Aqua Vitae: A Practical Recipe

by Kurt MacPhearson

Ponce de Leon sought the Fountain of Youth
upon the Isle of Bimini, but instead
he ran aground in Florida
and founded St. Augustine. Ever since then,
people have flocked south,
as if those waters bubble up from the Everglades,
or, perhaps, the dank recesses
of a central Floridian swamp—where cypress stand
a stoic watch, arms outstretched
and roots exposed like legs poised to dance
with demons driving men to drink
without fathoming their thirst for an impossible elixir,
or chemicals churning in an I.V. drip.
Such youth is stale. Like a cracker left out of the box.
Yet south they still go, as if word of this fountain
were only now trickling out
to hospitals,
to clinics,
and gated retirement blocks:
promises clutched in gnarled fists,
orthopedic shoes shuffling to a doctor’s didactic chant.
But the aqua vitae they seek
could never be extracted from a marshy bed,
or by metaphorically delving
the depths of an ailing heart.
Instead, distill legend from bitter truth:
And to this essence apply alchemical flame;
close eyes, conjure Caribbean thoughts,
then sprinkle these ashes
upon a moistened tongue.


My Singularity

Image via

Image via

My Singularity
by Kurt MacPhearson

At this point, everything slows
spaghettification rends
meaning from words
as they plunge
one by one
into the

Nothing escapes

Not even the light of your heart

Barstool Contemplation


by Kurt MacPhearson

The bar is a rubber band
stretched to its limits
with flat beer & watered whiskey
as the ashtray brims
with choke
that I’ve smoked
while thinking & drinking
& trying not to rhyme
with words that fall
like hammer on hand
between nails of a pensive day
bearing the stoic exterior
of an after-hours drinker
& seeing the world
through beer-bottle eyes
not sure whether to live
or to lie
because sober words
require countless drafts
to dilate time
while thinking & drinking
& rhyming all the time

Scifaiku #2


stirring up sand
along dead sea shores
lunar landfall

Haiku #2


swirling exhaust
from a hearse tailpipe
departing soul


two heads
evolution looking
the other way

Horrorku #3


ancient oak
surrenders to the woodsman
a dryad screams

Unfolding the Triptych

Last week I discussed the Collapsar, a poetry form that I’ve claimed as my own. This week, I’d like to introduce another poetry form that fits my own style: the Triptych.

Originally, a Triptych was a three-sectioned painting, the center panel usually being larger than the other two. Each panel had its own image, though the three fit together thematically.

There are two types of Triptych poetry forms:

  • A poem of three stanzas. The first stanza comments on the past, the second comments on the present, and the third comments on the future. The second stanza is twice as long as the first and third.
  • A poem consisting of three poems of equal length displayed side-by-side, like the panels of a triptych painting. Not only do the poems work together thematically, like the painting, they actually form a fourth poem. The fourth poem is read horizontally across the three poems. This fourth poem completes the theme of the Triptych.

I prefer the second version because, even though nailing that fourth poem requires some mental gymnastics, I believe it remains true to the original definition of a Triptych by tying all three together to the central theme.

2013 Dwarf StarsI agonized over the following Triptych for weeks before I made all the parts agree grammatically. Most difficult poem I’ve ever written (form-wise, that is). My efforts, however, paid off: I earned publication and nominations for the 2013 Rhysling Award and the Dwarf Stars Award. Now, if I only had the stamina to write more than a few Triptychs a year.


by Kurt MacPhearson

strange how       the aliens           open up
their                     third eye            like a window
perceiving          views                  with shades
can invoke         emotions            showing
revulsion            as                         proof
inside                  a spectrum        of lying

originally appeared in Star*Line, 35.4


Planetary Nebula NGC 2818, Hubble Space TelescopeOne of the reasons I write speculative poetry is to escape the everyday world. Sure, there are plenty of things to write about in this world, but I’d rather write about other worlds with methane seas and chlorine atmospheres. Instead of reaching for metaphors about the apple tree in my backyard, I’d prefer to reach a blind hand into a bronze cauldron churning with cloying horrors. And why ruminate on what’s in my neighbor’s head when I can peer inside the mind of a wizard who controls kings with a lantern made of jade?

Anything is possible in these worlds. Including collaboration.

Collaboration, for me, is having someone to make your own words read better. It’s having someone to say, “Hey, that’s pretty cool, but what if—?” It’s the liberty to tinker with someone else’s thoughts, the chance to use that opening stanza you wrote three months ago yet haven’t figured out what comes next. And, if nothing else, it is an opportunity to learn more about the writing process.

I’ve collaborated with several poets, and I’ve learned something while working with each one. It’s not easy to identify exactly what that “something” is, but I know that I write better poems today because I shared in the process of writing with others. And I recommend that all poets, regardless of skill, try collaborating on a minimum of three poems. (Few of us get it right the first time.)

The following poem is written with Rick Yennik.. It’s the first success of our many collaborations (we’ve written a few short stories together too). I learned from it, and I’m sure he did too.

by Kurt MacPhearson and Rick Yennik

we went there
with preconceived notions
cargo holds bulging

useless baggage
of peacefulness

digital treaties
fill in the blanks
and supply what’s demanded

breaking the rules
building the conflict
entertainment in red

sugar-packed newsreels
of feel-good features

humanity’s message
shipped in our actions
to those faraway worlds

Originally appeared in The Magazine of Speculative Poetry, Autumn 2005

Inner Space

About a year after I started writing speculative poetry I submitted a batch of poems to Star*Line, the Journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA). I was particularly proud of one called “Red Blinky Thing,” which focused on a dead planet that had been fitted with a blinking red beacon. I had a few poems published already, but nothing I’d written before could compare to the stunning imagery and profound message I’d stuffed into that poem. In less than a week, however, then editor Marge Simon responded with what was the most effective rejection I’d ever received.

 “…overkill. See too much of this. Try me with the ‘inner space’ in your head.”

At first, I struggled with her statement. Why would I be searching inside my head, when I’m trying to write about outer space? The only thing that sort of searching would accomplish would be to dredge up all the crap in my life that I didn’t want to think about. I didn’t want self-examination. That’s what therapy is for!

What I wanted out of speculative poetry was freedom. I wanted to explore places I’d never been, and perhaps make up a few things along the way like a 16th Century cartographer who scrawls “Here there be dragons!” on an uncharted region just to toy with the minds of his peers. Inner space? Please. Marge Simon obviously didn’t have a clue about speculative poetry.

Click here if you’d like to see how wrong I was.

So I bit my tongue, closed my eyes, and proceeded to try it her way. But ever so cautious. I could bump into strange things in the dank recesses of my mind. Hell, I might not even find my way back. It may sound a bit facetious, but that was how I felt stepping into that inner space. And those dark thoughts led me to black holes.

Event Horizon STRLNJLGST2010
by Kurt MacPhearson 

a pin-prick point
of everything
and nothing
lodged in the heart

 a cosmic eraser
leaving empty
theoretic explanations
as the soul rides

 originally appeared in Star*Line 28.3

I challenge all who read this entry to take Marge Simon’s advice. Search that inner space in your head and explore places you’ve never been, see things you thought you’d never see, and, in the speculative spirt, make up a few things along the way.