forcing tugs
uproot the oak, bring down the trusses, beams–
so I have been a passive party, mute
in elemental resignation, calm
as nature’s fractured skies or hungry brute,
as ribby children holding up a beggar’s palm.
     As weather will explode then ebbing, slow;
     the fury comes as sure as it will go.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - tab2space

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wine: A Sacramental Sonnet

This piece is a companion to the sonnet I posted last Sunday about bread.


Wine: A Sacramental Sonnet
by Gideon Burton


As human life is held in bloody flow
That pulses in its circuit, keeps us whole,
So this, our Savior's flowing life we know
As we partake the water of His soul.
Confirm, oh God, the blessing of this cup
And let our thoughts recall the solemn deed
When Jesus for our sins was offered up:
The sacramental one who bows, who bleeds!
Our spirit minds flow back to staunch each wound
That each we give unto the suffering Son;
We cannot help to ebb the Savior's swoon,
Yet hoping help, find mercy newly won.
        What's swallowed in an instant and is gone,
        Endures in hearts that holy blood makes strong.



Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - SnoShuu 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Fit for Heaven's Sports

Feeling my mortality after a week dimmed by my friend's death, I remember my faith in the renewal of our bodies.

Fit for Heaven's Sports
by Gideon Burton

With vibrant, living voice, with muscles strong
To push against the hard, ungiving earth;
With eyes to scan horizons deep and long;
With breath, alive with rhythm from our birth–
I have in restful nights upheld a hope
I know is woven in our tissues, bright,
Ascending well above the aspen slope
Of patience, thickly sound and richly light:
Our skin grown supple once again, our hair
Restored in lengthy fitness, every limb
Full ready for the day and then to spare.
Each cup of juice is filling to its brim
        My body, broken, weak and out of sorts
        Will rise with apter arms for heaven’s sports.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - rosswebsdale

Friday, May 7, 2010

My Love My Spring

It was one of those amazing Spring days in Utah today, an ironic counterpoint to the sadness of the funeral for a good man too soon gone. My wife was with me; that made all difference.  This is an imitation of Shakespeare's sonnet 29, included below.


My Love My Spring
by Gideon Burton

When circled by the burst and thaw of Spring,
and yet resisting still its warming rays,
I sift the hours, adrift in moods less clean
than joy, a derelict of tepid haze,
wishing me like those who pray and act,
pious like her, like him with faith in tact,
admiring moods this mood will not attract,
so petty with my sins and so exact;
Yet pushing past this vast and thin contempt,
upward glancing, facing to the east,
my hands entwine with hers whose warmth's unspent;
my little meal's transformed into a feast.
   For when I'm low and turn toward my wife,
   the failing fails, and living turns to life.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: Luann Hawker, WholeGrainPhotography.net

Sonnet 29
by William Shakespeare


When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Warm Spring

Warm Spring
by Gideon Burton


Warm Spring, how many blades of green obey
Your gentle living summons? Tell what gray
And vacant cindered trunks revive in May,
Their sapling strength no longer to betray?
Fresh season, meeting Winter’s tight command;
Persuasion milky warm and rich in spice.
But could you, waking me, bring living twice?
How can the sickened soul in stubble stay
As though the hoarfrost were a funeral shroud?
Will April's God rest sleeping as I pray?
And all Decembers cling and clog and crowd?
     The earth will tilt and life pours headlong in
     I seek the sun, though pale and wearied thin.




Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - MightyBoyBrian

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Rockets


Rockets
by Gideon Burton

The airy tissue of the island clouds
unweaves, collides, then weaves itself again
until an erring kite or plane unshrouds
the azure arch of afternoon, dark span
of thickest oxygen that bleeds into
the black escape of emptiness and time,
beyond the curve of indigo and blue.
The rockets, metal-girded, eager, primed
to pierce both atmospheres and ignorance
attack the waiting sky with trailing flame,
igniting some small part of earth, their chance
to measure sunbeams, or give stars their names.
     A ribbon girds our planet, tightly held,
     yet some escape, like roaring redwoods felled.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - colinjcampbell.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mourning


Mourning
by Gideon Burton

Severe with clotting time, the hours limp
uneven. The ragged mesh of grief
constricts in webbing layers. Pressures crimp
and bind, directionless and blind. A steep
crevasse engulfs and swallows, rough with black
and icy bouldered walls. A grizzled foam,
pollutants heavy in its vaporing cracks,
pours in its choking mass of poisoned loam.
A time is fixed to our arrival, days
to count as child and spirit meld their breath.
But time unhinges, lost within a maze,
when soul from body's ripped in sudden death.
     The time is out of joint and bent askew,
     its weight outweighed in weighing days too few.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - Southside Images

