“species: empty:” is the 18th of 30 poems in a cycle about a marriage. Both it and “clock: rules:” describe a period in the marriage when one partner has left temporarily and is incommunicado, and the other partner is in the unenviable state of waiting, but not sure for what.
One constraint I imposed on the cycle was that the title of each poem be two words: the first word being the second word of the previous poem’s title, and the second word being the first word of the title of the subsequent poem. This constraint had some unintended consequences. In particular, I reached the 18th poem and found that I had run out of things to write about species, having paid scant attention during biology courses in school. Consequently, I wrote a clumsy poem and moved on, ignoring the problem as much as possible.
When I had nearly completed the cycle and could no longer avoid the 18th poem, I was still flummoxed. I considered going through the 17th poem and finding a different keyword to put in its title, thus releasing myself from the necessity of thinking any further about species. But remembering the Paul Valery quote (as attributed by Reginald Gibbons), “poets are those to whom the difficulty of writing gives ideas, not those from whom it takes them away,” I started researching the meaning of species (with a heavy sigh, I might add).
When I found the definition of chronospecies, I saw that it fit into the cycle on at least two levels. First, since “clock: rules:”, the 22nd poem, was written chronologically before “species: empty:” due to the problems mentioned above, I knew the cycle was headed towards a consideration of timepieces. A clock is an instrument that measures the passing of time, and so a species is a clock, but really, I can’t think of many things that aren’t. Second, the missing marital partner has returned to the ancestral home in what feels to the left-behind partner like a turf war between allegiances and families, between the eras of childhood and adulthood, between hometown and current home, a schism strong enough to suggest even a difference in species across inhabitants of those times and places, even when one inhabitant is the same being.
It is easy to connect the dots between clocks and rules, between the calculations of time and the laws of nature. But since “clock: rules:” is more about waiting than about timepieces, I began to wonder about the rules of waiting: who makes them, and can they be broken, and if so, to whose advantage. The suspended state of waiting seems both continuous and endless, and yet the concurrent passage of time, as measured in hours and minutes, seems to be disjointed, ruptured. The list-like form of these poems I hope captures that tension.
My sincere thanks to the Beloit Poetry Journal for publishing these poems.