Peter Payack, Conceptual Anarchist, Science Fiction Poet
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Blanket Knowledge

Blanket Knowledge (1997)

Back Cover Blurb

"This collection is Peter Payack at his witty, pithy, and perceptive top form, and is one of his most fanciful flights. The poems are brief that delight an enlighten; they will surely receive accolades from an fortunate reader whose hands they skitter into."

— Tama Janowitz

"Peter Payack's genuine concern for the place of humankind in the cosmos is intermixed with much high wit. Uniquely amusing and entertaining."

— Michael Benedikt

This satiric and provocative collection of poetic observations ranges from cosmology to Thoreau, from sex tips for poets to the philosophical implication of changing a kitchen lightbulb. Just when you think you've heard it all, Payack proves you wrong, and makes you laugh heartily in the process.

Peter Payack is a Cambridge poet, environmental artist, and conceptual anarchist. His poetry has been widely published, including multiple appearances in The Paris Review, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. His previous collection of Poetry, No Free Will in Tomatoes, was also published by Zoland Books.


Select Poems

THE PENIS QUESTION

So this is what Mike thinks about
now that he is a hotshot five years old
with a new baby brother to boot!
So this is what Mike is pondering
now that he has to shoulder
all that big brother responsibility.
He wants to check to make sure
his baby brother actually has a penis.
After all, he's been around three days now,
so, hey, what's the story?
This is what he says to his mother, Monica,
as he helps change
Peter Paul's newborn diaper:
"Look, Mommy,
Peter Paul does have a penis!"
And he says this
with an element of surprise
as he views the infinitesimal thing:
"His penis is smaller than my penis,
and my penis is smaller than Daddy's."
Then after some syllogistic
somersaulting, he says,
"I bet Grandpa has the biggest
penis in the whole world!"
And the way his eyes light
up he's thinking in terms
of the grande olde tradition.
Something on the scale of, say,
Michelangelo's David
Or even the Colossus of Rhodes.
And to this I say,

There are some mysteries
Better left unsolved.


NETWORKING FOR DOGS

My dog Maxx (the second x stands for some unknown future disaster for which he will undoubtedly be responsible) starts to bark.  He barks for no apparent reason, except that it is 6:30 in the morning.  Saturday morning.  But now as I strain my ears, I hear a dog in the far off distance, some anonymous animal,  barking in somebody else’s back yard. 

There’s probably another dog even farther down the road making that  dog bark, like an infinite regress of a mirror reflecting a mirror reflecting a mirror, and so on.  That image puts me in mind of the late Argentinean writer Borges’ statement that there’s something monstrous about mirrors and copulation as they both multiply men.   Men!    Don’t they have dogs in Argentina? 

So, my dog is barking, and being the team player that he is, he communicates his message to the next contact, at the appointed time. Somewhere off in the distance, maybe in Argentina, a canine starts this whole cacophonous cycle.  What first sounded like my dog barking on the porch, an apparently solitary and annoying act, is really an important part in the worldwide web of dogs.

What the dogs are networking is uncertain.

But one thing I know for sure.  It has nothing to do with my getting back to sleep.


THE END OF THE STORY

“...as she stormed out the door for the final time his jaw dropped like the flap of an old pair of long Johns.”*

* Instead of wasting my summer writing a three hundred page novel, I thought I’d just jot down the last line. Maybe you wouldn’t have time to read a full novel anyway, being as busy as you are.  But please feel free to imagine  the rest while you’re daydreaming at the beach.  If you come up with something really spellbinding (and would fill up at least 299 pages) please feel free to forward it to me in care of my publisher.  Be assured I will give you proper credit for your idea, along with a small honorarium, as a token of my gratitude.


ECHOES OF THE PAST 

Backpacking through the tranquil Maine Woods, my buddies & I stumbled upon something you don’t meet up with everyday, an “Echo Lake”.  When I yodeled a simple “hello” to test it out, you can well imagine how surprised we were to find that this rustic country lake was not only well-educated, but also pretentious enough to show it.  It seemed to have taken at least a college level etymology course, because my boisterous salutation ricocheted back first as the Elizabethan “halloa”, then the “hallow” of Middle English, followed by the Old French “hallo”!  Maybe it attended Harvard Graduate School on a fellowship, because nothing could stop it now.  It was as if the echo had been held captive deep in the lake’s memory for eons and was only now surfacing and looking for an opportunity to demonstrate its erudition.  As the sun started to set, Echo Lake continued reverberating with dimmer yet still decipherable tongues and etymologies passing back through Vulgar Latin, Italic, and even Indo-European variants.  This could have been Echo Lake’s doctoral defense, so we stood there restlessly, yet respectfully, like a bunch of critical college professors.  Throughout that night, even with our heads buried deep in our sleeping bags, we could still hear Neanderthal, Cro-Magnum and Australopithecine phonemes rippling back and forth through the serene stillness.  Finally, in the predawn mist, Echo Lake hesitated, yawned, and breathlessly gasped a series of almost inaudible and unintelligible primeval grunts and groans.  It only took me and my colleagues a few minutes to groggily confer with one another and award it a “B+” (“A” for effort).  After all that, we continued on our hike, carefully lifting our academic robes so as not to stumble over them.