Monday, May 3, 2010

On the Passing of a Friend

Today I was stunned, deeply, to learn of the passing of a friend and fellow professor, Gary Hatch, whom I have known close to 30 years. He was only 46. A pulmonary embolism took his life suddenly last Saturday. It is eerie to me that on that very day I was researching embolisms and other pulmonary problems as I was writing another sonnet. The casual tone of that poem is far from my feelings today. Gary and I shared many interests, and I deeply respected the way he conducted his life with so much enthusiasm, kindness, and interest in the well-being of others. Thank you, Gary. We won't forget.

in memory of Gary Hatch (pictured here with his wife, AnneMarie)

On the Passing of a Friend
by Gideon Burton

We live our lives with confidence that some
are living better. You were one of these
for us, alive to books and language, done
with lesser things, with better things more pleased;
a man of curiosity who shared
enthusiasms freely with us all,
whose even-tempered spirit never flared,
but steadied many far more apt to fall.
Somehow you stayed untouched by all the death
in life, untroubled by uncertainty,
devoting freely hand and heart and breath
to neighbor, colleague, student, family.
     We mourn and wonder, prizing fresh your time,
     while through the skies your gentle spirit climbs.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bread: A Sacramental Sonnet


Bread: A Sacramental Sonnet
by Gideon Burton

O God, Eternal Father, in the name
Of Jesus Christ, thy slain and risen Son--
That we who, heavy laden, full of blame
May through His spirit find our woes undone;
Recalling His weak body, frail as ours,
That long before Golgotha's final trial
Had passions known, disease, fatiguing hours,
The strains all human flesh must know awhile;
That we His name may take into our lives
As emptied Jesus did His father's breath;
That He, His words obeyed, may us revive
As His commands insure our souls from death–
        Bless, we pray, this sweet and saving bread,
        For we shall live who but for Him were dead.

This is an imitation/paraphrase of the prayer offered during the sacrament (eucharist) ordinance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The original text can be found here.  Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - six steps

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Interpreting Chest X-rays

So, I received notice about a new book just out on the subject of interpreting chest X-rays. This ad was academic publisher spam. I'm in the humanities, for crying out loud! And yet, the cover of the book intrigued me aesthetically. It isn't often that you see orange and mauve backlighting the rib cage.:


It turns out there is a whole cottage industry of X-ray art. I love when science and art collide. This is why I'm so interested by information aesthetics and data art. But this book interested me for another reason. As an English professor I've been in the interpretation business for a long time. I wondered, what are the hermeneutical hurdles of other fields? And with something as inherently, literally fuzzy as X-rays, could I find in radiology a kinship with the anxieties of analysis that fuel so many discussions of art and literature? So I glanced at the table of contents.

And there it was, listed under Chapter 7 (on lung tumours), shining like a pearl swept up onto the sand by a friendly tide: "The solitary pulmonary nodule." Now, that might mean nothing to you (and semantically, it certainly meant nothing to me); but for someone who has a keen eye out for found pentameters (examples of iambic pentameter occurring unconsciously in the wild), this was pay dirt. Can you just hear that rhythm? Who cares what it means? That rhythm just sings: "the SOL i TAR y PUL mon AR y NOD ule." Now, purists will note that there is an extra, 11th syllable, unaccented at the end of the line. But that only paves the way for a feminine rhyme (...I'm thinking, "module"?) and has been perfectly acceptable in sonnets (Shakespeare's sonnet #20 is silly with them)

Well, when one is writing a sonnet a day, a found pentameter is pretty much akin to a sign from the heavens. That's when I knew that I must explore the dark art of X-ray interpretation for my sonnet today.  (The image that follows is a chest X-ray that I overlapped with a Rorschach ink blot image to try to suggest the mystery of this sort of interpretation.)


Interpreting Chest X-rays
by Gideon Burton

Ignore the ribs, the diaphragm, the spine--
they orient our looking but distract.
Assess the lung expansion, any line
across the lobes? One part may have collapsed.
Now look for masses, lesions, cavities
for pleural thickening or asthma's signs.
Has emphysema left no travesties?
That does not set aside pneumonia's kind.
No diagonistic radiographer,
I hesitate with certainty to say,
but technically one is the soul's biographer
who tells the tales unveiled in chest X-rays.
     A solitary pulmonary nodule?
     Perhaps, but science darkly blurs its modules.
    
Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship.