J. M. Gamble serves as the Poetry Editor for Sundog Lit. His poems and essays have
appeared or are forthcoming in places like Ninth Letter, PANK, Bluestem and Word Riot.

Nightsong With a Child

We were down in the hollow when light
gave into its fleeting and fled. And we were
between two mountains like the earth's mangled attempts
at sculptures when the night folded over on itself
the way a child might if it were cold. It is not
important that it is a child. It could be any one
of us. We shuffled in the hollow like anything
replaceable. The mountains stood like mountains,
redundant. And we too were redundant in the night,
its fold like cream in the churn. A flock
of birds gushed by, frightened by the lack
of their flight. And then there was a silence
like wings just after winging. And the hollow was empty,
even with us in it, as it was when we named it,
sitting in the garden, saying and what shall we call the space
between two mountains and saying why call it anything at all.
And then we took our bodies to the nothing space
to forget them. And when the light returned a frightened
bird, we acted like we didn't know why we were there.

I want to be something hard

I want to be a hard thing,
muscleful and squinting

as if I'd seen a relative I did
not believe could be alive.

And in the street the women
walk as if ancient. And they are

ancient. And the village says
hello to the birds by saying

nothing. And in the street
the men walk as if they were

newborn. And they are
ancient too. And the man

or the woman passes me
or doesn't but I know

she is not my relative
because he is dead.

Because my memory of him
being dead makes it so.

And the birds say hello
to the village by saying

hello in a British accent.
And I am a soft thing.

And I am such a soft thing—
like air, or worse. Light.

I would do anything

for love or whatever
we are calling it now—

desire or electronic
distancing. If of me you

request a sharpshooting
I will be a marksman.

When I say anything
I mean use your imagination.

When dark is the night we are
everything we can withdraw to,

and when we turn again
to see the sun we stop

back in our bodies as in
a game of musical chairs.

In the song when I tell you
what I'll do for love

I repeat it three times
so you'll know I mean it

when I tell you I can't
be the very thing you need.

For that at least
I won't do.

The Chinese Room

John Searle, the philosopher, comes to Alabama
and dances for us in a room that has the sterile
sheen of death. Consciousness, he says, is feeling,
sentience, awareness. I think he meant to say
consciousness is a funeral. He speaks very quickly,
as if he is afraid he might die soon. The room
is bursting messily as a cherry. We are here
because we know he will die soon. We might
as well pay our respects while he is still breathing.
On the board he takes great pleasure in drawing
nonsense and calling it Chinese. This is a very long-
winded symbol, he says, pointing to a drawing
signifying nothing. I think he meant to point to his body.
He raises his arm as if to prove he is conscious.
This is a thing he needs to prove. I too can do this.
At the end I ask him how he accounts for our consciousness
of consciousness and he smiles and says he rejects
the metaphor of introspection, makes a funny little motion
of a telescope pointing from his eye back into himself.
As if to confirm that inside he's still living.

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