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Authors: Harryette Mullen

Sleeping with the Dictionary

BOOK: Sleeping with the Dictionary
8.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

with the

, by Carol Snow

Enola Gay
, by Mark Levine

Selected Poems
, by Fanny Howe

Sleeping with the Dictionary
, by Harryette Mullen

, by Myung Mi Kim

The Guns and Flags Project
, by Geoffrey G. O'Brien

Harryette Mullen

with the Dictionary

University of California Press
Berkeley and Los Angeles, California

University of California Press, Ltd.
London, England

© 2002 by the Regents of the
University of California

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-
Publication Data

Mullen, Harryette Romell.

    Sleeping with the dictionary /
Harryette Mullen.

    p.    cm.—(New California
poetry; 4)

0-520-23142-2 (cloth: alk.
paper).—ISBN 0-520-23143-0 (pbk.:
alk. paper)

    1. Language and languages—Poetry.

   2. African Americans—Poetry.

I. Title. II. Series.

PS3563.U3954 S64     2002
8II'.54—dc2I                    2001048050

Manufactured in the United States of America

11  10  09  08  07  06  05  04  03  02
10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of
Z39.48-1992 (R 1997)
(Permanence of Paper)

Dark words
more radiant
than onyx!

André Breton



All She Wrote

The Anthropic Principle

Any Lit

Ask Aden


Bilingual Instructions

Black Nikes


Bleeding Hearts

Bolsa Algodón

Coals to Newcastle, Panama Hats from Ecuador


Daisy Pearl


Dim Lady

Dream Cycle



European Folk Tale Variant


Exploring the Dark Content

Fancy Cortex

Free Radicals

The Gene for Music

Hitched to a Star


Junk Mail

Kamasutra Sutra


The Lunar Lutheran

Mantra for a Classless Society, or Mr. Roget's Neighborhood

Music for Homemade Instruments

Naked Statues

Natural Anguish

Once Ever After

O, 'Tis William

Outside Art

Present Tense

Quality of Life

Resistance Is Fertile

She Swam On from Sea to Shine

Sleeping with the Dictionary

Souvenir from Anywhere

Suzuki Method

Swift Tommy

Ted Joans at the Café Bizarre


Variation on a Theme Park

Way Opposite

We Are Not Responsible

Why You and I

Wino Rhino

Wipe That Simile Off Your Aphasia

Xenophobic Nightmare in a Foreign Language

X-ray Vision

Zen Acorn

Zombie Hat


I gratefully acknowledge the editors of the following publications and web projects, where these poems have previously appeared:
African American Review, A Gathering of the Tribes, American Poet, Aufgabe, Best American Poetry, Black Renaissance, Bombay Gin, Booglite, Callaloo, Cave Canem Anthology, Colored Greens, Columbia Poetry Review, Combo, Crow, Dia Center for the Arts Poetry Broadside, Empty Set, Facture, Fence, Framework, Gare du Nord, Giant Steps, Hambone, In Celebration of the Muse, Konch, La Jornada Semanal, La Vitrina, Lipstick Eleven, Long News in the Short Century, Mirage, Otra Cancion: Seis Poetas Norteamericanos, Parnassus, Poetry in Motion, Role Call, Santa Monica Review, Southfields, The World, Tripwire, Womenhouse
, and
Xcp: Cross Cultural Poetics.

My thanks to Enrique Chagoya for permission to use his work
Line Essence Color
on the cover. Thanks also to Judy Natal for the author photograph.

with the

All She Wrote

Forgive me, I'm no good at this. I can't write back. I never read your letter. I can't say I got your note. I haven't had the strength to open the envelope. The mail stacks up by the door. Your hand's illegible. Your postcards were defaced. “Wash your wet hair”? Any document you meant to send has yet to reach me. The untied parcel service never delivered. I regret to say I'm unable to reply to your unexpressed desires. I didn't get the book you sent. By the way, my computer was stolen. Now I'm unable to process words. I suffer from aphasia. I've just returned from Kenya and Korea. Didn't you get a card from me yet? What can I tell you? I forgot what I was going to say. I still can't find a pen that works and then I broke my pencil. You know how scarce paper is these days. I admit I haven't been recycling. I never have time to read the
I'm out of shopping bags to put the old news in. I didn't get to the market. I meant to clip the coupons. I haven't read the mail yet. I can't get out the door to work, so I called in sick. I went to bed with writer's cramp. If I couldn't get back to writing, I thought I'd catch up on my reading. Then
came on with a fabulous author plugging her best-selling book.

