Kristi Maxwell

an extinction

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

an extinction

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?

an extinction

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.