"Trial and error is different from the trial of errors" & "If I knew the Spanish word for "yearning," that would be the title of this poem"

Bob Hicok

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How many ants are there in the world per person? If your coffee is missing something, is it possible that something is a trip to the opera? In Bob Hicok’s two poems, the domestic is skewed and forced to confront the absurdities of its own strange nature.

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Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”

Trial and error is different from the trial of errors

I remember being young—
Younger—
and trying to figure out
what coffee was missing, putting
gasoline in it, lightning,
bits of The Stranger,
taking it to the opera to see
if it tasted more lovelost, reading
Mark Strand's loneliness to it, poems
full of endless no ones, until I settled
on adding one teaspoon of shadows
cast by my memory of talking to a man
who'd survived World War II by eating a lot

of nothing, a lot of not bread, steak,
cheeseburgers, free range pizza
or chicken, talking after a wedding
in a fancy hall while others
finished dinner and he waited to eat
what they hadn't, to clean their plates
after they got up to dance,
to ingest their saliva
and brush his lips
against their teeth marks
because he couldn't help himself
and wasn't sure he wanted to.

This memory always goes in my coffee,
on my cereal, over or under
my sunnyside ups, cause
damn, you know, holy shit: what a world.
And sugar. I add sugar
to my coffee. Eight or nine
pounds of sugar. Cause holy shit,
you know: what a damn world.

If I knew the Spanish word for "yearning," that would be the title of this poem

2.5 billion ants per person
is the estimate I read out loud this morning
to the sunflowers on the table,
who looked at me the same after learning this
as they would have in the field
of their birth had I met them there
before they were introduced to the economy
and I fell in love with them
at the farmers market beside the twelve puppies
wriggling in a box like furry eels
swimming in an ocean of familiar heartbeats
and unaware of the pending end of solidarity.

All this richness and profusion and me
never having been in a bar fight or delivered
emergency pomegranates or dildos
or spelunked or parachuted or strewn flowers
before the troops when they returned
from waging peace in glorious campaigns
of hugging and writing letters home,
yet I don't quite feel like a failure
because I sat on church steps above Pittsburgh
waiting for a taxi with a woman I've loved
for thirty-three years
when a man dressed as the Joker from TV Batman
drove by on a chopper two times louder
than all the bad drumming in basements
played together all at once 
and gave us the peace sign
to suggest that everything
would be interesting and/or all right.

About the ants: 20 quadrillion total
they figure–the they that noodle such stuff–
or as I like to put it, a lot. I like to think
that Greta Garbo would have taken all the puppies
and that the woman who passed us twice at the church
and did the sign of the cross each time
will make it to heaven and throw down a rope.

Bob Hicok is the author of Water Look Away (Copper Canyon Press, 2023). He has received a Guggenheim, two NEA Fellowships, the Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress, nine Pushcart Prizes, and was twice a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and nine volumes of the Best American Poetry.

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