Eric Hoffman

The Vast Practical Engine


the wood must be
frost-bitten and
dry, the
seeds must wither
and decay,
the action of leaves

the fragmented world
is in ruin, the same
intact is born

“never use the words
higher and lower” for

“the wind bloweth
where it listeth”

what is most continuous
is most profane, bundles
of observations

words and not world

the cosmos
is empty of idols

the universe
is weather


o haunted and prolific world
of violent machinations —
you are no child,

you are a rock in the sun,
jaguar sheathed
in jungle leaves,

soft globule,
tender bead of sweat,
indifferent to an indifferent sun


Swedenborg’s Damascus
was a tavern
where he received celestial wisdom
from angels and apparitions

“I enjoy perfect inspiration”

yet for all his knowledge
of the geo-thermal core
he never found a hell
quite so punishing
as the human heart

said Emerson: “He turned the universe
into a gigantic crystal”
like some cosmological alchemist
“the universe in his poem
suffers under a magnetic sleep”
reflecting the magnetizer’s mind


All men are equal in their political rights
Negroes are men:
Negroes are equal in their political rights

                                              —    C.S. Peirce

Agassiz the empirical
the vast practical engine
in love with Morton’s crania

the Caucasian burden
scribed in hollow bowl

far below, the Indian
“restless, vengeful, fond
of war, wholly destitute of
maritime adventure”

and the “joyous Negro,
resplendently simple in
his African sun,
his climate incompatible
with the intellect,
deleterious, his fat lips
and grimacing teeth,
the wool on his head,
his bent knees and
the livid color of his palms—”

does not alter organized beings

God improved his hand
fashioning a lighter kind,
yet Nachash, that black gardener,
waits with coiled urgency,
listening for a voice of childlike wonder
and joyous simplicity


one cannot stop
to chase doubts
like rabbits
or to paint the surface
of law
though it is cracked and rotten

God or reason,
edifices atop
mountains of data

the possibilities open,
where you would
have them closing


every bit of us
at every moment
is part of a wider self

quivering along
various radii

a compass windrose

and the actual
is continuously one
with unseen possibles


what are the physics
of violence? or

are we the embodiment
of need, our tenderness

merely an apparition

to appetite’s defeat?

“There is no certainty
only those who are certain”

that the heart is small

that the world
cradles and destroys

that the triumph of breathing
and buries


o my soul
Nothing but a child’s cry

such purity in not knowing
but seeking knowledge

and once in its possession
it is only by degrees
knowing its mutability
and limits —

the lungs expel
and draw back in again

dangling above the dragon’s mouth
licking honey

all vales dressed in mourning
all teeth in the museum
some fated living victim

forms of horror fill the world

even here in our hearths and gardens
an infernal cat plays with a panting mouse
or holds a hot bird
fluttering in her jaws


the world is certain
yet we cannot know
for certain its certainty
is all there is
to be known

things happen
and Truth is a thing


nothing is so precise
as imagination
but what demon

hides in the most
precise equations —
what infinitesimally

small loss occurs
at that invisible edge
maps the distance

between the mind of God
and the limits of
absolute reason


the masonry’s stone traces
ancestry, the efforts of
intention versus the weight

of rock against the mind that,
boneless, imagines no limits
to exertion, pressed between

the motory of flexion
and the force of a stubborn
permanence. Yet we are a

product of this radiance,
a pebble in the boulder’s core,
the thin mean of survival,

a dynamic of the distance
from this monstrous indifference
to the smallest seed of hope


mind engenders truth
upon reality

like the caramel glaze
upon a candy apple

it makes little difference
whether or not we say

a stone on the bottom of the ocean
is brilliant

that the stone may be fished up

yet there are gems
at the bottom of the sea

and flowers in the untrammeled desert

Eric Hoffman's work has been published (as of late) in Talisman, Rain Taxi, Smartish Pace, Cultural Society, Poetry Flash and Jacket. In 2009 he edited a George Oppen festschrift, All This Strangeness, for Big Bridge.
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