Alex Patriquin

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

Precision German Craftsmanship

It was a good day and I was about to do something important 
and good, but then I unscrewed the pen I was using 
to see the ink. Precision German craftsmanship. 
The Germans are so persnickety and precise, 
they wash their driveways. Their mountains and streams 
dance around each other in a clockwork, courtly imitation 
of spring. They build the Panzer tank, out of rakes 
hoses and garden gnomes; they built me. 
And I’ve seated myself above an avenue on the brink 
of mystery, always just on the lip, with my toes over the lip 
but my bowels behind. 
When I replaced the ink the sky was socked in, 
only one window of blue open in the north, directly over someone. 
But that person was reading about Rosicrucians in the laundromat, 
he was unaware as the blue window closed above him. 
The rest of us are limp and damp, 
I see a button in front of us that says “spin cycle.” 
I’m going to push it.

by Matthew Rohrer

The experience of limited access to computer time

He'd been surprised to find that in at least one way he fit in: More than half the programmers at Goldman were Russians. Russians had a reputation for being the best programmers on Wall Street, and Serge thought he knew why: They had been forced to learn to program computers without the luxury of endless computer time. Many years later, when he had plenty of computer time, Serge still wrote out new programs on paper before typing them into the machine. "In Russia, time on the computer was measured in minutes," he said. "When you write a program, you are given a tiny time slot to make it work. Consequently we learned to write the code in ways that minimized the amount of debugging. And so you had to think about it a lot before you committed it to paper... The ready availability of computer time creates this mode of working where you just have an idea and type it and maybe erase it ten times. Good Russian programmers, they tend to have had that one experience at some time in the past – the experience of limited access to computer time.

from Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

Stop this day and night

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun,
(there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand,
nor look through the eyes of the dead,
nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either,
nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.

There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.


At the Department of Motor Vehicles
to renew my driver's license, I had to wait
two hours on one of those wooden benches
like pews in the church of Latter Day
Meaninglessness, where there is no
stained glass (no windows at all, in fact),
no incense other than stale cigarette smoke
emanating from the clothes of those around me,
and no sermon, just an automated female voice
calling numbers over a loudspeaker.
And one by one the members of our sorry
congregation shuffled meekly up to the pitted
altar to have our vision tested or to seek
redemption for whatever wrong turn we'd taken,
or pay indulgences, or else be turned away
as unworthy of piloting our own journey.
But when I paused to look around, using my numbered
ticket as a bookmark, it was as if the dim
fluorescent light had been transformed
to incandescence. The face of the Latino guy
in a ripped black sweatshirt glowed with health,
and I could tell that the sulking white girl
accompanied by her mother was brimming
with secret excitement to be getting her first license,
already speeding down the highway, alone,
with all the windows open, singing.

by Jeffery Harrison

To a Snake

I knew you were not poisonous
when I saw you in the side garden;
even your name—milk snake—
sounds harmless, and yet your pattern
of copper splotches outlined in black
frightened me, and the way you were
curled in loops; and it offended me
that you were so close to the house
and clearly living underneath it
if not inside, in the cellar, where I
have found your torn shed skins.

You must have been frightened too
when I caught you in the webbing
of the lacrosse stick and flung you
into the woods, where you landed
dangling from a vine-covered branch,
shamelessly twisted. Now I
am the one who is ashamed, unable
to untangle my feelings,
braided into my DNA or buried
deep in the part of my brain
that is most like yours.

Jeffrey Harrison, from "Into Daylight"


I was reading the Hindu epic The Ramayana.
It was spring in North Carolina:
the birds fabricating their nests

while I was dipping myself like a tea bag
over and over in my own despair.
What I like about The Ramayana

is how each character suspects
there is more than they know to the story.
The friend and the foe, the sister and brother,

they keep getting reborn again and again,
and they start to wise up but never quite do -
Sugriva thinks to himself, "To visit Vali's wife

will assure my destruction
- and yet I cannot prevent myself!"
Rama, dressing for battle,

is scared by his face in the mirror.
They are like us when, deeply immersed,
we sense the surface above us.

Or, breaking a spider web,
we wonder about the spider. In The Ramayana
the victim travels a long ways

to be slain. The wound recognizes 
the knife. Upon meeting her beloved,
a young girl swoons.

How still the air was that afternoon!
How tired I felt of not-knowing.
Once in a while I would put down the book

and stare into the yard
of the motel where I was staying.
Where a man dressed in gray

was pulling weeds in the garden;
where a woman in a bathing suit
over and over was diving

into a swimming pool of blue.

Tony Hoagland

City of Orgies

City of orgies walks and joys,
City whom that I have lived and sung in your midst will one
        day make you illustrious,
Not the pageants of you, not your shifting tableaus, your
        spectacles, repay me,
Not the interminable rows of your houses, nor the ships at
        the wharves,
Nor the processions in the streets, nor the bright windows
        with goods in them,
Nor to converse with learn'd persons, or bear my share in the
        soiree or feast;
Not those, but as I pass O Manhattan, your frequent and
        swift flash of eyes offering me love,
Offering response to my own—these repay me,
Lovers, continual lovers, only repay me.

"City of Orgies" by Walt Whitman

Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief

Blue landing lights make
nail holes in the dark.
A fine snow falls. We sit
on the tarmac taking on
the mail, quick freight,
trays of laboratory mice,
coffee and Danish for
the passengers.

