from Sofa on an Ancient Sea
Poems by Christopher Cokinos

Cover Image

Photograph of Biosphere 2 by Christopher Cokinos

Contents:  Valley Rain & Mountain Snow
Warm Little Pond, Here is Your Warm Little Pond
You searched for : manifesto
Rocket Garden | A Turn at Wendover
Helmet | The Human Habitat : Fit
The Coastal Desert Biome : Mistaken | Iris
Paleotempest | You searched for : apologia

Valley Rain & Mountain Snow

Morning’s bloody beak glistens by a tassel :
box elder, mouse spine severed in the tree.
8 minutes ago is the sun behind the kestrel.
Dip into the sheep’s swale. Make a prism of scissors
to cut some other cord.
Phoneme is synecdoche. Bird call,
the fluid strata of your thigh.
You came beautifully while watching a vulture,
sandstone underneath. Now
it’s raining, and the mountains, also pale,
wouldn’t have you find some other nerve.
Pull the prism from your gray stubble, senseless
actants making do, water running edges
that you trace, fluting meadow
lark a recent innovation, all the same :
Cup your hands with leaps
and things hooked inside us, feeding, the
afternoon a sofa on an ancient sea.

Warm Little Pond, Here is Your Warm Little Pond

That was nice. Writhing up from the taste
of butterscotch. Prickly.
Smooth. Time that wet
beneath a small sky full of planes.
Then it was over. Chemicals
in empty space, sine wave of the bridge.
Unflattering, careless posture.
In one place, travertine. In another, avocets.
But it was okay that it was over.
Red cast of the last analog dusks.
A hemisphere of almond blossoms
beneath every orchard tree : a world
is a shape. Each is empty.

You searched for : manifesto

As ever, never, whether this nostalgia
is rich in arty calories or—
The expulsion of exile
because because is fall.
Evening texts : “You have the golden bid.”
It only seems subsequent.
Cognitive estrangement drools on the pillow.
Einstein will call it the block universe, past
and present and future heavy all at once.
If this were proof, it portends to prove.
If victory, upturned faces already framed.
If waking, both succor and despair.
If only, another animal made plural from some early future.

Rocket Garden

Empty missiles pinned like beetles to the ground. History
peeled on placards, sunbaked metal, the signs are brown.
Alone with the promising age, greasy with tyrants
and buttery fear for t.v. dinners, unreal the smooth
gyroscopes of intention moving only with punch
-card code, unjostled by sleek velocities, re-entry’s
ideology, airburst’s ideology, transcendent, suborbital, technically
sweet for you, sick boy. Equations are gods—
Nike, Atlas, Titan—as though they ever helped, really.
What can you offer them now, these metal tubes that are
indeed outsized movie fauna? The beautiful failure
of your global nostalgia? Some promontory
of attention : a middle-aged dusk in spring, a fence post
meadowlark singing beneath Venus, hot world
that started out like Earth?

A Turn at Wendover

Off hours the men
would play a juke-box
in a cave, the Silver
Island Range, salt flats
like a flash that lasts
a few millennia on Earth.
They bombsight-dropped
their dummy “pumpkins” on Utah,
practiced the high, hard, steep
bank, one switchback
in the sky. Tibbets didn’t tell them why.
Your copy of Hiroshima
you tucked in the derelict
hangar door. But admit it :
You would’ve loved to have seen it once, wouldn’t you?
At least once, trenched
in Frenchman Flat, where
you’ve toured and touched the bones
of pigs by the bridge
that mostly disappeared.
No pigs, no goats, no humans, no chickens.
Like in a test-site movie, just
to see it, the climax of tiny gestures
inside the bomber’s cockpit
that you witnessed, nestled in junior high
by a crewman who flew the boom, latching
like a simple thought
to refuel the Stratofortress : Your career
in stronium-90, archived in a silo
you might well have read in.
Now it’s sort of a
fucked-up mental tourism,
a weirdly pleasant animal birthday,
red-giant genesis with two ends that both say, “Start,”
shaking mantled sheets of ice from the fiery rise.


at the Mars Desert Research Station, Utah

Hum of the pack.
Janky tubes that have their purchase
on your helmet’s clear globe,
scratched surface of that world,
view and obstacle, as though
sight alone is what we need
to face the variegations of
this terrain and the next. Your
childhood wish comes to this :
poet in a jumpsuit to witness
engineers and their difficult gloves.
(Ingenious is also a kind of sadness.)
Wind on skin, just
slits of vents.
In walking this arroyo
our capitulation. Years
before, along the rim
of a crater, along tubes
of lava, they practiced with scoops
how to sample lunar soil.
They drove rigs ungainly
in suits so firm to move a finger
was exhausting. For awhile it’s enough.
Then hand lifts to eyes and it’s glove, it’s glass.
“So, Commander, the audience wants to know :
When you lift your visor, what rushes in?
Cold equations—scent of pinyon—
wood smoke? What vacuum
makes the difference that we seek?”

          — for Kim Stanley Robinson

The Human Habitat : Fit

at Biosphere 2

Welcome to our synecdoches,
a series of boxes.
Twice-paned to mountains, glass
between you now, visitor,
and what we were, jumpsuited
in orange to forage for
mammoth spears, coffee beans, delta v,
and the books aloft
in a distant library, that old motif :
tower in the sky.

