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“Homo Americanus,” “The Charm and the Dread,” “Betimes”


Homo Americanus

freeform hollerin’ at the Lit conference (in syllabics) 



No. We don’t want you to breathe in—then out.  

No need to stand up, stretch out, twirl your wrists.  

Most assuredly, no incantations 

Are being asked of you, not a single word. 

Know what, Jack, Jill? Scrap the four directions. 

Your identities and ours beside yours 

On a coat rack at the door, quite comfy  

How much whacking can your piñata take? 

Yes, you stand on stolen land, you may now

Zounds! Methinks my station merits the ploy

Which, under these conditions, is public  

Though you’re planted on private property. 

We do acknowledge that: the conditions 

The one thousand directions not to take

At this after after party, we call 

Anarcho-Tyranny Über Alles

Or, simply, The Finance Oligarchy. 

Please be modest, slithering on the ground

Scooping up treats, subtracting from the whole 

Our allotments of failed Liberal Schemes 

Coming into view as we splinter up.



Who won the prize? The prize among prizes. 

A prize of a prize, you might say, a win 

Over one more prize—to win—a prize, won.

Surprise! There’s no prize for that. Or for this.

Piñata sticks swung blindly all at once 

Is more to the point, bloody point, hobbling

Stumbling onto the arena of Kultur

But what’s at a distance tracking it all?

Or, in close: poetics as detainee 

Marks it a fugitive—in mind, and gut. 

We were just about to jump outta here 

As the smoking debris began to cool

Before the dawn of more Centrist Hokum. 

But here we are, herding piss-poor students 

Into the bare halls of Career Poet. 

There’s exactly five things a prize can do:

One: it bestowith wings to wingless works

Two: it stauncheth today’s systemic wounds 

Three: perchance it payeth the rent—golly  

Four: it groweth wings on the fugitive  

Five: it clipith the fugitive’s new wings 



Strategies recalibrating tactics 

Kind of work. Kind of what might not—is you.  

Games abound this side of the barricades 

One of them is Self, as designed by “you” 

But here’s another piñata at hand 

Popped out from nowhere, perplexing, tempting. 

Fellow insurrectionists, lend an ear

Identity thinking stalls <hard reset> 

And bullhorn this—all night long, publicly:  

Old Universalisms pen us in

Where we mean to run with a New Story. 

New Stories, reject Catastrophizing 

Refuse a forgone Tragicomedy

Stage an Alternative Futurity  

Identity thinking stalls <hard reset>

Blindfolded, Homo Americanus 

Grab this trusty stick, grip it mightily

Raise it high—and on the downswing—crack it.

Now the bards scramble, now the bards bag up

Scraps of self, whose purpose—they know not what

Though it’s arousing, all this newfound pep.


The Charm and the Dread 

a meditation in the time of COVID


Take a deep breath in.

Take a deep breath out.



There is no past. 

There is no future. 

There is only now. 

There is only now.

Trees … are hilarious.

Grass … is hilarious.

The charm of roots.

The charm of clouds. 

The charm of that faucet that’s leaking again. 

A Dohblin ahccent (how’d the fock that get in hire?)

Take a deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Welcome to China.

Floating flowers in air. 

The crimson yellow of no past. 

The charcoal pink of no future. 

Trees don’t select flight seats at the time of purchase.

Grass doesn’t need to know the hotel checkout time.





Breathe in.

Hold your breath. 

Don’t let it out.

Hold your breath. 

Sing “New York, New York” in your chest. 

Knees clacking together.  

Release your breath. 

Welcome to Bourbon Street.

There is only now.

Ah-dohn-deh eh-stah lah cantina deh Tequila? 




The charm of a medivac helicopter. 

The dread of a failed meditation.

The charm of another ambulance.

The dread of a failed meditation.

The charm of a virus on your fingertip. 

The dread of a failed meditation.

The charm of a curved graph line. 

The dread of a failed meditation. 

Take a deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Two petals.

An emerald white of no past. 

A lavender orange of no future. 

There is only now.  

Blue, with a hint of silver. 



The last puddle on your street. 

The power of a cat finding it. 

The last flower of a hibiscus plant. 

The power of a worm chomping it down. 

That damn rooster again.

The rooster again.

The rooster.




Welcome to Antarctica.

Ah-dohn-deh eh-stah – breathe in. 






Nobody told you to stop breathing. 

Nobody told you to start breathing. 

Nobody told you—stop goofing. 

Nobody told you to stop regarding that leaky faucet. 

Droplets—one by one—is music. 

Birdsone by oneis music.

The clouds are hamming it up.

Your heart is hamming it up.

Your lungs are hamming it up.

Your belly is hamming it up.

Your tongue is hamming it up.

Your toes are hilarious.

Your toes have always been hilarious. 

Night sky, stars.

Night sky, stars.

Night sky, stars.



a rhapsody for activists 


Betimes, you stall, and by stalling, rocket  

Betimes, you’re a dead-bored worker

Betimes, a devoted worker without deep purpose 

Betimes, you’re a thrill-seeking slacker 

Betimes, a genius co-worker—without peers  

You chose this, you chose dialectical wreck sensational   

You pounce towards direct intents unknown 

You’ve sloughed off crooked dick nationalism  

You’ve blown up indolence (on some occasions, eloquence)

Who can Velcro on a plasticized red wig when you want it?

Who can supply you a bronze lion future beast of victory? 

Betimes, you’re a pre-pounce poet, posing as pouncer

Betimes, you’re a post-pounce as twitchy twitch 

Not whatever! Never whatever! But this

You’re a Spectral Socialist—savage 

You’re a Spectral Socialist—civilizer  

You’re a Spectral Socialist—dirt clod on diamond    

Who can futurize “The People” without the trademark?   

Who enacts fire canister hierarchical reform? 

Betimes, you carouse, and by carousing, arouse

Betimes, you’re a “hella” (as y’all say) cat with hiss and claws

Betimes, you’re a devotee to love slamming you to the ground 

Did you really choose this gem? Art thou chosen? 

Are you ascending now towards free-floating domes in the sky? 

Have you handily sloughed off sultry stance nationalism? 

Betimes, nationalisms offer services—left or right

Betimes, intra-nationalisms show a way out—for a fee 

Who can hyper-spatialize “The People” without coordinates?   

Who enacts super symmetrical justice reform?

You’re a Spectral Socialist—bit actor 

You’re a Spectral Socialist—stunt double    

You’re a Spectral Socialist—diamond fleck on demon dung 

Betimes, you rocket, and by rocketing, stall  

Betimes, you stall, and by stalling, rocket  

Rodrigo Toscano is a poet and dialogist based in New Orleans. He is the author of eleven books of poetry. His latest books are "The Cut Point" (Counterpath 2023), "The Charm & The Dread" (Fence Books 2022). His "Collapsible Poetics Theater" was a National Poetry Series selection. His poetry has appeared in over 20 anthologies, including "Best American Poetry" and "Best American Experimental Poetry." Toscano has received a New York State Fellowship in Poetry. He won the Edwin Markham 2019 prize for poetry. He can be found online at

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by Lynne Thompson



by Tara Ison