The HyperTexts

David Alpaugh

David Alpaugh’s poetry, drama, fiction and criticism have appeared in journals that include Able Muse, Chronicle of Higher Education, Evergreen Review, Modern Drama, Poetry, Poets & Writers, Rattle, Scene4, Spillway, and Zyzzyva. His collection, Counterpoint, won the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize from Story Line Press. Anthologies that have published his work include the Dana Gioia edited California Poetry from the Gold Rush to the Present and the Norton Critical Anthology Eight Modern Plays. His musical play Yesteryear: Three Days in Paris with François Villon was published recently by Scene4. He teaches literature at California State University East Bay’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and has been a finalist for Poet Laureate of California. You can access more of his work at: He is also the creator of a new poetic form, the Double-Title poem. Several other poets, including Sherman Alexie, say they love the form and are already at work on Double-Titles of their own!



Margolins was our upstairs tenant in Plainfield,
New Jersey. Paid $28 rent which she earned as
a clerk at Macy’s. A widow, her only son, Jack,
died in World War II. Though I always said Mrs.
Margolins, I’d fetch her mail, so knew her name:

Lorna. Once, when I thought she wasn’t looking,
I stuck my tongue out at her. She saw me—and I
had to apologize. "I’m sorry, I stuck my tongue
out, Mrs. Margolins." I felt bad then. As this flame
gutters, I feel rotten. Outside this poem, Lorna is



Makes me shiver. Pulls me towards it—as it
did Robert Frost. Spooky action at a distance.
Trees are friendly, can be climbed—birches,
maples, oaks—lead us, with birds & squirrels
& butterflies, to open skies. But what’s in the

Poison ivy, briars, spiders, ants,
scorpions, wasps—and who can forget snakes?
I prefer the simpler dangers of the ocean; peril
I can row. Great White Attack? More likely
I’ll win Lotto—or be swept out to sea by the



springs to mind—then Bergson
on Le Rire. What do cockroaches & Malvolio
have in common? Chitin makes us laugh or
howl. Put either on a stage and click-clickety-
—they’ll tap-dance the aural essence of

That cosmic Malvolio, Satan,
draws laughter from Milton’s God. Dante
ends his Commedia with a universal smile.
Risibility can’t be repressed, even by deity.
Heaven and earth splitting sides—at lack of



What it did? Took a shit and ran! Dead metaphor,
to be sure, but—so pertinent—I wish it were alive.
I love its frank pragmatism. It always takes care of
business before turning tail on whatever comes to
mind. It’s so not sicklied o’er with the pale cast of

Thought. Had Wittenberg taught Hamlet that saw
instead of Stoicism 101, Fencing 222—Claudius
would die at prayer in 3 / 3; and Ophelia, Laertes,
Gertrude, Polonius, the Sweet Prince himself, all
be alive in 5. Swordplay foiled (Olé!) by a rusty



So which kind should we prate about? Him
who’s 70 on the street in a vomity sleeping
bag, clutching a pint of Southern Comfort?
Or a three year old in a hut in Africa, face
covered with flies? Or 1099, IRS defined

Poverty—with cell phone & big screen TV?
Jesus said Leave your junkand follow me.
Monks pray in cells. Artists paint in garrets.
Damon sings to Chloe from pastoral hillside.
For some poverty’s ideal. For most savagely



Thank God, they found that man’s boson!
And he still alive to see it. Well, not see it,
exactly, but know it exists inside the Large
Hadron Collider. Talk about The Decider!
I apologize for being crass; but without a

boson you wouldn’t have tits, nor would
I have an ass. It’s responsible for what Einstein
calls mass. Dubbed The God Particle, because
without it physics can’t rule out a deity; with it,
need for such a deus-ex-machina thesis falls to



The double-title poem (created by the author) has two five line stanzas. Titles are limited to one word each. The first title reads into the poem or states its opening motif. The first word in stanza two is identical to the first title and is italicized. At least one word in the last two lines of the second stanza rhymes with the exit title. Poems may be metrical or open. If open lines should be as even in length as possible. End rhyme is to be avoided, but internal rhyme is welcome. Punctuation is inventive, with use of the Dickinsonian dash to create pauses—and disconnects. Double-title poems respect both locality and spooky action at a distance. They are more in Eliot’s camp than Johnson’s re metaphysical poetry and the "yoking together of heterogeneous ideas." By treating language as both particle & wave Double-titles provide the aesthetic pleasures of both fixed & open form.


Today I am throwing old checks away
That lay in a shoebox five years, fearing audit.
They’re free—free, at last, to burn or decay.

Money still talks, but her ghouls simply say,
“Something was sold at a price and you bought it.”
Today I am throwing old checks away.

Each bears its signature; year, month & day;
And pays to the order of Mammon: due profit.
They’re free—free, at last, to burn or decay.

Here’s one for Sears; here’s one for ballet;
Airfare to Rome; a homeless benefit.
Today I am throwing old checks away,

Saying “Ciao!” to old wolves they kept at bay
While they tended our credit and fed it bit by bit.
They’re free—free, at last, to burn or decay. 

I crumple the papered past. I murmur, “Hurray.”
It’s my shredder now must reconcile chit, chit, chit.
Today I am throwing old checks away.
They’re free—free, at last, to burn or decay.

Originally published in The Formalist

Heavy Lifting

A contentious granite monument inscribed with the ten
commandments was finally removed from public view
at the Alabama state judicial building yesterday
in the face of furious protests.

The Guardian Unlimited, 08/28/2003

I laid my hands on that granite Bible
and helped tilt five thousand pounds
off the courthouse floor so the bailiff
could wedge a jack under the pedestal.

