Alex Patriquin

Marginalia & found poetry. Short fiction and other projects. Musings  on startups. Photos from NYC and travels.

The Calculus

My hygienist likes to include me
in the decision-making.
“Shall we use the hand scaler
or the ultrasonic today?” she asks me.
I like the way she says “we,”
like we’re doing something intimate
and collaborative,
like building a snowman,
or more like dismantling one
after an ice storm, flake
by frozen flake. “The calculus
is caused by precipitation
of minerals from your saliva,” she explains.
“You can’t remove it with your toothbrush.
Only a professional can do that.” She’s very
professional. She doesn’t dumb it down.
“Pay more attention to the lingual side
of your mandibular anteriors,” she says.
I love it when she talks like that.
I love the names of teeth: incisor, third molar, bicuspid,
eyetooth. Her own teeth are
virtuosic. “Calculus comes from the Greek
for stone,” she says. “In mathematics
it’s counting with stones. In medicine,
it’s the mineral buildup in the body: kidney stones,
tartar on teeth.” She teaches me all this
as I sit there with my mouth open,
looking astonished.

by Paul Hostovsky from "Is That What That Is".

Walking the Dog on the Night before He Is to Be Fixed

As far as I can tell, old chum, neuter
is neither here nor there, but in-between,
a state that has a certain charm, like pewter,
prized for durability, if not for sheen.

Tomorrow night you’ll stroll in wary fashion
after the sleep, the knife, the careful scars
that promise to put an end to wayward passion
not to mention long-imagined wars

for territorial rights, a lady’s paw.
Tomorrow the thermostat is set on cold
in calculated stern hormonal law.
What I know of this is what I’m told:

All veterans must come before the vet
on calendars either canine or lunar.
All lose that first fine frenzy to beget
whether it be later, friend, or sooner.

I toast us both then, Franz, in our decrease,
though there’s no way for you to know that I’m
also tugging manfully at the leash,
waiting doggedly for the nick of time.


"Walking the Dog on the Night before He Is to Be Fixed" by John Stone

The Peach

Overnight, a bat has eaten half the peach,

the rest has fallen on the sad, sad earth.

For you, I leave a portion of happiness.

Me, I shall keep my share of the sorrow.

by Võ Quê


His magniloquent western name

The two men went along some tortuous passages and up a dark staircase and came to a secluded room where one of the stewards was uncorking bottles for a few gentlemen. One of these gentlemen was Mr. O'Madden Burke, who had found out the room by instinct. He was a suave, elderly man who balanced his imposing body, when at rest, upon a large silk umbrella. His magniloquent western name was the moral umbrella upon which he balanced the fine problem of his finances. He was widely respected.

from "A Mother" by James Joyce

The career of our play

The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses, where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness. 

from "Araby" by James Joyce

Tuition of Youth to the Bar

Thus I find myself invested with the unexpected Trust of a Kind of Guardianship of two promising young Gentlemen, besides my own Son. This benevolent office is peculiarly agreable [sic] to my Temper. Few Things have ever given me greater Pleasure than the Tuition of Youth to the Bar, and the Advancement of Merit.

– John Adams, aboard the frigate Boston set sail for France, 1778

If It Was a Snake

You’ve lost something, your car keys, or your watch
and you have searched for what seems like hours. But
then suddenly it appears, right there on the table, not
two feet away. “If it was a snake it would have bit you,”
Mother said. That’s what you remember, a phrase,
an old saying. My sister said, “Grandma told me,
‘Never wear horizontal stripes, they make you look
fat.’ That’s one of the few things I remember about
Grandma.” Or the words disappear and an image
remains. I was getting a lecture from my parents
about riding my tricycle all the way downtown. I don’t
remember anything they said. I remember looking
out the window, it was just dark, and a block away
a man wearing a white shirt and a tie passed under
the streetlight and vanished into the night. That’s all.
Out of a lifetime, a few words, a few pictures, and
everything you have lost is lurking there in the dark,
poised to strike.

by Louis Jenkins

First Desires

It was like listening to the record of a symphony before you knew anything
        at all about the music,
what the instruments might sound like, look like, what portion of the
        orchestra each represented:
there were only volumes and velocities, thickenings and thinnings, the
        winding cries of change
that seemed to touch within you, through your body, to be part of you
        and then apart from you.
And even when you’d learned the grainy timbre of the single violin, the
        ardent arpeggios of the horn,
when you tried again there were still uneases and confusions left, an
        ache, a sense of longing
that held you in chromatic dissonance, droning on beyond the dominant’s
        resolve into the tonic,
as though there were a flaw of logic in the structure, or in (you knew it
        was more likely) you.

