The HyperTexts

Mike Alexander

Mike Alexander is an American poet who lives in Houston, Texas, the Bayou City, Space City, a milieu of his own choosing. Poems have appeared in several fora, most recently in River Styx, Bateau, the 2010 Texas Poetry Calendar, and in Modern Metric’s chapbook, We Internet in Different Voices.

Alexander has organized readings for decades, from the Paterson Arts Council in Jersey to the Helios readings in H-town. He has also dabbled in criticism, translation, & pop lyric. The output of any magazines with which he may have been connected once are no longer to be laid at his door.


Thirty years ago, you wore that smirk
            that said the class was giant steps behind
                        your syllabus, & always, thriftstore vests,
your signature attire. A poet's mind,
            you taught us by example, never rests.
                        You looked into the way that poets work.

Each lunch time, a Symposium. You’d talk
            of scaffolding in Chaucer or James Joyce
                        with gravitas, then swiftly explicate
Leon Trotsky in a Monty-Python voice.
            What bardos you’d be able to create
                        once you were free of lesson plans & chalk.

You graduated. Free at last to do
            whatever you desired with your knowledge,
                        you moved into an Artist Housing loft
in Paterson, & taught there at the college;
            nice gig, if tenure didn’t make you soft.
                        Old mentors only asked for news of you.

Retired teachers asked. In truth, the news
            was troubling. Too few particulars,
                        too many mysteries. You disappeared
into an underworld of red brick bars,
            where wasted regulars you knew & feared
                        offered you shots that you could not refuse.

Like Yeats’ Raftery, you’d wax & wane;
            the phases of the moon. You’d celebrate
                        two weeks without a drop, then wake outside,
sick, soiled, sorry, frothing-mad with hate  
            at seeing your reflection, stripped of pride,
                        your restless mind, an instrument of pain.

What then is left to say?—you went too soon,
            not soon enough? Forgive me if today
                        I argue with a loss that makes no sense.
I see you smirking at me now, & pray
            that you, in one last Li Po reference,
                        embraced yourself as you embraced the moon.

Originally published in Measure


       after Rilke

The head, the limbs, the torso. All intact,
having survived the ages, not a scratch
on this buff surface. Timeless artifact.
The eyes, the musculature, a perfect match,

like golden apples, each with the exact
patina as the others in its batch,
the others who did not survive, ribs cracked,
priapus snatched, too ruined to reattach.

If it were more complete, it would be less
miraculous—its abdomen, mundane;
its eye-to-eye proportioning in vain.

A coffee mug stamped with its avatar
awaits you in the gift shop, where it says,
"Don't change a thing. Stay just the way you are."


You know the sketch. A sitting
room circa nineteen twelve,
an English Lady knitting,
a deferential knock.
The BBC would shelve
such footage under Stock.
A messenger arrives    
to speak his single line,
a message from the lives
of working men who’d kill
for a decor so fine—
There's trouble at the mill.

A page from D. H. Lawrence:
Each player chastely eyes
the other with abhorrence,
knowing that under clothing,
bared arms, quivering thighs,
there lies a deeper loathing.
Dame doesn’t understand
the world in this respect.
The working man, unmanned
by her stiff deposition,
blurts, I did NOT expect
the Spanish Inquisition!

The door bursts open. Three
goons dressed in scarlet satin!
Maniacal with glee,
one roars (the script neglects
to put it in Church Latin,
but….) NOBODY expects
The humor here, our chief
amusement, is surprise,
absurdist disbelief—
but then the leading goon
begins to itemize
his weaponry, & soon,

surprise is followed by
a litany of fears,
the too-big-to-fail lie,
the flubs & the excuses,
the wars that run for years,
the tar brushes, the nooses…
We want the comfy chair,
the pillows lined in silk,
pajamas, & a pair
of slippers, (we confess!)
a nice warm cup of milk,
a little tenderness.

We don’t want prisoners
in jumpsuits, bodies piled
in mass graves, his & hers,
the images that keep
rerunning, unreconciled,
to taunt us, as we sleep.
Some nightmares, though, are true.
When Spain abruptly cleared
out Saracen & Jew,
the rest, to stay, converted,
but Torquemada feared
the pure would be perverted.

The Inquisition used
its patented techniques
to question the accused,
parceling out its sessions
over a course of weeks
(discoveries, digressions…).
The recusant, at first
suspended by an arm  
behind the back, at worst,
would get a dislocated
shoulder—no further harm
would be anticipated,

unless he still persisted
that he was never damned,
as if no Sin existed,
why, then a wad of cloth
would forcibly be jammed
into the prisoner’s mouth
& water would be poured
into his face, until
confession was secured…
that he’d abstained from pork,
writ sigils on his sill,
& done the devil’s work.