The Anthropic Principle

The pope of cosmology addresses a convention. When he talks the whole atmosphere changes. He speaks through a computer. When he asks can you hear me, the whole audience says yes. It's a science locked up in a philosophical debate. There are a few different theories. There could be many different realities. You might say ours exists because we do. You could take a few pounds of matter, heat it to an ungodly temperature, or the universe was a freak accident. There may be a limit to our arrogance, but one day the laws of physics will read like a detailed instruction manual. A plane that took off from its hub in my hometown just crashed in the President's hometown. The news anchor says the pilot is among the dead. I was hoping for news of the President's foreign affair with a diplomat's wife. I felt a mystical connection to the number of confirmed dead whose names were not released. Like the time I was three handshakes from the President. Like when I thought I heard that humanitarians dropped a smart blond on the Chinese embassy. Like when the cable was severed and chairs fell from the sky because the pilot flew with rusty maps. What sane pilot would land in that severe rain with hard hail and gale-force wind. With no signal of distress. With no foghorns to warn the civilians, the
pilot lost our moral compass in the bloody quagmire of collateral damage. One theory says it's just a freak accident locked up in a philosophical debate. It's like playing poker and all the cards are wild. Like the arcane analysis of a black box full of insinuations of error.

Any Lit

You are a ukulele beyond my microphone
You are a Yukon beyond my Micronesia
You are a union beyond my meiosis
You are a unicycle beyond my migration
You are a universe beyond my mitochondria
You are a Eucharist beyond my Miles Davis
You are a euphony beyond my myocardiogram
You are a unicorn beyond my Minotaur
You are a eureka beyond my maitai
You are a Yuletide beyond my minesweeper
You are a euphemism beyond my myna bird
You are a unit beyond my mileage
You are a Yugoslavia beyond my mind's eye
You are a yoo-hoo beyond my minor key
You are a Euripides beyond my mime troupe
You are a Utah beyond my microcosm
You are a Uranus beyond my Miami
You are a youth beyond my mylar
You are a euphoria beyond my myalgia
You are a Ukrainian beyond my Maimonides
You are a Euclid beyond my miter box
You are a Univac beyond my minus sign
You are a Eurydice beyond my maestro
You are a eugenics beyond my Mayan
You are a U-boat beyond my mind control
You are a euthanasia beyond my miasma
You are a urethra beyond my Mysore
You are a Euterpe beyond my Mighty Sparrow
You are a ubiquity beyond my minority
You are a eunuch beyond my migraine
You are a Eurodollar beyond my miserliness
You are a urinal beyond my Midol
You are a uselessness beyond my myopia

Ask Aden
for A.D.

Are aardvarks anxious?
Do dragons dream?
Ever see an eager elephant?
Newts are never nervous, are they?


My ass acts bad
Devil your ears Charybdis
Good engagements deep blue sea
Heaven my eyes your elbow
Last night jobs hard place
Now his legs hell
Rock the lines me
Scylla her breasts shinola
Shit the sheets then
Yesterday my thighs this morning
You your toes today

Bilingual Instructions

Californians say No

to bilingual instruction in schools

Californians say No

to bilingual instructions on ballots

Californians say Yes

to bilingual instructions on curbside waste receptacles:

Coloque el recipiente con las flechas hacia la calle

Place container with arrow facing street

No ruede el recipiente con la tapa abierta

Do not tilt or roll container with lid open

Recortes de jardin solamente

Yard clippings only

Black Nikes

We need quarters like King Tut needed a boat. A slave could row him to heaven from his crypt in Egypt full of loot. We've lived quietly among the stars, knowing money isn't what matters. We only bring enough to tip the shuttle driver when we hitch a ride aboard a trailblazer of light. This comet could scour the planet. Make it sparkle like a fresh toilet swirling with blue. Or only come close enough to brush a few lost souls. Time is rotting as our bodies wait for now I lay me down to earth. Noiseless patient spiders paid with dirt when what we want is stardust. If nature abhors an expensive appliance, why does the planet suck ozone? This is a big-ticket item, a thickety ride. Please page our home and visit our sigh on the wide world's ebb. Just point and cluck at our new persuasion shoes. We're opening the gate that opens our containers for recycling. Time to throw down and take off on our launch. This flight will nail our proof of pudding. The thrill of victory is, we're exiting earth. We 're leaving all this dirt.

BOOK: Sleeping with the Dictionary
8.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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