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“How to Set a Broken Wing” Poetry Month 1/30



“How to Set a Broken Wing”

While the four of us sat
in our separate schools
made of stone and bits of brick,
she took her broken arm act
to the clinic across town.

By the time the last bell rang
for the day, she had drafted
a note on a slip of paper—
a receipt from recent trip
to the buffet we all like—
and tucked it into the seat
of our family car.

I think, had we ordered dessert,
note might have been a little longer
with no questions left to answer.

Just one sundae more.

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THE ALEX CROW POEMS 4: “Love and the Melting Man”




It’s a problem with tuning when all you have
is an old push-button radio; you’re always
just between stations, pudgy fingers poking
the tabs hoping to land in a clear channel:

somewhere between radiate and ratiocinate
somewhere between courses on a first date

somewhere between recall and playback
somewhere between forestall and call back

somewhere between first nights and first fights
somewhere between last call and last night

somewhere between the have her and hold her
somewhere between the smother and smolder

somewhere between the meeting or melting
somewhere between petting and pelting

somewhere between to linger and to mend her
somewhere between the cinder or send her

we lose the top-ten hit that was just playing,
asleep at the switches knowing we are not
the only ones affected by the white noise
coming through the speakers in the back
where we would have use one word or another
that belonged to someone else in a song:

“I’m just a hunka-hunka. . .”

(white noise)

“I’d stop the world and. . .”

(white noise)

“We light the morning sky” by blowing
on the embers, hoping there is a enough
in the ash pan to rekindle the flame upon
which we will put our heart on the hit line
broadcasting to the world that we are in love.


Up on a hill, a red light flashes sending out signals

something lost in the translation from faulting tuning.

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THE ALEX CROW POEMS 3: “We Can Move the World”



“We Can Move the World”

We are deft carriers of couches,
our hands gripping one end of a sofa,
grunting, there is no one on the other side.


We only have one uniform.

There is no way to put our end down.


We carry curio cabinets on our backs,
the ceramic sacraments still on the shelves;
figures hammer tiny hands against the glass.


Every scratch in the finish like a lash to us.

We are responsible for any and all damages.


We can move a refrigerator freezer with ease
so long as the door is securely-taped closed;
we want to keep the question of the light a mystery.


We believe it stays on at all times.

No one tells us that it is not so; we believe.


We can arrange boxes for maximum packing;
we know the basic shapes: I’s and T’s
IT is all we need to know by way of content.


Our ability to arrange for square shapes is universal.

Every cardboard crate has IT in shaky black marker.


As we carry the bird cage to the end of the walk,
we note the van we left running has been hi-jacked.
We are chided by family pets each time this happens.


You would not be surprised how often this happens.


We do not expect to be tipped for our failure.


We keep the bill of sale and inventory in our front pockets.


We sign them by proxy and we feel the loss of property deeply.


We will walk to the end of the world to reclaim what was yours.


We have a schedule to keep; we are pressed for time.


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THE ALEX CROW POEMS 2: “Tapping Our Temples”

nail clippers

When we are very, very, very small,

they put our hands into soft mitts to keep

them from going into our mouth and

into our eyes. We bat blindly at the world

in an attempt to sign something of great

importance to us. We do not aim to offend

with our tiny, muffled hands mumbling now.


They don’t understand us.

This is not what we meant at all.


When we are very, very small, they clip

our nails when we tap at our temples,

the thin bloody lines indicators of at least

shallow thought processes. We cannot but help

to scratch our bald heads at what we’ve seen

of this world already. We cannot put our fingers

on it. Hands taking from other hands the ability

to touch, to feel, to process, to do better.


Slivers of nail, frail but sharp are swept away

from our smooth chests and onto the floor.

The tips of our fingers now harmless nubs to handle

the simple tools of being a child. Our day work.


We are not allowed to protest this.

We don’t stand on the line. We do not picket.


When we are small, we are allowed to keep

them if the beds are clean. If we push back

the cuticles and we promise not to rip or tear

them, we hold our hands up to the sun

and our fingers become tools of the trade.