Still obstinate, the wretch
was tethered to a rack; 
inquisitors would stretch
the truth out of his lies,
before they put him back
into his cell. Surprise,
surprise & fear, fear &
surprise, & the Armada
sails westward to defend
the Faith, while penitents
are burned for Torquemada,
still pleading innocence.

There’s trouble at the mill.
Don Tomas genuflects,
while we recoil still
at this horrific vision,
& nobody expects
the Spanish Inquisition.

Originally published in Rattle

She Responds to Music

She reaches out her hand to touch the strings
of my guitar, where I am making chords
appear & disappear. There are some things
I cannot say, for which I have no words.
At times like this, I go for my guitar.
Flat fifths, augmented fourths, & minor thirds
leave blisters in their wake, if not a scar.
I play my mother a diminished scale.
I fall back on my usual repertoire,
the crowd-pleasers, old songs that rarely fail.
But at her touch, the flat-wound strings fall dead.
She reaches out her hand, painfully frail,
to interrupt, but leaves the thought unsaid,
& rests. The silences between us spread.


I walk in as my mother plays “A Long,
Long Way from Home” from memory. The keys
kneel gracefully beneath her hands, the song

obeys her touch with such apparent ease,
that I am marveling at her technique,
not the progressive state of her disease.

While playing, she can keep in tempo, speak
coherently, & smile. She must have played
the same piece every day of every week.

Away from her piano-barricade
she'll talk as if the words do not belong
to her, but to the Alzheimer’s, a trade

of gesture or a fluting of her tongue
for once familiar melodies gone wrong.

Originally published in the Houston Poetry Fest anthology 2001, as “At the Atrium”


I bring a load of whites—wool sacrifice,
our lost cotton mesh, our warmth, sweat-stained,
reptilian skins shucked off, that we replace

in secret, streaked with venom, rattle-brained
secretions from the grass, a tire’s screech,
convulsions. Working in the basement, chained,

a tool bench, badly-stocked, just out of reach,
beside the storage bin below the stairs—
I lean into the Whirlpool, adding bleach

& Tide to gym socks folded into pairs,
an extra change of sheets, large undershirt
& underwear. In antiseptic chores,

our nightmares gather strength. Like week-old dirt,
our whites show the regrets, the faded vows, 
perpetual mortgage of a ground-in hurt.

I’ve tried to pass for the exemplary spouse,
while turning like a termite in the wood, 
like cracks in the foundation of the house,

I feel the mortar wash away for good. 
I feel exposed to adder-lidded eyes.
I feel the Whirlpool rocking in my blood.

Originally published in Znine  (UT Arlington), then reprinted in The Weight of Addition, Texas Poets 2007, Mutabilis Press


Your table’s set with chips & queso,
& guacamole’s on the way.
The best in town; the guidebooks say so.
Your table’s set with chips & queso;
as long as the dollar outpaces the peso,
you can relax. Enjoy your stay.
Your table’s set with chips & queso,
& guacamole’s on the way.

The waiter with the smiling eye
knows you & all your kind are rich,
for he has seen what you can buy.
The waiter with the smiling eye
believes that God will rectify
all debts when meek & mighty switch.
The waiter with the smiling eye
knows you & all your kind are rich.

He doesn’t know about the pills
you take to regulate your heart
or keep in check your nightly chills.
He doesn’t know about the pills,
the credit margin, the unpaid bills,
why your marriage fell apart.
He doesn’t know about the pills
you take to regulate your heart.

The so-called harmony of the spheres
rings equally for everyone,
but since nobody really hears
the so-called harmony of the spheres,
the fault must lie with human ears.
Tone-deaf, we howl beneath the sun.
The so-called harmony of the spheres
rings equally for everyone.

Peals of prayer roll hot & wet
from bells in the cathedral tower,
whose belfries open wide, to let
peals of prayer roll hot & wet
across your face, till you forget
how strange it is, at twilight hour:
Peals of prayer roll hot & wet
from bells in the cathedral tower,

on the far side of the street;
a dusty taxi’s polychrome
chimes back. Say grace, & start to eat.
On the far side of the street,
the colors of the day compete.
El Sol invites you to his home
on the far side of the street:
a dusty taxi, polychrome.

A mariachi’s big sombrero
shines down its blessing, a man
wearing the mask of a lone vaquero,
a mariachi’s big sombrero,
singing, “Yo no soy marinero,
soy Capitan, soy Capitan…”
A mariachi’s big sombrero
shines down its blessing. Amen.

Originally published in Barefoot Muse

The HyperTexts