Among SMS’s books of poems and poetic prose are, most recently, And then something happened (Salt, 2004), Dementia Blog (Singing Horse, 2008), and the forthcomingMemory Cards: 2010-2011 Series. She wrote A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary Poetry (U of Alabama, 2005), and edits Tinfish Press out of her home in Kane`ohe, Hawai`i. She’s taught at the University of Hawai`i-Manoa for over two decades. Her blog can be found at




Memory Cards: Oppen Series

The lyric valuables.  Your memory will be contained in a cloud.  All that’s required is a little bit of feature extraction and data compression to complete the prosthesis.  It’s called a “natural language,” this interface between me and my gadget.  It does not answer to lament: I have lost my earrings; I have lost my teleprompter; I have lost my mind provokes only information.  Unlyric me!  I shall be mystic of the Knowing Cloud, on my wrist a gizmo covered by diagrams of slant patterns and draw plays.  The poet’s a quarterback; she needs completions.  She is only arm, the cloud’s prosthesis.  An all-knowing receiver already struts.  The only lyric is the lyric of fourth down.

–27 January 2011


There is a simple ego in a lyric, sometimes in a crowd.  A man lies on the ground, surrounded by other men.  I didn’t mean to shoot you in the face, laughs the boy playing Halo.  The man who drowned with his daughter lost his father to drowning.  When the guy at Starbucks asked again what I wanted, I said I’m visiting my mother with Alzheimer’s, I’m used to repetition.  Two of the mummies were destroyed, to which Bryant said but that’s our future!  They found the digital camera; she was smiling, the water was calm.  To retrieve the past is not to guarantee it.  We used to develop photos, but now they’re downloaded.  When memory fails, the eye enlarges to take it in.  He said a tourist turned her back on the ocean; a rogue wave threw her on the rocks by the tide pools.  Their first aid kit came in handy.

–29 January 2011


I dreamed one night that I was in a hotel room filled with my books.  I had a plane to catch, but I couldn’t carry them.  Sell them! someone said, but I said I could not.  I woke at 3, checked the news of Egypt, then listened to the sound of my own voice cataloguing my mother’s books.  To each shelf I said no and no and no.  It was as if whatever was contained in them was leaking out, as if memory had less to do with the past than with our attitude toward it, the intonation that covers it like red grease.  The tail hook down, cables outstretched, you approach the carrier at a furious speed.  Your fighter is but one word scrawled on the deck of a ship whose hold is an ambiguous space, full of men and machines and violence.  I was here during the war, he writes, I was / in a house near here tho I cannot find it.   The past tense of dreaming becomes the present past: I was.  I was here, but now I cannot guide me.

–31 January 2011


This is the sky.  This the poem constructed of sky and the children in the square grasping signs, and the parents of the children in the square, and the chanting in the dark space of sky that opens like a lid to its antithesis.  The poem never intended to be a dictator, but it insists on form, control, an ordered space.  Mine clamps down at the moment of counter-protest; you will not enter this square, it is closed against tomorrow’s sour sunlight, its barricades.  The official narrative is of beauty, only.  Once upon a time there was a crowd inside a square who sang.  Once upon a time the force of their singing dislodged a pharaoh.  Once upon a time the unacknowledged were

–3 February 2011


Whether one loves / The world or loves / Shelter / From it  it is, if is continues.  Tahrir Square is no shelter, though people sleep there.  The poem is no shelter, however square.  Neither affords protection from a torturer who lived in Texas and Florida.  Exported pain is still pain.  A man calls out, “Where am I?  What is happening to me?  Tell me!”  No one says, as we did to Sylvia, “you live here; this is your home,” because prison is not home but way station, where way is suffering and station is not shelter.  She asked her interrogator where she was: “you are nowhere,” he said.  Nowhere is not station or shelter or square; it lacks all geometry.  “If you look up you will see something you don’t ever want to see.”  The regime demands pre-forgetting.  Those you leave behind were blindfolded; you emerge into a part of the city you’ve never seen.  It’s outside your history, if not theirs.  You can go now.

–5 February 2011


It is the air of atrocity that settles onto the tent-city the square has become.  Radhika can’t decide why some words end in –ys and others in –ies; the differences between “gurneys” and “families,” between “armies” and “pathways” are rule-bound, abstract.  A young poet tortures himself on distinctions between night and Night, between dawn and its opposite.  He writes down ideas he cannot explain, and in not explaining, loses them.  The police state parses its words less delicately, demands its “children” go home.  Torture is clear speech, though what is gleaned from it is not.  I was wearing a blood-stained shirt, one says; it marked him as one of them.  I heard myself tell the boy to clarify his grammar, glue limbs to his poem’s body.  I asked him to construct a box for his cloud.  Obama demands Mubarak clarify his language, spell it out.  There’s no future in telling; it’s all show.

–10 February 2011


The vocabulary word of the day is euphoria.

 –11 February 2011


The shape is a moment is a monument in process no flash no focus but a flag of our disposition winding around the square circle inside of box inside of cloud faces like voices coming and growing louder then quiet when Al-Jazeera turns to sports then back to euphoria in the circled square young woman in a shawl on youtube (this was 25 Jan) exhorts men to be men and old women in the square their mouths wide open and middle-aged men sweeping white dust with huge fronds and the body functions for once as a system blooms like a flow chart needing more space the lines across which are not final but dipped in martyr’s ink no one wants to leave the square or the circle they sleep propped against tanks against pavement against sharp angles violation of geometries of this body working this body with its stark white bandages over noses and cheeks and foreheads this coming into shape which is so beautiful to see

–12 February 2011


Juggler, why need I invent so much as if always in a space where time falls and picks itself up, replacing scratched post-it notes with new names for what is still a bus, a house, a square.  He bears a name; she carries hers.  It’s a pod lowered in a mine to retrieve lost men, brought out into a new tense, neither past nor present, but intermediate: yesterday I have been myself.  The word “gas” was “chaos” misheard.  She sent a letter that never arrived, but made sense of the non-response.  Meaning is adopted, names a state that refuses to be still, is found beside a tank in Tahrir Square.  The cloths are for wounds or warmth.

–13 February 2011


 We are troubled by scratched things as by any touched surface.  Abstraction abhors all but the vacuum; vog makes breath mean.  It’s not to choose between clarity and obscurity, but to use one in the service of the other.  The scratch is tracer bullet over an otherwise chaotic square.  What happens next is idea more than event, though one comes encased in the latter like an iron lung that’s only a transitional machine.  There’s democracy in the breath, but we’re holding ours.

–14 February 2011


Each of these memory cards begins from a sentence or a phrase from George Oppen’s New Collected Poems, edited by Michael Davidson (New Directions, 2002).

The memory card form requires that each prose poem fit on a large index card.