"Variations on the Scrawl of Light" and "This Is an Ode"

Variations on the Scrawl of Light

  1. "For you are my lamp, O Lord,
    and my God lightens my darkness” —2 Samuel 22: 29

For several days the visitors 
stayed, the foliar fading in
callused light thick in panes
frosting opaque, and bright

enough to break the stone,
mortar, brick that houses
each of our slithering
consciousnesses. The

promise of winter crystallizes,
we have a hard time believing
that we’ll lack each other,
but ice and snow blinds

enough to keep the dark
things away, and keep our
days in which we suffer
much more light than heat.


  1. Hinc lucem et pocula sacra.

In the sour of our blood
there is a bitter humor,
we laughed at shadow
puppets of copulating

birds. Flight as fingers
fingering the obscene
in blocked light.  The
present is a husk, kept

empty so that anything
can break like a fissure
in a dream light endowed.
Slate roofs cast a silver

hue which is ironic in
utter darkness of closed
eyes, enigmatic is the syntax
of light—the pinpricks that
pock the dark softening. By

small effort, the tiny holes
ooze heat which rises from
reflection off of water on
fresh green grass.  What

vision promises in the last
scattering surfaces?  Even
in the cheap seats we can
see the way shadows fall. 


  1. “Corruption springs from light: 'tis one same power.”  —Philip James Bailey

Through the bus window
I see the trash-haulers bring
me their dark.  Traffic spectral
in half-night liquefies the air

in browning sky: the metallic
taste coats the tongue as two
chocolate bars stain my teeth.
At the bus I stared down strangers,

hoping that I was never there
and challenging each to prove
me.  The Book of Nature is riddled
with errors and lesser gestures:

This pox we don’t wish to see,
to examine, to cut into discrete
truths like scissoring away the edges
and blurring.  Darkness hides

the leathery woman who slowly
picks up the trash. The heart is not
beautiful: clotted with fats and beating
blood into submission. The angry

meth-addled man apes a sexual
motion as if fucking the air
itself. Light lacks grace, lacks
even the silence of street wisdom.


  1. “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. “ —John 1:5

The angle of vision—
mud bricks before
a broken face from
falling, moon shuttering

in the haze reflected
in wet concrete to be
darkened with blood,
but cutting away the

scene illuminates again
fluid thickened flashes
in fear and oaths of
stone and gravel.


  1. “Love is not consolation. It is light.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

Exception spines the boundary:
this you can’t see. Days are counted
by two-dimensional cutting, demarcations
of vision. This light, a stabbing.

Inward. There is no deadline
to the perception. No heaven
left by the violence of a punch
line. The sky is vast, cold, and,

in all things, bright.  Glories
surround the vision, glories
illuminate the mountains of
Baekje through the airplane:

glories, halos of evanescent
waves coupling.  This light,
a cup.  Holding inward
like sucking in air after

a kiss. Bring me a small
detail. Bring me bright.



This is an Ode

Sitting, shooting spitballs at near
cloudless sky, hoping the atmospheric
clearance slips one into God’s eye. 
Endless hours spent wondering
about the empty sky.  I tell myself

there is a story: a young man
trips into love with an alien. He
meets her in a chat room sipping
on stale coffee, black without
sugar.  Later, he discovers that she

has no form, no body, only
light and sound.  This complicates
things greatly, but as he sleeps
she enters him gently, rocks
his chest as he sleeps, inhabits

his breath, known and unknown.
Ten years later, some police find
him, breathing shallow, muttering
sweet, sad nothings to himself,
bedroom dusted with old skin flakes,

cat hair.  Then her pushing out,
one big shutter, then he stammers
for love, not oxygen, as light drips
out of his mouth dimly.  He lives
without her, hacks with his cough

into that sky.   That is what love
is, you may say.  What do you
know?  It is afternoon, the sky
is clear, the air slicks the chest
with a brine of a coming storm.



C. Derick Varn

C Derick Varn is a poet, podcaster, and teacher. He served as assistant editor for Arts and Letters: A Journal of Contemporary Arts, managing editor for the defunct Milkweed Review, founding editor for Former People, and was a reader for Zero Books. He won the Frankeye Davis Mayes/Academy of American Poets Prize in 2003. He is the author of the collections Apocalyptics (Unlikely Books, 2018), and Liberation, and all the other bright etcetera (Mysterioso Books, 2022). He currently lives in Utah but spent most of the last decade outside of the US. He hosts the politics, history, and culture podcast, Varn Vlog. Derick recommends the Huntsman Cancer Institute and Doctors without Borders.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 22:10