You cannot remove the scabs of day work

without these. You can only poke at what hurts.


A man is often judged by how he keeps his nails.

We cradle the clippings in our palms. To protect them,

we often sign in a language comprised of closed fists

raised and shaking. We stand upon a platform, one

hand raised in a fist. We mean to tell you:


“Take these.

They are causing confusion.”


Without them, every subject becomes a door jamb.

The corner of a counter you know juts out from the wall.

At night, nothing that would cause you to stumble

is appreciative of the blunt objects use to probe the dark.


We turn on a light and we scratch our heads.

Our hair eventually thins out and our bodies go soft.

Whiskers and nails continue to the end of a life,

both are cut or clipped away. We try to be tidy.


When we make a point, there is a chance

we might scratch. This is not what we mean.

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THE ALEX CROW POEMS: “Three Clicks Right”


timerThree clicks right.

Three feels right.


A butcher.

A baker.

A candlestick maker.


They’ve always come in threes.


Men in tubs.

Stooges on the television.


Bullies who went for our guts

and bent us over after school

because we three were

three clicks to the right.


They keep our meat on salted ice.

The bread is unleavened here.

You don’t want to light that stick, miss.


We haven’t rhymed since the nursery.

Our inventory is depleted.


We ask for a bowl and receive a colander.

We ask for a pipe and the pouch is empty.

We fiddle, we three,

but you don’t want to know about that.


We are unclean. Any vessel

can be used as a basin.


We’ve chosen an old coal cart.

We roll downhill. We have no breaks.


We poke one another in the eyes.

We slap each other on the top of the head.

We box each other’s ears. This hurts most.


We do not say, “Woo woo woo.”

This is a myth. We are quite poetic

even if we don’t recognize your forms.

If you listen, we actually speak in triolet:


Yes, we wear timers on our ears.

They are a’ ticking all the day.

Been wearing them for fourteen years.

Yes, we wear timers on our ears

Clicking loud ’nuff to draw our tears.

“It’s very odd,” the people say.

Yes, we wear timers on our ears.

They are a’ ticking all the day.


We’re not so sure, but three clicks

feels right, so we turn our timers

dutifully with the sunrise each day.


Three clicks, right?


Paul W. Hankins (March 2015)







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“What We Found While Following the Floe”

ice barb


This week’s poems are inspired by a story of a teenage boy who survives the ruining of his village by hiding in a refrigerator for two days. It is a story about an idea that the world would be a better place without such boys. It is the journey of a sad clown who attends a summer camp. It is an ill-fated attempt to cross the ocean with nothing to bring back but the devil himself in ice. It is a story of a melting man who wears kitchen timers on his ears so that he does not have to hear the din of–or from–any source. It is about a dark-spirited bird who invites the world who will listen. . .”to punch the clown.”

I write these poems this week for Andrew.

In another time. . .when I were reading stories and not books, I should not have known him.

The smart kids might have read Andrew, his books piled up next to fanned-out LP jackets. These smart kids would listen to The Talking Heads or The Smiths (and they would believe that Andrew was one of them because of the reference to the refrigerator in “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”). They would compare him to Vonnegut. And then go back to their own left-handed, self-congratulating behaviors. After you’ve punched the clown, you never stay to see it pop back up again reading for another strike.

Smart kids.

His name would appear on the bindings of books facing outward from a shelve somewhere. You might find them half-priced at the Goodwill on a Sunday afternoon. Your uncle may have had one on the coffee table of the living room, a gift from some girl he has already forgotten.

They might have been books donated to the boys who lived in barracks. Both of them the target for criticism of the gatling nature. Both of them growing older with each passing year. The way they open–and close–changing as they stand guard over the sages. . .and the ages.

Sentries and centuries are the best watch guards. We shake our fists and wrinkle our faces at both, hoping to distract either from their duties. We take our pictures with them. We nod our heads to our friends and nudge them with our shoulder. We claim to have gotten to them this time. Selfies. Selfish. Self-ism.