C.K. Williams


Here at the Super Duper, in a glass tank
Supplied by a rill of cold fresh water
Running down a glass washboard at one end
And siphoned off at the other, and so
Perpetually renewed, a herd of lobster
Is made available to the customer
Who may choose whichever one he wants
to carry home and drop into boiling water
And serve with a sauce of melted butter.

Meanwhile, the beauty of strangeness marks
These creatures, who move (when they do)
With a slow, vague wavering of claws,
The somnambulist’s effortless clambering
As he crawls over the shell of a dream
Resembling himself. Their velvet colors,
Mud red, bruise purple, cadaver green
Speckled with black, their camouflage at home,
Make them conspicuous here in the strong
Day-imitating light, the incommensurable
Philosophers and at the same time victims
Herded together in the marketplace, asleep
Except for certain tentative gestures
Of their antennae, or their imperial claws
Pegged shut with a whittled stick at the wrist.

We inlanders, buying our needful food,
Pause over these slow, gigantic spiders
That spin not. We pause and are bemused,
And sometimes it happens that a mind sinks down
to the blind abyss in a swirl of sand, goes cold
And archaic in a carapace of horn,
Thinking: There’s something underneath the world.

The flame beneath the pot that boils the water.

by Howard Nemerov

Disappearing Fathers

Sometime after I turned forty the fathers from my childhood
began disappearing; they had heart attacks
during business dinners or while digging their shovels
into a late April snow. Some fathers began forgetting things:
their phone numbers, which neighborhoods belonged
to them, which houses. They had a shortness of breath,
the world’s air suddenly too thin, as if it came
from some other altitude. They were gone:
the fathers I had seen dissecting cars
in garages, the fathers with suits
and briefcases, the fathers who slipped down
rivers on fishing boats and the ones
who drank television and beer. Most of my friends
still had mothers but the fathers
were endangered, then extinct.
I was surprised, though I had always known
the ladies lasted longer; the fathers fooled me
with their toughness; I had been duped
by their jogging and heavy lifting, misled
by their strength when they slapped
me on the back or shook my hand. I kept imagining
I would see them again: out walking their dogs
on the roads near my childhood house,
lighting cigars on their porches, waving to me
from their canoes while I waited on shore.

by Faith Shearin from "Telling the Bees"

On this day in 1434, the River Thames froze over.

The freeze lasted until February of 1435. This was not an uncommon occurrence at the time; in fact, one of the earliest records of the Thames freezing hard enough to cross occurred in 250 A.D., when the freeze lasted for a good nine weeks.

The Thames was wider and shallower then - it had yet to be embanked, and was also impeded by the Old London Bridge, so the water flowed more slowly, leaving it more conducive to freezing, which happened often between 1300 and 1870. This time period was known in Europe as the "Little Ice Age" because of the particularly severe temperatures.

But people back then were made of sterner, hardier stock, and they made the best of it. The ice was thick enough to host what were known as "Frost Fairs," a sort of carnival on the ice. Vendors sold a drink of made of wormwood wine and gin called "purl." It was drunk hot and packed a powerful punch. People enjoyed bull-baiting, puppet shows, nine-pin bowling, and ox-roasting. Boys played games of football on the ice.

During one of the first Frost Fairs (1309), a hare was hunted with dogs over the ice.

During the Frost Fair of 1564, the ice was thick with sleds and coaches, courtiers from Whitehall Palace mixed with commoners, and even Queen Elizabeth came out to practice her archery on the frozen river.

Frost Fairs were often brief, since people had to be aware of rapid thawing, which could cause loss of life and property. In 1789, the melting ice dragged a ship that was anchored to a pub, pulling the building down and crushing five people to death.

The last Frost Fair was held in 1814. The climate was milder, Old London Bridge had been replaced with a new bridge with wider arches, so the Thames flowed more freely. The ice was so thick that year that an elephant was led across the river below Blackfriars Bridge. A piece of gingerbread from the last Frost Fair is on view at the Museum of London.

The last time the Thames froze over was during the brutal winter of 1962, now known as the "Big Freeze." A lone man was spotted bicycling on the Thames near Windsor Bridge.

The Writer's Almanac on Tuesday, November 24th.

