Ben Lerner’s "Lichtenberg Figures" can be found in recent or forthcoming issues of Paris Review, Denver Quarterly, Ploughshares and Post Road. 


Resembling a mobile but having no mobile parts,
my instrument for measuring potential differences (in volts) is 
like a songbird in a Persian poem. I have absolutely no
idea what I’m saying. I know only 
that I have a certain sympathy 
for the rhetoric of risk and mystery. Think of my body
as a local institution.  Think of my body 
as a monocoque. Think of my body 
as the ponderous surgeons of Wichita 
ready their nibs. When the first starlings began to cough up blood, 
the night applied its cataplasm. The moon issued its scrip 
to the Austrian dead. An expert described your son 
as incapable of some really important shit. 
Your son described his name in the air with a spliff. 








from The Lichtenberg Figures





The dark collects our empties, empties our ashtrays.

Did you mean ‘this could go on forever’ in a good way?

Up in the fragrant rafters, moths seek out a finer dust.

Please feel free to cue or cut


the lights. Along the order of magnitudes, a glyph,

portable, narrow—Damn. I’ve lost it. But its shadow. Cast

in the long run. As the dark touches us up.

Earlier you asked if I would enter the data like a room, well,


either the sun has begun to burn

its manuscripts or I’m an idiot, an idiot

with my eleven semi-precious rings. Real snow

on the stage. Fake blood on the snow. Could this go


on forever in a good way? A brain left lace from age or lightning.

The chicken is a little dry and/or you’ve ruined my life.






I had meant to apologize in advance.

I had meant to jettison all dogmatism in theory and all sclerosis in organization.

I had meant to place my hand in a position to receive the sun.

I imagined such a gesture would amount to batter, battery. A cookie


is not the only substance that receives the shape

of the instrument with which it’s cut. The man-child tucks

a flare-gun into his sweatpants and sets out

for a bench of great beauty and peacefulness.


Like the girl my neighbors sent to Catholic school, tonight

the moon lays down with any boy who talks of leaving town.

My cowardice may or may not have a concrete economic foundation.

I beat Orlando Duran with a ratchet until he bled from his eye.


I like it when you cut the crust off my sandwich.

The name of our state flower changes as it dries.






What am I the antecedent of?

When I shave I feel like a Russian.

When I drink I’m the last Jew in Kansas.

I sit in my hammock and whittle my rebus.

I feel disease spread through me like a theory.

I take a sip from Death’s black daiquiri.


Darling, my favorite natural abstraction is a tree

so every time you see one from the highway

remember the ablative case in which I keep

your tilde. (A scythe of moon divides

the cloud. The story regains its upward sweep.)

O slender spadix projecting from a narrow spathe,


you are thinner than spaghetti but not as thin as vermicelli.

You are the first and last indigenous Nintendo.





            for Ronald Johnson


The sun spalls the sluiceway into shards.

The blind man finds an equivalent for adult films.

The rabbi downs a hin of wine and gives


it a rest. A votive candle is delicately set

into a small, decorative paper bag

weighted with sand and placed in a row

along the dock. The poet will never walk

again. Not even in poems.

Lightning bugs set down their loads.


Tonight the women have the feel of men

who’ve worked. For you I have retired a word.

It is the only word that never appeared in your books.

It was the only word you didn’t know.

It begins with the letter O. 






Possessing a weapon has made me bashful.


Tears appreciate in this economy of pleasure.


The ether of data engulfs the capitol.


Possessing a weapon has made me forgetful.


My oboe tars her cenotaph.


The surface is in process.    


Corsucant skinks emerge in force.


The moon spits on a copse of spruce.


Plausible opposites stir in the brush.


Jupiter spins in its ruts.


The wind extends its every courtesy.


I have never been here.




You have never seen me.