It’s the “ish” and “ism” that makes it a physical impossibility to ever really hold a book.

I should not have known him–this Andrew–except that I might have borrowed the books bearing his name for an extended period of time. . .until they could be considered my own. I’d probably write my own name on the outer pages.

I claim this book.


You cannot steal what has been donated. And if you pass it to another, it more than payment. It’s a sacrament. It’s the book thief’s absolution to pass a story to another reader. We do not enter into the ritual lightly. Our palms are bruised for days from the carrying of tomes to other hands. We are often turned away.

It is the privilege of the critic to have put stickers upon them and then to have given them away. Steal them from their sense of story to place them on high where the general public might assume that the book’s every page is filled with a two-word query:

“Why bother?”

The interrogatives of this life are just too damn hard to ponder the essence of bothering and why one might.

I might have given them to some reader just coming of story age. I might have influenced that young man to read about losses and lenses. . .about thin boys longing for brothers. . .about scrums. . .about lemur masks and bowling. . .about the passing of time and how it can be kept on ice if you have a box suited for the purpose.

Ahhhh. . .I might have shared all of this. I should not have known him if this were another time for story. But this is a time for books. Boxes and boxes of books and they spill out all over the place and it’s getting harder and harder to tell one from another.

And. . .now. . .this man whose stories I have stolen. Stolen from this very moment in which we find ourselves. . .ha. . .we think we are nailed to the wall. . .we think we are secure upon the branch upon which we have made a nest? We are floating. Due north.

Ice floes. Like blood in the stream.


Ice dams. And blocks the would-be discourse.


Ice stream.


Ice stream.


We all scream. . .


And a man I shouldn’t have known–in another time–for stories goes back into the refrigerator.


The light never goes out.


I want to tell him. I found this white suit by the side of the information highway. It has been roughed-up a bit. It does not look like it would fit anyone else I know. I doubt anyone else would even put it on given its condition and how it got to be this way.


Few of our paths progress in front of bulldozers. We do not spend our days bowing in an effort to keep our gowns from going under the blade.


Sticks and stones are no way what-so-ever to launder our work clothes.


It is still a serviceable suit, sir.










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“How to Know if Your .89 is Real”: Synthesis 8 and 9.



Today’s poem actually synthesizes the first seven poems in the “How to Know if Your .89 is Real.” I gave myself a challenge this morning to compose a synthesis poem from the seven others in under thirty minutes. I finished in twenty. This is not meant to impress you. Does this impress you?


#8: The Essay Portion


“You have thirty minutes to synthesize your ideas into a coherent response that serves to answer the question: “How to know if your .89 is real. Begin. . .”




There is only one of five answers
from which any one of us

can select at any time.


And one of them is E.


Sometimes. . .it has to be E.


If there really is

“all of the above.”




I am not one of the all.


They’ve always called me “Al.”


One letter short

of being complete.


It limits what I can–

or what I should be expected–

to give.


I miss, more than many,

the loss of .11. It hits me hard


a stinging swarm of B’s.


.11 are my two arms raised in surrender.


I will never fit

into one of these circles

even when I stand in the center

sweeping my arms in wide arcs

in an attempt to fill the space.




I see my .11 later

on the evening news.


It is early fall.


A reporter says we are failing.


He is missing an L.

Right after the F.


All of us miss this.




The math is simple:


.89 of “all.”


Show your work.

Remember your units.



He’s another Al

on a television screen

pointing to fronts

and systems

and pressure.


We are analog orphans

tuned in and turned away.


We point our #2 pencils

at a score sheet thinking

the channel will change.


Show your work.


The units for this problem are stones.


Stones to be hurled.


Stones to be collected.


Stones to sew into our hemlines.


It’s all about measurement, Al.




If you wade into the water

you must be more than


less than the depth of the water.


They do not round up here.


We strive for 89%.


If only to prove

that we can



#9: Synthesis


This page left intentionally blank.



