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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Hypothesis Testing; To-Do List; Four Women at the Equinox

By: Barry Roth

Hypothesis Testing

Time slowing down to a sort of cactus,

I reduce to the size of an eye-beam

shooting down the tube of my microscope.

I say “study” to you, but that

is a feint, a misdirection.

We ride earth, rotating

under the pendulum.

The ears of desert mammals are radiators.

A bright idea hides the seed

of its own downfall – not the cavalry

of “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” but

one little prick, like the brush of a nettle,

takes it down. Enough of this

and the monster (your cinematic ideal)

craters: back, Sonny, to that mouse-fart

drawing board of yours.

To-Do List

cower before the inevitable

imagine the difference

between inside and out

pretend there was a past

with cavalry and stallions

eat nothing but flowers for a week

observe the result in the toilet

bow like a religionist

rise like a cow, rump to the wind

read the metrics; forget

how they became big shots

the mirror is a wave

slowed to a crawl: ignore it

Four Women at the Equinox


Across the cafe with two-top tables

counter and console like an airship dash

from which they pull our coffee drinks

my friend the executive tends to her

correspondence: small screen up

shining silver carapace, fruit emblem.

No time for us to chat today.

But I’m not jealous. Memos and letters

command her attention like children.

Once she said my writing confused her.

I imagine hers as crisp, hard-edged,

and to the point, earning the rent,

helping young women learn about themselves

in a world of chaos,

her lines

sharp with the grace of accuracy, as lyrical

as her hair the color of obsidian.


See a picture of fireweed,

full blooming flesh-pink

and call it by name. The owner

locks my gaze for two breaths of

Pacific Rim air. I look around me

at the pieces fallen away like eggshells.

This workplace was built on pylons

driven deep in Bay fill as proof against

the shaking that will come. I don’t own

that kind of confidence.

When she throws her long arms wide

to welcome me, I could be

just another barn cat,

hanging around for a jet of milk

straight and warm from the udder.


“We can hate men together,” she wrote a friend.

I passed it off as joking, but at the time

my critical mind was disengaged.

At twenty, between knocking on publishers’ doors

and visiting railyards with my steno notebook

(no camera yet in my duffel)

I’d put a lot of New York sidewalk under my feet,

so that forty years later, hop-skipping with her

up Park Avenue, singing You’re the Top

put quite the Fred Astaire shine on my shoes.

In rock-paper-scissors, death always wins

so it’s not really useful for me to wonder

which of those verses she’ll recite

on that terminal, foggy Thursday

when her day and night match each other exactly.


She is, I’m pretty sure, the first woman to ask me

if she can have my shirt, the maroon one

with the button-down collar.

“I look good in maroon,” she says.

“I won’t wear it tucked in.”

leaving me to imagine the nights

each a little longer past the equinox

and the fortunate Oxford cloth

containing her warmth.

In Anza Borrego Desert I woke up

to a ring-tailed cat staring me in the face.

Outside of Yuma my buddy fired rounds

into a culvert so no one sheltering there

under the Southern Pacific main line

would maim us in the night.

Fear and animal curiosity survive in us.

I send a cleaned and pressed shirt as my emissary.


Barry Roth is a writer, editor, and biologist living in San Francisco, California; his biology practice focuses on the lives and identities of the snails and slugs of North America. He earned a master's degree in creative writing at San Francisco State University. His creative work has been published in Sequoia, The West Marin Review, Catamaran Literary Reader, Nostos, and elsewhere, and anthologized in Under Thirty.


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