Wherever we're going
is Monday morning.
Wherever we're coming from
is Mother's lap.
On the cloud-pack above, strewn
as loosely as parsnip
or celery seeds, lie
the souls of the unborn:

my children's children's
children and their father.
We gather speed for the last run
and lift off into the weather.

by Maxine Kumin (6/6/1925 - 2/6/2014)

I've written books of verse, but I'm a professor.

"I've written books of verse, but I'm a professor. And to me personally, teaching is the art that gives me the more pleasure. I'm not trying to put myself down as a poet, but I mean what I say. That is, the contact with my students, and my reading of books and trying to share my thoughts and feelings with my students, gives me more pleasure, and I honor this as a high art. Remember that the teachers include Jesus, Socrates, Siddhartha, Meister Eckhart."

James Wright

Historic Shirt

Ran into Alyssa and Todd and Alyssa said "I like your shirt"
and I laughed because it's obviously very old and she said
"But it looks so soft and comfortable" and I agreed
and Alyssa said "And that little heart is so sweet"
referring to the red velvet heart sewn on the left shoulder
so I said "There's a lot of history in that" and then had to explain
that my first wife sewed the heart on this shirt
for her boyfriend before me—and Alyssa said
"Wow, that seems symbolic of something!" and Todd laughed
and I said "It probably means that I refuse to let go of
any trace of the past" and Alyssa said "Or maybe it means
you refuse to be oppressed by the past" and I said
"That sounds good" and Todd sort of half smiled and Alyssa said
"You accept the past so it can't then turn around and bite you"
and for a half second this idea sparkled alarmingly in the air
and then we all smiled in order to let the scene end

and Alyssa walked away arm in arm with her new husband
to go on making the life that would be their past together.

"Historic Shirt" by Mark Halliday

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema

Our fundamental delusion today is not to believe in what is only a fiction, to take fictions too seriously. It's, on the contrary, not to take fictions seriously enough. You think it's just a game? It's reality. It's more real than it appears to you. For example, people who play video games, they adopt a screen persona of a sadist, rapist, whatever. The idea is, in reality I'm a weak person, so in order to supplement my real life weakness, I adopt the false image of a strong, sexually promiscuous person, and so on and so on. So this would be the naïve reading... But what if we read it in the opposite way? That this strong, brutal rapist, whatever, identity is my true self. In the sense that this is the psychic truth of myself and that in real life, because of social constraints and so on, I'm not able to enact it. So that, precisely because I think it's only a game, it's only a persona, a self-image I adopt in virtual space, I can be there much more truthful. I can enact there an identity which is much closer to my true self.

Slavoj Žižek in "The Pervert's Guide to Cinema"

Growth In Righteousness

This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished but it is going on; this is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.

From "Assertions Concerning All Articles" by Martin Luther

Immortal Longings

Inside the silver body
Slowing as it banks through veils of cloud
We float separately in our seats

Like the cells or atoms of one
Creature, needs
And states of a shuddering god.

Under him, a thirsty brilliance.
Pulsing or steady,
The fixed lights of the city

And the flood of carlights coursing
Through the grid: Delivery,
Arrival, Departure. Whim. Entering

And entered. Touching
And touched: down
The lit boulevards, over the bridges

And the river like an arm of night.
Book, cigarette. Bathroom.
Thirst. Some of us are asleep.

We tilt roaring
Over the glittering
Zodiac of intentions.

by Robert Pinsky

How It Is with Us, and How It Is with Them

We become religious,
then we turn from it,
then we are in need and maybe we turn back.
We turn to making money,
then we turn to the moral life,
then we think about money again.
We meet wonderful people, but lose them
in our busyness.
We're, as the saying goes, all over the place.
Steadfastness, it seems,
is more about dogs than about us.
One of the reasons we love them so much.

from "Dog Songs" by Mary Oliver

Fields of Gold

You'll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we walk in fields of gold

Many years have passed since those summer days
Among the fields of barley
See the children run as the sun goes down
Among the fields of gold
You'll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You can tell the sun in his jealous sky
When we walked in fields of gold 

From "Ten Summoner's Tales" by Sting 


If we dig precious things from the land,
we will invite disaster.

Near the day of Purification, there will be cobwebs
spun back and forth in the sky.

A container of ashes might one day be thrown
from the sky, which could burn the land
and boil the oceans.

The Hopi Prophecies


Perchance in this wild spot there will be laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed,
Or waked to ecstasy of the living lyre.

"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray, as quoted by Henry David Thoreau in "Ktaadn, The Maine Woods"

Solvitur ambulando

This phrase refers to the 4th century Greek philosopher Diogenes's response to the question of whether motion is real -- he got up and walked. "It is solved by walking."

As it turns out, there are many other problems to which walking is the solution. For instance: In our culture of overwork, burnout, and exhaustion, how do we tap into our creativity, our wisdom, our capacity for wonder, our well-being and our ability to connect with what we really value? Solvitur ambulando.

By walking we move through the world not just physically, but also spiritually. Often by "taking a walk" we mean that we're not walking to get anywhere in particular. But even when we are walking toward a destination, when we're walking to connect two places, the in-between -- the space, the interval -- can be more important.

Arianna Huffington