Paul W. Hankins (March 2015)

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“How to Know If Your .89 is Real”: 7. . .

raised hands


Two hands in the air

reaching. We stop


we stretch.

It looks like praise

for the completion.

It looks like celebration.


We are surrendering.


How we count after

we’ve buckled our shoes,

closed the door,

and begin the daily work.


“Please bring two #2 pencils.”


We lay them straight

across the top

of our finished papers

we know numbers count.

It only means

we’ll be doing this


again and again and again


We are driven by into these “A”-holes:








It begins with ring play,



send-(fill in the blank)-on-over


it ends with filling in the circle.


“Make heavy black marks.”

“Cleanly erase any answer you wish to change.”

“Make no stray marks on this answer sheet.


The only correct mark in the example

is a fully-colored bubble. It is demonstrated for you.

You hope you get this right. You want to be the child

the wife picks, but know you’ll be the cheese in end.


Cheese begins with “c.”

C’s makes us nervous

at our desks. It’s the middle answer.


It’s a trick.

It’s a trap.


A proctor asks if anyone has a question.

There is procedure here.

The signal is one hand in the air, but

you feel both arms reaching skyward

toward a fluorescent light.


“Yes. . .you have a question.”


A question.






Questions we answer: A.


You put your hands back down

and put them on our lap.


You strive for 89%

at least. A one-time chance








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“How to Know If Your .89 is Real”: Six (and Stones)

jack and queen


You begin to consider

your differences as you gaze

into the surface of a shallow pool

masking any sudden flash

of the eye

that will expose what might be

in your hand.


In the mirrored surface,

your 89 meets the eyes

of a 68 who only wants

to stand by you.


It’s a risk of ruin to stay.


There are 21 reasons

to walk away from the water.


There are 21 reasons

to get back into the car.


There were twenty-one stones

sewn into the hems of your cotton dress,

an attempt to make things even.

It’s not a balanced count.


You’ve already thrown

ten into the water.


Three words might have saved you

before the cards were even cut:


stop loss limit.


The cards are up-turned.

It’s just as it has been since

the opening hand:


It always ends in a push.


And before you can even

palm the next stone,

you hear,


“Hit me again.”


And though there are

only two of you at the table,

you’re not sure if the voice

wasn’t your own.





Paul W. Hankins (March 2015)






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“How to Know If Your .89 is Real”: Channel 5


Today’s poem is actually a “found piece” that comes from page 283-284 (or 89% of A. S. King’s book, I Crawl Through It).


It’s all very plausible,

the idea that a little girl

could get pulled

into a television

and communicate

from the other side.


Because we’ve seen them

on larger screens,

blond hair and blue eyes,

J. C. Penny nightgowns turning,

telling us, “They’re here.”


From the other side of the screen,

we appear, to the television-trapped,

to be living in thirty-minute windows

wrought with resolute ambiguities.


We are our own audiences.


We have questions: 


Was this experience only a pilot?


Who sponsored this?


Does this episode make my “but?” look big?


Where is the big, booming voice-over

promising “We will return. . .”?


We are far too busy to reclaim

little girls lost to TV Land.

There are marks to be hit.

There are lines to be learned.


We are expected to be “off-book.”


Today’s Novel


Yesterday’s News.


Managing any and all of this

means knowing what time zone

you are appearing in.


The essential question becomes:


Who is my market?


Who will come through

the closet to bring me home

if no one leaves their couch?


Channels change.


Today 89 is CSPAN.

There are talking heads here

saying something. The screen

spits and you see we can travel

in groups.


We are analog orphans

tuned in while at the same time

being turned away.


Times change.


We call them “time-slots”

manifest in the words, “You’re on.”


We grapple for an audience.


We offer teasers.

We are not yet happy

with our musical beds.


We have stories to tell

that get lost in the static.


We knock at the glass

and try to catch you

on your way to the kitchen.


We can only offer a

sketchy account of our day,

but we promise:


Details at. . .11.

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