Oliver Rice

Excursive the Human


Those are a sycamore, a maple, and a spruce,

growing about the countryside.

That is all they do.


This is a sheep,

grazing in the meadow.

Its intestines convey bodily fluids.

That is all they do.


Nearby is a horse,

the hairs of whose tail brush away the flies,

whose skin contains and protects its flesh.

That is all they do.


These are sound waves,

which travel in all directions.

That is all they do.


Here is a man,

at work in a shop.

He hums,

making glue of the horse's skin

and a bow of the hairs of its tail,

strings from the sheep's intestines,

ribs, belly and back plates,

and a neck with a scroll at the end

from slabs of sycamore, maple, and spruce.

He is uncertain what else and why he does.



A Right of the City


Wait, I say to my peripatetics.

Wait. I recognize the man there in the doorway.

By the fragments of soliloquy in his face.

I know the woman coming up from the subway.

By her hauteur and crimson trousers.

I sense an ardor hanging on the air

about the roof lines, the window ledges,

clinging to the shop signs, the traffic lights.

These may be your fundamental offstreets,

your zone of altercultures.


They will be waiting for me at the hotel.


I make a survey of the news,

the rumors,

the predicaments,


the fantasies,

the credulities,


the myths that loiter in the green spaces.


I hear a dialectic between nature and nurture.

A murmuring as from Plato, Nostradamus.


The vulgar, the refined, the divided selves

have a right of the city.

I peer into their privacies

for a sign, a drift

toward a groping destiny in which I,

not utterly hostage to the double helix,

may be invested.


They are waiting for me at the hotel.


Am invested.


Am invested.              



Who Deserves Forgiveness and Why?


I wait, reading about Fuentes,

at a table by a window on midtown.

The novel, he says, is a privileged arena.

I think of the book emporium six blocks away,

of a publisher's warehouse, another, and another.

Arenas. Perennial tournaments.


Privileged seems to imply a high favor granted,

an assured preeminence, an elevated intent—

an otherness between a novel and a Novel.


Awesome feasibilities, I exclaim,

gazing out on the hustling crowds.

The Novel, says Fuentes, claims a right to the stage

where society's debates are conducted,

where archetypal persons play representative roles,


psychosystems loose on the day,

persons worthy of their sorrows,

the body washed up on a beach in Oregon,

a walk through Arab Jerusalem on Good Friday,


himself the Novelist, the dissident craftsman,

liable for all reality,

all fervor, all decorum,

for the shadows in his voice,

the secret weight of his symmetries,

the severity of his continuities—

a lens through which the world observes itself,


the rowan trees overloaded with red berries,

brought to court handcuffed and shoeless,

a gray town lost in a gray desert,


himself a surreptitious protagonist,


his undertaking, I reflect,

calculating my tip,

like pole-vaulting, like warfare, like bel canto,

a confrontation with human circumference,

all destiny in suspense,


sitting cross legged in a bazaar selling bread,

trails everywhere when the French arrived,

please, the father saying, do not come again.



Overtaken Karbacher


The crowds flow between themselves and me,

a sociology, Karbacher,

of auras and occupations,

of vanishing eyes.

Mutual predators have a right of the streets,

persons who wish to be lost or found,

who read allegories in the news.


What, Karbacher,

what does one do with these phenomena,

these images of intellect and danger,

with the fantasies emitted by their faces

who halt the world for an instant,

alerted by rumors out of the undermind,

by signals from the alleys of dead cities?


These are the moments, Karbacher,

when one hears—from deep in the culture zones

where the credulities loiter, the ardors persist,

where the myths, random and ancient,

cast their lights across the doorways—

when one is seized by the unanswerable song,

intricate as the calculus.


From That Place, Those People


Here is your representative newborn human,

all id and ego, will to live,

superego a merest eventuality,

ignorant of Kenya, hopscotch,

Stravinsky, the conventional wisdom.


Here are his parents and grandparents,

conveyors of his DNA,

guardians of record for his acculturation,

themselves randomly knowing,

subject to apathies and illusions.


They, in reverse succession, were once infants,

as were their parents and grandparents,          

and theirs, issue of a virtual bloodline

reaching back some two thousand generations

to the first true man, naked and nomadic


on a veldt with antelopes and vultures,

already beholden to the chimpanzees

for almost all his genetic code,

and to numerous maladapted hominids

for lessons in survival.




Here he is, nursling in a hunter-gatherer camp,

          puling among the middens,

     oblivious to his opposable thumb,

          his versatile larynx,

     his left and right brains,

               to enemies,



     the imperatives of the night.


Here he is a toddler in a first settlement,

               with a cow,

               some ducks,

          and a patch for crops,

          his sensorium budding,

          his locale his world,



     meadowlark tracks in the snow,

     receiving intimations of agility,

               of fable,

     of words with anger in them,




Here he is a lad in a first village,

     some four hundred birth cycles ago

          alert to the faces,

          the secrets of the adults,

          the uses of a stick,

          the acumen of the jackal,



     the whippoorwill mourning at dusk,

     tales of old heroes his only history.


Here he is a juvenile in a first city,



     his ingenuities keen for games,

     for caravans arriving in the market,

          for his freedom to choose,

               to be,

     ugly innuendos prowling the streets,

          of duty to the mores,

          distempers of the households,

               his sloth,

               his fate.


Here an expectant father waking to inquiry,

          brushed by rumors of humanism,


          the traces of anthropogenesis,

               lost cities,

               lost lore,

     of intellect making itself at last a home,




          the symmetries of knowing,

     caught, meanwhile, in the carnal muddle,

          exigencies of the mundane,




          an alien on tragic Earth.




Here is your representative modern neonatal,

inoculated, globalized, technologically alert,

bearer of certain detrimental genes,

asleep in broad daylight, in a media market,

among Freudian, among existential auras,


on whose mentoring air credulities drift,

dark myths, postures mocked by their opposites,

utter misinformation, barbarous memories,

fantasies of Venice, a tea ceremony,

migrating swallows, afterthoughts of statues.

Look at this Photograph

For exploring human nature, said Quintilian,
one household is enough.
Yes and no.
The genome has eccentric tendencies,
random ambiguous inclinations.
Experience has private moments.

Look at this photograph.
You almost recognize the people.
A family. All the generations.
A granddaughter bearing an embryo

who listens already to the babble.
An elder who listens to voices older still.

You can hear a rumbling on their social margins,
a world,
hear a silence left by all that is left unsaid,
nuances of the uncles,
entreaties of the libidos.

You can sense a mores in their postures,
a culture,
sense the lore of their alterselves,
their discarded moments,
unfinished conversations.

They know what we do not,
the small rules of their evenings,
mistakes the light can make,
fantasies that make them cringe.

We know what they may not,
how implacable are the systems,
how much of life is absurd,
how provisional their egos will finally be.

Oliver Rice's poems appear widely in journals and anthologies in the United States and abroad.  Creekwalker released an interview with him in January 2010. His book of poems, On Consenting to Be a Man, is published by Cyberwit and is available on Amazon. His online chapbook, Afterthought, Siestas, and his recording of his Institute for Higher Study appeared in Mudlark in December 2010.



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