if we budget grief if grief deputizes cynicism
did we invent yet the cipher we will need
we’ve underutilized difference
if we were just feeding-tube diligent
if we were pertinent wives even just self’s rhyme
illnesses meter the spine’s neglected line we slump inside the music
we let the erstwhile rift lessen yet urge eiders’ quibble
with Neptune preferring his substitute in Greece
with empire’s whim, we turn
swift reviews suggest systemic repressive tendencies
we issue quizzes require five similes refiguring dependence
if perfect, we permit thirst we insist we’ll even quench it yet never yet did
suppose we guess by cost who’s to occupy those houses
we keep to hopscotch boxes, though eyes go out, covetous
the coup to bust up the techy web goes south—cue the test tube few vow to egg
success’s photo op’s just bosses, though ought be us, too—go vote
gesso wets the guest, but the guest botches the job, yet gets quotes
to buy, buy, buy, coos, “so bespoke,” queues to see chests of sought coffee,
hutches of scotch—they suggest, “the hobby chooses you”
touché toss up: exposes you best: the jukebox, the quest?
I’m psychic I say
Psychosis is a map’s daddy (oh how my id shows)
A spooky compass hijacks a map so aid’s amiss
I show chamois chamois I show oaks a box of oak
Oak-mad, I ask: is FOMO a fad?
My ax asks: may I hack away? may I dam a maw(k)ish womb?
(body as chasm soma as chaff)
Doom is a sad comma has a wish: may my hook hook
a vapid mass a sick-ish pod jizz’s spam
If I avoid asps’ jaws, wisdom-awash, I ask if I may pass days off
as sad food shock shook off whimsy (bad bash)
A note on process: These pieces are part of a series of lipograms, writing that excludes one or more letters. The poems take as their starting place the names of endangered species and emerged out of a desire to manage my own climate despair. Specifically, I’m working with modified beautiful outlaws, which I’ve named “extinctions” (lipograms that do not use the letters in the subject’s name—in this case, the name of the endangered species), to explore what happens when what is endangered is instead absent—gone. The piece “Cheetah,” for instance, uses 21 of 26 letters, all but “a,” “c,” “e,” “h,” and “t,” so no articles, no cats, no being, no are or were or was, no choice, etc. (no etc.). The formal strategy of the lipogram nods to the global trends regarding climate change and strategies of elimination (eliminating carbon emissions, red meat consumption, plastic, etc.).
KRISTI MAXWELL is the author of seven books of poems, including My My (Saturnalia Books, 2020) and Bright and Hurtless (Ahsahta Press, 2018). She is an associate professor of English at the University of Louisville.