Failed by concrete, saved in part
by paintings of our somewhat precise
home and the mountains’ arid flats.
Over there, wondering if you could
scale our theatrical vision, the 100
-year business plan. Today the door,
for you, is open. Come home.
Amble in scrawl,
records of chicken feed, the sniffer
journal, lectures we gleaned
before the sealing :

...unexpected catastrophes...the key problem w/ extinction... how resistant is the Biosphere to change?

You see the ugly cabinet and ugly desk,
t.v. and Sony mini-stereo?
You pad a dingy carpet, climb
circled stairs to a tiny bed. Stop
your prattle, please. We slept here. Simulacra
grew angry, yes, and we spat,
but we kept house, we kept clean. At night, we might
pull down Aristotle on the thumb :

...for in grasping an object, as a workman grasps his tool, it is the central part of the encircling hold which is of the most importance.

Our gullible basis and our bravery, which it was.

Try on the dirty stiffness, the black piping.
Jumpsuit orange is official
but also friendly, signed like a yearbook
by those strangers who showed up, empty
pockets we meant to fill with moons.
The zipper pulls
and it fits, a recluse chair and mission
you can end. Vents. Service
of air, technics’ muffle and rumble,
pale sound that never stopped

till we, like you, airlocked out
to blink a bee-tree rhapsody
and sink agave into the spine.

The Coastal Desert Biome : Mistaken

at Biosphere 2

When she flies to glass (outside), I fly to glass (inside).
When I call to her, I call to her.
When we fly away, fly away.
When I perch on agave to make my wren chatter,
from agave, I chatter. I gather
sticks under struts and sticks under struts.
Like me, the other here, a male, and we look.
At present, I am sitting in a spurge
flowered by a plank of tourists. They listen. You measure
to figure, you broke the seal, and—aha!—I scootched through.
Am I the worm in the apple who thinks the world is an apple?
When I prefer, I prefer more sky. When I forget, I forget.
Limitation is confinement only by mistake.
Pity : Your problems with death are so boring.


of unearthly green, October’s
flying saucer, mythic gash after
the Moon goes down, Andromeda
glows like the old t.v. just clicked off,
dark trailer, where your hand presses
relic traces like a sick oscilloscope on the screen.
Having taken so long, it goes fast.
Distinction upon distinction upon distinction.
Eyepieces, spooky wheeze, thorax
of a trilobite you dug once out of shale.
Galactic tufts of snowy virga, uncanny, your
sagebrush seconds, cold grass, the bright
and unresolved core, faint arms edge-on.
Vacant basin eons, the blur still reaches
after two million years—after more—after
anthem and test pattern. Back then, there was an end
to the broadcast day and you’d be alone, left
with that huge owl thrashing in the woods
and all you thought you might become.
The window is open. The crickets when
you’re 10 are the crickets when you’re 50. 20,
30 Octobers from now, the same.
The leaves are down. The red leaves.
You can see more clearly the mountain.


Valley of the Gods, Utah

It only seems this wind will never end : prime
primal, Hadean zircon, eyespot
of the trilobite, the republic’s latest
hurricane or that one, the next Cretaceous
cyclone in what is now
wherever. Such hellacious dust-ups to gorge,
crying animal minutes to shadow
-sun on red stone to black mesa
throat of a black-throated
sparrow, tonight’s white heat :
primrose, cumuli, main sequence
stars wend themselves in superscript.
Transgression took a long time, more or less.
Sediments loosed till settled, swirled
a cap then they lit a fossil by reminiscence.
You arrived to earthshine roadcuts
and Tuesday’s crepuscular buttes, crypto
-biotic towers by a path. Drive
in beauty,
the blue signs had said, the age
storming its lazy eye, its halo
of dark matter, a lately wished
annulus a fuzzy thing that someone dying
repeats and groans and grows not weary of
but just tired enough. Or maybe that is weary.
Maybe it is. Distended
on its side, regardless, used up
and somehow not resentful.

You searched for : apologia

Brimming with reticence, you rest beneath
rabbitbrush and dubious willow beside
the Little Lost River. There are mountains breaking
behind you and across and you can’t see them.
This is the shade of false
Solomon’s seal, cricket noon, tricked by dark,
harrier surprised as you are
that you’re there. You can stand
and turn and ask the haze why it makes the ranges
degrees of gray in silhouette, why boreal smoke
veils sturdy as schist, dreary
familiarity having muttered and too long
looked, having had the inexcusable excused
by moment-saying, speechy critters that we are.
Idaho’s petite Wordsworthian glade begs : enough of you.
The tradition begins and ends in crippling introductions.

Christopher Cokinos’s newest book is the 2019 collection The Underneath, winner of a New American Press Poetry Prize selected by Gabe Gudding. He has a poem forthcoming in Dava Sobel’s new poetry column in Scientific American and an essay on the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer recently in Dark Mountain. At work on a multi-faceted manuscript about the Moon, Cokinos is also co-editor, with Julie Swarstad-Johnson, of Beyond Earth’s Edge: The Poetry of Spaceflight, due out in fall 2020 from the University of Arizona Press. The poems in this Mudlark Flash are from a circulating collection called “Sofa on an Ancient Sea.” A professor at the University of Arizona, Cokinos divides his time between Tucson and an old cabin in Northern Utah’s Logan Canyon. He has a telescope and can show you sights on the Moon.

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