Five Poems
Angelo Mao


The knowledge we gathered is no longer useful.

The system you understand shifts and makes no sense.

And this is the body you spent years getting used to.

Tomorrow, the light will not recognize it.

Light has no language for it.

Light has no language for what is smaller than a hairpin turn of a chromatin.

Light must be choked in order to name the smaller things.

My name could change.

We shall say what we shall say and call it knowledge

with this our native speech.

I learned this language to subsist and to compass between myself
and the unknown.

I should not have learned it.

I should have been a fish in a world of rising water, boring

in with immense color until it seems that it was never knowledge
that was gained from the set of things as they are, having been now
turned from by the world

and yet still a knowledge,

a trust that can’t be turned from,

trust in the thing that is an inhabitance of it

of the only thing I am standing on and not

just the dirt slitted with plant roots and leaf stains made up of mashed
chlorophyll pigments, drying up now, pregnant still with incidental light
and nothing to pass it on to

here in the stomach of the beast

punched open to the ceiling lights.

These aren’t our salad days.

(The thing that is understood becoming the thing that is loved.)

(The objective lens made from glass.)

(And the glass melting in due time.)


And in the end, the body could believe in little.

It could believe that it needed the cud to make itself go on

and in the hours it took to digest that material.

(For the human: six to eight hours.)

It could believe that time was something not dependable,

that it expanded depending on how fast the body was traveling

and the time the world took was not the time

it was planning to take.

When I need more time, I freeze down the material I am working.

There in the cold, molecules take longer to reach their targets

and the enzymes, loaded, slower to release their fruit.

The rush of ions that are thoughts shimmer

on the edge of a hardened cusp, this is

movement close to light speed and time

slows. Imagine: a dream of glassy water

which does not quite ice so as to preserve the

membrane that would otherwise puncture,

like a pronunciation at the tip of the soft palate

while the world is loosening around with care.

But it can’t be complete. Something there

still ticks with the rest of the world, I think, and they


When I stand up,

it will take the heart nearly three beats to pump blood back to the brain.

At the window, watching one flower bloom for the entire afternoon.

The magnolia by the window takes five days to go from buds (hairy,

slightly engorged) to full flower. Blooming at a rate

thousands of breaths long. It is a matter of distribution. If you

added together the force of each kiss that brushed your forehead

and applied that within the space of a millisecond, a micro-

second, it would punch through your skull. They say that one can slow light down

by shining it through a heavy species of glass. It does not slow down at all.

Within glass, from atom to atom, as though from room to room

it moves with the same cold speed

shedding as it goes, as it must, until

presented to the open

for the next purchase


Matter is ongoing in widening distances.

The yellowed grasses bunch on the edge of the road now creeping a little in between the asphalt chunks which themselves were planted on bedded earth on the older grass which is a newer species on this older continent

and the animal too

in ambiguous preparation: one foot

placed after the other.

If a body, having entered the earth, sinks tectonically and reaches the conditions of temperature not much more than needed to boil water, then it will become, as would other bodies having been carried down this far

purified into pitch, into carbon and hydrogen,

into black bitumen—

it is the same material used to make this road

this straight line bisecting a plane

by which stand low shrubby trees, or one tree

that has dropped fruit onto the tarmac, crushed or shattered, open,

the recent one whose imprint of cored water already dried up (dehydration also the first step for the formation of tar)

but the sweetness still there

on the asphalt

in the same way that the word bitumen seems to have blood in it

and the asphalt road that has both goes in one direction

towards the place

with the horizon and the sky

white with untarnished scope

with endings that no longer matter

a proof turned blank.


That which is given but cannot be called

one’s own: a piece of knowledge, like

a body of laws, like a body warmed,

warmed on a rock, under the sun. This

hand, for example, which knows how to grasp how to darken how to follow how to

release potassium ions which will stop the heart if

crushed for more than a few minutes. A part

of the body. They say that a body once swallowed the universe into its throat

in order to protect it. Is that where it is? How it seems, everything with the attempt

to be in understanding of it, seems like an attempt

to love the body that I wish

laughingly wish I could

sometimes put my hand into

just to learn of course.

It is right to remember the sun.

And I am still waiting to learn

how the body can remain closed after so much,

a revelation I will keep eyes open to evenly

the fact of it comprehended in the effort to love

but this is what I mean to tell you

that the universe is still there, behind

the throat

the secrets are all there,

pregnable because it can be seen under a light


the body that is containing them,

the skin voluptuously holding it intact

and the darker nucleus where they are kept

dark enough and solid, it can be gripped

hold it

and make it give them up, those secrets

where is the button to press

to get the chromosomes to untangle

and open those parts with the art to put back time

that I imagine feels soft in my hand

that I will never know enough about

except when it has decided to

close, part that need not answer


They have invented poems with algorithms.

They can now be done with objectivity.

They work by concatenating locally intelligible
phrases and improve by introducing a theme
known but not spoken of. That

is how they work.

There is a chance it won’t work.

They have a name for infrequent events: It was
worked out by examining the number of Prussians
who were kicked to death by their horses.

The man who discovered this had a name that means fish.

I pick up the first thing at hand at this table,
the first thing with words, it was a postcard
on which someone had written Thank you

Fish feel pain as I feel pain but fish do not hurt.

Their pain is written in the asymmetry of missing scales,
the operculum that covers the richly vascularized gills
lifted on one side and cannot go back down.

The fish feels terror, which is the response to fear

blanks fear into terror       The mean and the variance
fearless fish lidless sleek       are the same value.

The scar formation process is the same between
human and fish.

The scar is a result of the deposition of an aligned
matrix where the matrix had been random because
closure needs to be fast to stop the emergence
because the body fears the thing that had left

could go back in again

as though our words could turn around from the silent
passion of the motions of our searching

as though you could put Thank you back

The words are still appearing. They appear independently
on this still-called-a-page page, produced a word at a time
ahead of me. The letters look like the scales of a fish.

When I wake up I will have dreamed of a bunch

of flowers. Fish feel as lonely as I feel.

Angelo Mao is a research scientist in biomedical engineering at Harvard University and a writer for the Boston Classical Review.