Words graved in stone rose into the air
honor thy father... shalt not kill... adultery
words that took me back—way, way back
to bible school... those gloomy Sundays.

We wheeled the ten commandments
into storage; covered them with a sheet
and locked the door—while protesters
wept on the courthouse steps.

Two tons are a snap to move these days
with hydraulic jacks & powered dollies.
Still, I couldn’t help thinking how hard
it was for a solitary man like Moses

to strap those great stone tablets on
to his back and lug them all the way
down the craggy slope of Mt. Sinai!
Shoulders, loins aching, how tempted

he must have been to dump God’s
magma opus into a fiery fissure—
and run for cover like a Philistine,
more fearful of a hernia than brimstone.

What a relief to reach level ground
and look back at that arduous mountain—
to lay those heavy strictures down for a while
before rousing his sleeping children.

Originally published in Octavo


I’m vulgar.
If I were wheat I’d be bulgar.

If I were a bird I’d be Crow.
If I were absurd I’d be Pozzo.

If I were a Norse God I’d be Loki.
If I were a dance, the hokey-pokey.

Slip me the keys to the kingdom
and I’ll let the riffraff come—
the leper, the beggar, the poet and the bum.

If I were on the surface, I’d be scum.

If I could put on strings, I’d be a ukulele
and if Segovia came, I’d say, “Sorry—
only Arthur Godfrey can strum me.”

Things gross in nature become me.

I am the chaff which the wind driveth away
I am the human laugh of the feral child at play.

I’m the only man at the brothel
who still goes upstairs with Olga!

Even my rhyme is half-assed.
I’m vulgar.

From Counterpoint

At the World's End

Once again I have made it
to this one story building in Florida
and have found my way beyond
the Cuban guard at the front desk
watching a rerun of Fantasy Island
and the candy-striper coaxing a wobbly old man
into an aluminum walker
to the little corner room at the world’s end
and Aunt Rebekah one more time.

Once again she shows me photographs
of people who were part of my childhood
and people I’ve heard about, but never seen:
How pretty she was in pigtails…
How proud at her eighth grade graduation…
How healthy on the day she married Uncle Walter.

And there’s a middle to reflect on
here at the world’s end (though she doesn’t
bring the photos out today). And the beginning
of the end’s in a shoebox under her bed—
retirement years, full of oranges & lemons,
uneventful, free of snow.

There are no recent photographs.
No one wants to look at Aunt Rebekah’s leg
with the tight shiny skin and pools of purple blood
or dwell too long on or try to image up
the leg already claimed by diabetes.

Or admire the candor with which these legs
chide the legs in the photo on the wall
when she posed on the Boardwalk at Atlantic City.

These are hers. They are now.
Even the missing one is hers, now.

There’s not much to do here at the world’s end.
This is a place where it can take all morning
to cut your toenails; where a crossword
can take days to finish
under a magnifying glass.

We sit. We embrace.
We remember Aunt Alice.
We remember the house in New Market
and the farm in Hunterdon County,
now a busy shopping mall

There’s not much to say here at the world’s end.
It seems more natural to stare at the walls
or look out the window at the birds.

This is not a good place for words.

From Counterpoint


What we did that summer evening
was turn our bicycles upside-down
so the seats were on the ground
and the wheels in the air—
then we twirled the pedal round and round
till our knuckles and fingers were white
and we couldn’t make out individual spokes:
just a silver blur and an incremental hum
as the wheel sang the song of its appetite.

What we did next was feed the wheel flowers,
flowers not worth putting in a crystal vase
—Trifolium, Dandelion, Queen Anne’s Lace—
flowers that thrived on parental neglect
in the unkempt grass by the utility shed
as if to affirm Britannica on weed:
any plant growing where it is not wanted.

Who would be afraid of an idle wheel that spat
out handfuls of ragtag flowers, already half dead?
And the bleeding stalks left a stinging answer
in the summer air: perfume we’d count on ever
after—to keep coming at us stronger than before.

Lynne Saughter went first; she thrust in dandelions;
then Bruce Edwards, a single budding clover:
the only sign we’d get that his own tousled head
would test the metaphor’s might just two weeks later
when wheels would screech and metal do its work
a few miles west off Willow Pass Road.

It was starting to get dark on Mount Diablo.
We flipped our bicycles right-side-up
and raced around the cul-de-sac like maniacs,
or Dante’s damned, or Milton’s falling angels,
getting high on the last drops of Daylight Savings
until parents cried, Allee, allee, in-free!

Later we fell asleep thanking Schwinn,
Rollfast and whatever gods may be
for the night, the mountain and the wheel
within a wheel—like love, like magic,
like a spell to help us keep our balance,
and make up for bald tires,
as we cycle to the valley floor.

From Counterpoint

Scene from The Book of the Dead
Painting on Papyrus, circa 1450 B.C.

Your heart shall be weighed
against a feather
one day
by Anubis they say
while the Ibis-headed Thoth looks on

assaying its truthfulness, determining whether
you shall pass into the presence of Osiris

whose throne rests on water
like a lily

or be devoured by the wolf-god, Amenait
And so it behooves even the leanest of heart
to notice the feather hovering in the balance
before the trial by metaphor begins

how light it is, how lonely
how fallen from the sky
yet warm with the beating of the wing

bear it to your lover
and she’ll close her eyes
rub it wistfully against each cheek

use it to dust the gold dragon
on the lid of a jewelry box
woo a sullen child back to mirth

wear it as a keepsake in her hair

almost forget it’s a feather
dipping the thirsty quill
into sepia, alizarin or lampblack

Originally published in Poetry

The HyperTexts