BLANKET KNOWLEDGE

We walk under the shade of the only maple on the beach at Walden Pond when Susan, who is on an endless search for the perfect tan asks, “Where should I put the blanket.  Which way is the Sun going?” 

Being the wise guy that I am I say, “why this way”.  I wave my hand in a grand gesture across the sky and state,  “the same way its been going for the last 4 and a half billion years!”  That’s when the debate started. 

Susan insists that last week it went a different way, and she has the sunburn to prove it! 

I say, somewhat professorially, “I am sorry about the sunburn and even more sorry to disagree, but the sun does rise in the east and set in the west, basic Earth Science 101.

“Duh!”, she says.

“And that is east over there!”, I say pointing.

To that she retorts, “that’s just your opinion”.

“Well”, I reason out loud,  “if you accept Heraclitus’ idea that ‘all things are in process and nothing stays the same’, I guess....”  But that’s not  what Susan’s thinking.  She’s  thinking that I’m dead wrong and won’t admit it.  

I then take the approach that maybe Susan is referring to the time when the Earth’s magnetic field reversed about 70,000 years ago.

But no.  She’s not.  Not at all. 

Maybe, I suggest,  She’s thinking about the  statement in the Bible which asserts that the Sun stood still for a day.  Susan glares and demands I spread the blanket where she wants it, then asks me to stop blocking her sun.

Where, I wonder, is Henry David Thoreau when you really need him? 


SOME POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS FOR THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE DINOSAURS

1.    Like hula hoops, Edsels and polyester leisure suits, they  are hopelessly out of date.
2.   Stuck on the Long Island Expressway.
3.    Want their share of the petroleum profits.
4.    Waiting for the Red Sox to win the World Series before coming back.  This could be the year!
5.    Want Amnesty International to free imprisoned “Brothers” from museums around the world.
6.    They are off the beaten path.
7.    Upset at Noah for refusing to let them board “The Ark”.
8.    They want their likenesses on Mr. Rushmore.
9.    Their number was up.
10.  Had too many dinosaur eggs in one basket.
11.  A callous cut of the cosmic cards.
12.  Waiting for Godot.
13.  Embarrassed to have turned into chickens.


THE MOON & THE MOTH

The moth,
programmed by untold eons
of evolution,
uses the moon as a beacon
to navigate its flight.

But how has the moon
fallen from the nighttime sky
and become attached
to this post on the porch?

This white-winged lunar explorer
using all the bug logic
at her dutiful disposal
frantically orbits the porch light
like a crazed Apollo astronaut
on an endless excursion
to oblivion.

As a  deus ex machina  of sorts
in this little insect drama,
I mercifully
switch off the light.

Now free
from the mesmerizing pull
of the moon,
the moth breaks out of orbit
and flutters
safely back to Earth.

On this flight
at least,
the fates flew with her.


DARKNESS AT DAWN

Now that it is wintertime
with the days becoming alarmingly short
Peter Paul has taken to asking me, shyly,
with his eyes lowered
and his voice almost inaudible,

"Daddy, is it going to get dark, today?"

Bewildered, he asks me his question everyday.
Sometimes, right after waking,
I'll say, "Good Morning, Babe,
How you Doing?" And he'll say,
"Hi Dad." And then hesitantly adds,
as if he is asking me to reveal
one of the secrets of the universe,
"Daddy, is it going to get dark today?"
To this I answer,
"Yea, but not until later".
And then with a visible sigh of relief
he begins his day.

When he asks me this question
I feel a sinking sensation
because he is asking me about more than darkness,
about those imponderables in life
which he isn't sure how to handle:

From "Why do I have to go to school?"
To, "When I grow up will I have to get married
and live in another house?"
Underlying all this,
is the lurking, most basic question,
(the question which begets all other questions)
"Daddy, will you grow old and die someday,
and leave me forever?" 

When I answer this daily question,
about darkness at the break of dawn
I understand Peter Paul's
accepting, yet tentative, smile. 


IT IS TOO HOT

"It is too hot
to live," said
the dead man.

"It is too hot
to be dead," said
the living man.

"It is too hot, let us
not argue," said
the mute man.

"Yes indeed, it is too hot
to waste words on one
another," said the deaf man.

"It is too hot
to write," I said.

"It is too hot
to read the nonsense
you write," she said.

"Fuck you," I said.

"It is too hot," she said.