Jim Tilley





Yesterday’s corpses in the war, and today’s

soon-to-be, littering the driveway—

annelid, common earthworm,

much studied, because there’s little chance

of understanding a complex creature

without figuring out a simpler one,


one that manages its way by feel

and sensing light through darkness, groping

for brightness in an ad hoc strategy

for survival in the midst of this drought

of good news. Wouldn’t you think

the earthworm would dig deeper


in search of moisture, that it could

resist the temptation of a little

night dew, not rise to the surface

and poke about until it finds pavement,

not start to inch across without knowing

there’s a place worth getting to?


When it begins to dry out, lose its

moist pinkness and turn brown, crusty,

when it must sense things aren’t going well,

it’s too late to turn back, too far

to reach the other side—earthworm,

not far enough along to figure things out.






New Balance



God was wearing his New Balance 991s

when he stepped out of the house to run with his wife

and pulled up short on the driveway

where a mouse was twitching on its side

as if to scratch an unrelenting itch.

“Oh God!” she said, “It’s the chemical I sprayed

between the cobblestones. Please put it out of its misery.”

And God, tired of glyphosate in the world

and discrimination against weeds

because he’d made them too, wanted to

be cross with her. What’s done is done, she’d say,

and though he can still change many things,

he knew he could not heal the mouse.

He placed the shadow of his right shoe over the creature

and stepped down hard. Better than

the old days when he’d been an angrier god

driven by moods. He remembers the nightmares

in the time before he set up rules, and how

the migraines disappeared when he no longer had to

judge everything himself. Things are easier now—

now that he’s used to doing as he’s told.






At Sewanee



At first it might seem that he’s skirting

the issue by taking the Perimeter Trail.

Still, there are rocks and fallen trees to cross,

and rattlers to be wary of during

their molting season—they, too, dealing

with the new and bigger thing of themselves.

And yet, as he sits on a flat-topped boulder,

feet dangling over the edge, say the bluff

at Piney Point or Dotson or Elliott’s,

as he watches the sun slowly pour itself

down distant mountains, the fog burn off

the plains below, he sees that it’s clearer

than he thought it was, this thing that brought

him here, this thing he’s trying to figure out.






“Dream Machine”


Have you read the article yet?


You mean the one you made me read?


It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already not know.


You mean you didn’t understand.


It’s not as if one either understands or doesn’t.


Yeah, you can understand and not at the same time.


Isn’t that the point?


So what’s our problem?


I understand you and you don’t.


You understand me and I don’t?


The problem is that you live in many worlds.


You do too, and they’re not the same.


Still, we’re entangled, even when we’re apart.


It’s hard talking when we’re together.


You must be talking about qubits.


Like us, a bit of one and zero at the same time.


Isn’t that how to solve several problems at once?


But I only ever have one.


And you can’t imagine needing qubits for that.






All This Bleeding



                               Frustrating day, all this bleeding

of dye as I try to remove a stain from the carpet,

an Oriental unlike any other in the house,

every rug except this one peed on by the dogs,

yet easily cleaned, the others made of wool,

my wife says, not silk, the dye set repeatedly

with camel piss, but I can’t imagine enough camels

in the world for that. The carpet is “only a thing”

Buddhists would say. I say it’s just the work

of someone half a world away, someone in a hamlet

high in the mountains compensated less in a week

than I’ve spent on top-of-the-line cleaning fluids

and paper towels today. Perhaps the rug maker

is a Buddhist, inspired by the sun gleaming

off snowy peaks, a man who uses the finest silk

but will never have camels of his own. If I could

fix this mess, I’d take a piss on his carpet myself—

better than standing here clutching a bottle of Oxy-

Magic in one hand and a roll of Bounty in the other.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Tilley

Jim Tilley's first book of poems, “In Confidence,” was published by Red Hen Press in January 2011. He has been published in Virginia Quarterly Review, Southwest Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Southern Review, among other journals, and has been featured on Poetry Daily and on the PBS News Hour’s art blog. He has won Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize for Poetry. Four of his poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.