Commiserate is a monthly experiment in poetic collaboration.

Sept, 2013: Emily Ballou – Ask a Lizard

Says Emily: “For a long time, I have been, first visited, and then stalked, by a creature and poetic subject known to me as LIZARD. Lizard was born on a typewriter overlooking Loch Long and subsequently accompanied me to Beirut with Ryan Van Winkle where he had his first public outing as a suite of poems for a longer book I still have not finished. Ryan is therefore, an old friend of his. When Ryan and I discussed co-writing a poem or a series of poems, I suggested the title “ASK A LIZARD”. I had been watching a lot of “Ask a Monk” on You Tube, where a bald man in orange robes tries to answer your most existential questions. I felt at times that Lizard would have more interesting answers. And so began our project “ASK A LIZARD” which Ryan and I sent back and forth over the course of several months. If you have any other questions for LIZARD, please send them.”

Ask a Lizard

What is Sleep?

First, there is no cure.
Second, sleep is opposite of everything else
you think you are.
It is the black pulsing shadow on the rock
on the bark, on the sand.
It is the name for the stretched out shaded space that grows
to infinite proportions
blown by breeze, shape-shifted by sun
where Goannas eat man.
And it is the place you would step if you were able
to be nowhere else but there
in the black sketch of exile
(can you even remember it?)
that is the preparation for the long sleep
with no stories inside it.
Lizards don’t tell their tales at night.
Every day they press another claw into the sand
which tomorrow will not be there.

Is it possible to be alone in a crowd?

If you can lie down
in a city rush say, at nine
in the morning
on a Monday, mid-September,
eighteen days from Washington
and curl up into a small ball
on the warming stone
of the footpath
imitating a lizard
or a penguin egg
take your pick
keeping your eyes shut tight
or just one eye in Asynchronous
Eye Closure
and a small handwritten sign
that reads
I am not dead, keep walking,
soon, the sound of work shoes
gingerly tap over and around you
(a meaningless stone in a river
of babbling soles)
and the slow slide
of passing traffic passing by
will massage you into a sort
of alone and wakeful rest
known to all lizards
of every tree and continent
as Qw – Quiet Wakefulness.

How Much Does the Earth Weigh?

Go easy and lift
from the knees
when you multiply
what you know
with what you don’t
or count the seconds
of a day, every one

until it is done
and see if you don’t float
in black nets of stars

What pulls harder than the moon?

Whatever draws or presses another is as much drawn or pressed by that other.
If a lizard draws a thread bobbin tied from its foot to a shrub, the lizard will equally be drawn back
towards the shrub, for the distended thread, by the same endeavor to relax or unbend itself, will
draw the lizard as much towards the shrub as it does the shrub towards the lizard and will obstruct
the progress of one as much as it advances the other.
(from Lizard’s Third Law of Inertia)

Do you Ever Think of Your Mother?

Look sideways at the sun or lick a rock
when the canopy ruffles like fur

What is the Doctrine of Chances?
(The Doctrine of Chances: or, a method for calculating the probabilities for events in play)

Taste the air
with your wet
claw, let it tell you
which way it is blowing.
Does it hold rain?
Does it hold coming sun
or slacking moon? Or a total eclipse
of want, a total westward of
want? Does it hold
your supper or just stone dust
or the pale pollen of children
gusted up as far off as Adelaide?
Does it cradle night? Or does nigh
cradle you; rock you awake? You have to ask
yourself why you are asking. Can you
taste that light that comes out
when the cold shutter of sky closes,
when the yellow goes?

You know what happens now.
The whole world starts singing.

See that tree over there
with the cicadas in it? Their long wings
are lattices, both crispy and translucently sweet.
Your path from rock to bark
is an Isosceles or a Scalene
but if that hawk’s overhead
you gotta gauge the chances
that he’ll take a short line

and take his chance on you. Is it an accident
if his black beak catches? How many collisions
and near-misses, how much beaten wind
have you heard in your short warm life?
Mind this doctrine
when you dare that dash to scale that trunk
or it will shorter still.

What did your face look like before you were born?

You come to understand
wherever you go
you’ll see your own face
in the mirror
not like stone
more like steel
each day, a little more rust