Thursday, January 26, 2012


Marc Vincenz is Swiss-British and was born in Hong Kong. His recent books include Upholding Half the Sky (MiPOesias, 2010), The Propaganda Factory, or Speaking of Trees (Argotist, 2011) and Pull of the Gravitons (forthcoming Right Hand Pointing, 2012). His translation of Swiss poet Erika Burkart’s Secret Letter is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. Last year, his poetry was nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize.

The Mystical Art of Accounting

“When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast…”— Harry S. Truman

It’s all about volume,
capacity per square metre / foot
(whether metric or imperial floats your proverbial boat);
although, there are others
(a whole slew of choices, in fact):
the Tokyo Tsubo for instance; sounds like soy-infused Wasabi sauce;
the Seoul Pyeong: true measure of an average ninth century Korean male—
arms and legs fully splayed, face down prostrating, flailed by the brunt
of a Mongolian warlord’s cat ‘o nine tails, an ideal size for a room,
I am told; or perhaps face up, making perfect circles
under cherry blossoms in the snow, stargazing,
defining the rules of space and numbers.

Imperial Peking had,
and Social Democratic Communist Beijing
still has the Mu, which possibly derives it’s name
from the exhausted groan of the water buffalo—
a measure for judging the extent of rice paddies before harvest.
Everything is weighted, ruled, cubed, boxed, angled, triangled—
lucky we came up with these handy things, numbers.
Now we can finally count the stars in the sky—
6000 with the naked eye—and we know useful things
like the distance from the equator to the moon
represents sixty-nine times the girth of a full grown earth.

Funny that, the number 69—
normally I think of being twenty one again,
in the back of my Unbeatable Bonk Bug with Maria-Rosa,
Hispanic-American goddess, gently calculating
trigonometric angles, postulating X/Y positions.
Without numbers we wouldn’t know our up from down,
we wouldn’t even know there are more than two of anything at all—
just be walking on straight lines in flat spaces, like Pacman,
we wouldn’t know an arse from an elbow, really.
Yet, these are mostly distances—things men have conquered,
numbers have far reaching consequences:

Analysts know how much Namibia is worth on paper,
in Dollars, Euros, Rupees; its equivalent in derivatives;
and in conjunction with funded institutions of science,
how much bacteria and moss can contribute
to the global economic balance sheet—
it has all been tallied out, audited down
to the last decimal point, then stamped,
duly notarised and sealed in hot wax for posterity.
There is surely a secret book,
hidden in the darkest catacombs of the Vatican
where all calculations are indexed for future evidence;
or perhaps it is hermetically locked
in the sprawling prairies of Middle-America,
guarded by the Federal Agency in charge of numbers.
I mean, why else would they call it Area 51,
giving it not one, but two prime numbers?
And, by the way: 69 and 51 add up to 120,
which is a recurring number in the Mayan calendar,
and shall someday well fulfil an ancient prophesy
unlocking the last secrets of the Universe.

Yes, we have developed all sorts of uses for numbers;
we know how many atoms are required in an atom bomb,
but more importantly how much it costs,
(2 billion dollars for Harry Truman in 1945, 20 billion dollars today);
there must be reasons, of course, why God gave us five fingers on each hand—
he wanted us, it seems, to count on them. One by one by one.

Previously published in FRiGG

Monkeys & Flowers

Nobody stands for old Auntie
on the 6.45 to Purple Pagoda Park.

Most of us are gripping the overhead rails
like whooping monkeys.

In the streets of a city
flowers need a man’s attention.

There are no birds, no bees.
Dirt & dung are horse-carted

& the Buddha & the Chairman skip hand
in hand, all the way down to the waterfront.


“I know you’re thinking
these are trees from the days
of wilderness and chaos,” he says
wielding his electric chain saw,
a crusader assessing his holy war,
“when butterflies were golden eagles
and spiders the size of cartwheels.”
“We,” says his companion
Manolo who looks like a gunslinger,
“are trimming our way to enlightenment.
There’d have been no Renaissance
without the heat and the paper-makers.
It’s stubble from a chin, and we’re
just giving her a close shave,” he says.
And Manolo points at my Canon
dangling from my neck like a marsupial.
“Take your shots of the extinct volcano,”
he says, “but these are coming down.
And I know you’re thinking about
the wild flowers, about the bees,
but listen—don’t you want to know
what the time is?”

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