Thursday 16 May 2024

Five Poems by Piper Rasmussen


Factory Floor


The machine has its parts and they are working perfectly. First,

The cat is made to rumble by the light of the sun, a feliniphoto process which agitates

The substrate sleep, after which the lumber-jointed mannequin must rise

March down one flight of stairs and measure:

            One scoop of "protein and natural grains," from the cat food hopper to a bowl

            One scoop from the human food hopper to a bowl of equal size;

                        End: the system comes online.

Alarm bells stop production at midday, loud enough to crack the skull

A Caffeine 404, alert, alert, sparks fly painfully – bosses rush the factory floor to track the source

And litanize on OSHA. The station where the beans are ground is dry and cold. They recall:

The coffee guy is visiting his parents in a cozy Hallmark town with a brand-new bakery.

The missing cog is masticating a fresh snickerdoodle, even now.

Talc is poured on the factory fire; smoke signals rise.


カタツムリ, or, NE Looks Like SNAIL


Fu is a chicken

Ku its beak, or any beak, talking back:

Cuckoo, cuckoo, reminds the clock, it’s never too early,

When there’s a man, a plan, [Ja]pan-ama

We must stow our native tongue for takeoff.


A slow mind tugs on my soft palate

Answers simple queries sluglike – ah, shitsumon.

The Sensei responds: not a slug, ja nai desu, you are not, only

I’m sorry, snail, katatsumuri

Removing your house to be far away from home.


But, as they (we) say, wherever I go, there I (Amerika-djin-des) am:

In Osaka wondering how long it is polite to stare at the river

In Kyoto, grimacing and bowing my way out of a closed restaurant

In Tokyo, spying a local as she films, as she lifts a cocktail cloche:

Closed-mouth, I sip on her smile, on the smoke.


If I knew the words, I would say Sumimasen,

I am a snail; watashi no ie wa doko desu ka?

Help me, I have left it somewhere I cannot find.

Extending the final vowel, desu ka, desu ne:

Though it may be clear, please, show me the way.


Overful on days of tasteful souveniring,

The tongue longs for an inner ear, for secrets to tell:

Lorelai, Squirrel, Hamburger,

It slips to lie flat on its own floor

And stares at the roof of its own shell.


Penguin Poem


What's the difference between a comedian and a poet?

The comedian loses their lunch as the plane takes off,

The poet, their heart

HA HA (words emerge from a

Cartoon-style penguin) "That one time"


A woman by me forms a seal around her mouth:

Back stroked, lips hidden by wax paper, she prepares for takeoff.


Reader, you hunger, hours in the air already.

The stewardess is static; the lines of seats are moving; she metes out

Syllables. Why must you wait in the punch line?

Heart was on the in-flight menu.

Better to feed you the violent end of these violent delights.


Whiz! Bang!

Pow! A stick emerges with a flag.


Holy hand-grenades, Batman

I just don't have it in me to hurt you

I'm sorry.

(The man removes his hand

The woman rises, one knee after the other.)


A flightless bird, I waddle over

Offer you a handful of wax paper and

A businesslike shove from the nest.

I promise, you have been fed,

One way or the other.




My thread with "Tuna Craigslist" has gone dark.

He was my first call five times in four years when

I put all my things in boxes and moved on,

Poor in a plundered city. He handled

Everything I handled, carried

The same boxes into each new walk-up home

Just two hundred bucks a pop.

I told everyone I knew about My Guy, the Turk

Who un-marooned my books by dead of night:

Tuna the short-for-something, Tuna the Not-Fishy-At-All.


Sometimes after loading, he waved me on his craft:

The no-belt gunny seat was mine in his

Airless, windowless white van. Stacked

Beside a weed-soaked mate, I would flounder

Dug into the floor, my side-eye facing up.

Tuna drove; the other sailor sang his song:

A lost gig growing things in basements,

A greenhouse near Raleigh – busted; his new life here,

Where he is free to flaunt insurers' rules.

My mutinously-unwrapped mattress shifts.


Bright-lit bubbles flow

Brief bursts outside the submarine windscreen

The cabin is pressurized

It is impossible to go back the way I came;

Impossible to live within my debts.

I huddle, hope for journey's end, until

Tuna makes a pizza stop. No warning; double-parked,

Dodges the law and comes back with a slice for me. We, the crew,

Carry on full fathom five in marinara and cheese,

A feeling rich and strange.


Time does not pass as quickly underwater

A stop at our coordinates still shows

The old moment, the place where I blink up from the seafloor.

My boxes, sunken treasures, await James Cameron.

Zoom in… there, my pizza crusts,

From my time chasing the horizon with brigands, nearly

Baitfish, sustained by our ill-gotten gains.

I will one day invent an instrument to reveal

The secret tears I shed in their neglectful care

Our shared salt. 





Answer a

Broken telephone,

Ringing in an empty house.

The call placed in a

Empty, grey-lit hallway

Door after door after door

Clearing each room with greater fear

(Are they asleep?)

The creak you heard was right

here –

ringing ringing ringing in your

one remaining ear.


A broken game of

telephone, call after last call

leading two to

Sip solo from the spooky juice

as you tell me where you are,

I tell you what I am over loud music

Opening other doors at random in

this rented house – another, if we're lucky

hearing each other still,

Waking separate in the bed

One earring –


Piper Rasmussen (she/her) is a US-based playwright and poet. Her short- and full-length plays have been performed in Off-off-Broadway festivals in New York, Oregon, and Ohio. Her theatre reviews can be found on Piper holds a Bachelor of Arts from Barnard College of Columbia University, and continues to live and write in Manhattan with her husband and cat. 

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