Say It

Say that it is the continuous life
you desire, that one day might stretch into
the next without a seam, without seeming
to move one minute away from the past
or that in passing through whatever comes

you keep coming to the faces you love,
never leaving them entirely behind.

Say that it is simply a wish to waste
time forever, lingering with the friends
you’ve gathered together, a gradual
illumination traveling the spine,
eyes brimming with the moment that is now.

Say that it is the impulse of the soul
to endure forever. Say it again.

by Joyce Sutphen

Short-order Cook

An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.

I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He pays.
He ain’t no average joe.

The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop spit spit…
The counter girls laugh.
I concentrate.
It is the crucial point—
They are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fries done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
“Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries!”
They look at me funny.
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success,
thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.

by Jim Daniels

In a Room with Many Windows

In a room with many windows
some thoughts slide past uncatchable, ghostly.
Three silent bicyclists. Slowly, a woman on crutches.
It is like the night you slept out on the sandy edge of a creek bank,
feeling the step of some light, clawed thing on your palm,
crossing to drink. You were nothing to it.
Hummock. Earth clump. Root knob wild in the dark.
Like that thirsty creature, to you.
You could guess it, but you can’t name it.

by Jane Hirshfield 

The choice of a programming language

But the choice of a main programming language is the most important signaling behavior that a technology company can engage in. Tell me that you program in Java, and I believe you to be either serious or boring. In Ruby, and you are interested in building things quickly. In Clojure, and I think you are smart but wonder if you ship. In Python, and I trust you implicitly. In PHP, and we sigh together. In C++ or C, and I nod humbly. In C#, and I smile and assume we have nothing in common. In Fortran, and I ask to see your security clearance. These languages contain entire civilizations.

from "What is code?" by Paul Ford

A Thunderstorm in Town

She wore a new ‘terra-cotta’ dress,
And we stayed, because of the pelting storm,
Within the hansom’s dry recess,
Though the horse had stopped; yea, motionless
We sat on, snug and warm.

Then the downpour ceased, to my sharp sad pain,
And the glass that had screened our forms before
Flew up, and out she sprang to her door:
I should have kissed her if the rain
Had lasted a minute more.

by Thomas Hardy

The Day Nothing Happened

On that day in history, history
took a day off. Current events
were uneventful. Breaking news
never broke. Nobody
of any import was born, or died.
(If you were born that day,
bask in the inverted glory
of your unimportance.)
No milestones, no disasters.
The most significant thing going on
was a golf tournament (the Masters).

It was a Sunday. In Washington,
President Eisenhower
(whose very name induces sleep)
practiced his putt
on the carpet of the Oval Office,
a little white ball crossing
and recrossing the presidential seal
like one of Jupiter’s moons
or a hypnotist’s watch.
On the radio, Perry Como
was putting everyone into a coma.

But the very next day,
in New York City,
Bill Haley & His Comets
recorded "Rock Around the Clock;"
and a few young people
began to regain consciousness …
while history, like Polyphemus
waking from a one-day slumber,
stumbled out of his cave,
blinked his giant eye, and peered around
for something to destroy.

by Jeffrey Harrison

Prayer for the Dead

The light snow started late last night and continued   
all night long while I slept and could hear it occasionally   
enter my sleep, where I dreamed my brother   
was alive again and possessing the beauty of youth, aware   
that he would be leaving again shortly and that is the lesson   
of the snow falling and of the seeds of death that are in everything   
that is born: we are here for a moment   
of a story that is longer than all of us and few of us   
remember, the wind is blowing out of someplace   
we don’t know, and each moment contains rhythms   
within rhythms, and if you discover some old piece   
of your own writing, or an old photograph,   
you may not remember that it was you and even if it was once you,   
it’s not you now, not this moment that the synapses fire   
and your hands move to cover your face in a gesture   
of grief and remembrance.

by Stuart Kestenbaum



Restaurant Overlooking Lake Superior

Late afternoon: only a few old men at the bar drinking and
talking quietly. Waitresses for the evening shift begin to ar-
rive. One stands a moment at the far end of the dining room
and looks out the window facing the lake. Snow is falling. The
lake is completely obscured, but still customers will ask for
tables near the window. A few early diners begin to arrive,
then others. Soon the room is filled with sounds, people talk-
ing, the rattle of dishes, the waitresses hurrying about. The
lake is a great silence beneath all the noise. In their hurry the
waitresses don’t look out the window. Yet, they are in her
service, silent a moment as they fill the glasses with water.

by Louis Jenkins