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R. Nemo Hill

R. Nemo Hill is an American poet who was born in Massapequa, Long Island in 1955. Blithely eschewing academics as a youth, he chose instead for a teacher the contingencies of traveling with a bag full of books and a few cotton tee-shirts. A small solitary stone house on the coast of Portugal proved quite educational in this regard. Returning to New York in the mid-eighties, he had various free verse poems published in journals such as Sulfur, Mid-American Review, Multiples, and Blue Light Review. He has since then traveled frequently to Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, and more recently Thailand and Myanmar. In 2002 he published, in collaboration with painter Jeanne Hedstrom, an illustrated novel (Pilgrim’s Feather, Quantuck Lane Press) based upon the processes of medieval alchemy. 2004 saw the publication of a book-length poem, a narrative in heroic couplets, based upon a short story by H. P. Lovecraft (The Strange Music of Erich Zann, Hippocampus Press). His chapbook Prolegomena To An Essay On Satire was published by Modern Metrics Press in 2006. His most recent work, poetry and fiction, has appeared in such venues as Poetry, Smartish Pace, Measure, 14 by 14, Iambs & Trochees, Shit Creek Review, The Chimaera, Umbrella, Big City Lit, The Literary Bohemian, Ambit, and Ditch. His travel journal, Elsewhere, can be accessed at

Sonnet for Bill

Even reaching for a bourbon or a beer
your hands seemed always gracefully composed.
Their elegance intact, though more severe,
all that they’ve held, or wrestled with, still shows—
although they reach for nothing now. They lie
like orchids, dropped upon the white sheet stretched
across your ribs, your chest—which I watch rise
and fall—a small, pale pine cone filled with breath.

Forgive me now if face to face with death
I turn to paint a portrait more discreet:
a single glass of warm milk that’s been left
to cool beside a window. In the street
outside, long shadows of late afternoon
are gathering and entering your room.

New York City—2006; published in Poetry

A Bit of Light

The night was moonless—dark as it can get
in this suburb where the porch-lights burn till dawn,
where the blue light of the neighbors’ tv set
seeps through drawn curtains, silvering their lawn.
We both had fallen silent, lost in thought;
when suddenly she leapt up—“Look!” she cried—
and tottered round the garden till she’d caught
(with childlike skill) a single firefly.
“I haven’t seen a firefly in years!”
she marveled at the lamp cupped in her palm.
“I thought that all of them had disappeared.”
She held it closer, sheltering it from harm.
From between her fingers (clenched—but not too tight)
there leaked a blinking, greenish-yellow light.

A flash of inspiration swiftly followed.
“Where are you going?” I could scarce keep up.
“I’m looking for a jar, I want to show
your father—” “Are you sure? You’ll wake him up.”
“I’ll put it in our room, beside the bed.
It’s been so long since he has been outside.
I’ll switch that goddamned tv off,” she said.
“Go, tell him that I’ve brought him a surprise.”
But halfway down the darkened hall she stopped,
and gazing through the glass, sighed with dismay.
“It won’t light up,” she said. “It knows it’s trapped.
I guess the idea’s silly anyway...
I’ll let it go.”
                       Outside, a single spark
Escaped the jar and vanished in the dark.

Massapequa, Long Island—2006; published in Measure

Looking Glass

I’m waiting for my flight. Time has slowed down.
It’s stranded me before a wall of glass—
where, face to face, transparence and reflection
confound what is seen through with what glides past.
Outside it’s pouring rain—a warm night’s storm
has splashed the glass with drops, with waves of mist
through which I can discern the hulking forms
of grounded planes. Their shadowy shapes persist
beneath a veil of images less steadfast:
reflected movements and reflected light
cast ghost-like on the surface of dark glass
from inside, where it’s cool and dry and bright;
the airport’s solemn hubbub reproduced,
made weightless there—drained, flattened, and reduced.

I need not turn around at all to see them,
those moving by behind me constantly;
those passengers delayed, awaiting freedom,
whose shadows cross the glass impatiently.
They pace that lounge this mirror sets adrift,
past currency exchange, through snack-bar glow,
until the play of light and shadow shifts—
and they disappear—their luggage carts in tow.
And all the while the soundless storm is raging
in violent pantomime beyond thick glass,
while dulcet-toned bilingual voices paging
lost travelers, blend with the bland bombast
of piped in pop-tunes, and the journalese
of endless banks of pay-for-view tv’s.

It’s hard to know what’s here and what is there,
what’s in, what’s out, what’s on or through this glass,
what’s real and what’s a phantom—. Though I stare,
the solid state my eye presumes can’t last.
The focus cannot hold. What then remains?
The only thing that seems real is this rain—
this rain I will believe in till the day
it washes every other thing away.
I see myself as well, in my glass place—
a tremulous mirage—but for my frown,
which seems the only part of my own face
this glass collage of weightlessness can’t drown.
I watch my lips. They move without a sound.
They mouth four simple words: “Let it come down!”

Changi Airport, Singapore—1998; published in Smartish Pace


The rain’s been falling steadily since dawn.
By noon all trace of solid ground is gone.
The garden’s flooded. Water on all sides.
My little porch alone rests high and dry—
a raft of rescue I’m obliged to share
with thousands of determined refugees
who scurry up the four legs of my chair
and sprint across the book closed on my knees.

I’d spent all morning gazing out—. I’d played
my role as the heroic castaway,
convinced I was alone. Till I looked down.
The horde of exiled ants runs circles round
the rim of my stained teacup, and my plate.
All hands on deck!they cry. We cannot stay!
Our ark, though small, is all! The rest is groundless!
No anchor can take hold in what is boundless!

I feel the earth begin to tilt and sway—.
My porch, unmoored, is rocking on the waves—.

Petulu, Bali—1997; published in Smartish Pace

Children's Story

It's a story for children—.
One morning, god puts his clothes on backwards.
Which is why we have thunder, boys and girls.
Which is why we have great empty cider barrels
rolling overhead—rolling, rolling, rolling
across the tops of our skulls, boys and girls,
and crushing us with the weight of an entire
unnamable universe.

And the thickness of the skin, boys and girls,
is the creator's way of relaxing on a Sunday afternoon,
in front of the television set,
in front of the baseball diamond on the television set,
while his wife is busy in the kitchen baking cookies
(baking gingerbread men).

A child in the back of the classroom raises her hand
and asks, "What is blood?"

Blood, boys and girls, is nature's way of saying
have a nice swim,
but don't go out too far!
Don't go out over your head
where you might get flattened
by one of god's early morning barrels rolling backward
across the sky.

"The blue sky?" asks the young girl.

"Yes. The blue sky."

Published in Sulfur

Wordlessly Bright Leaves

Today’s bright sun is filled with such a breeze
The air itself seems made of moving leaves.
Uncertain and atremble, brushed by light,
An endlessness of shadows gently weaves
New surfaces for things, new skins of flame,
New ways to gently chastise cold clear sight.

The world is whispering in the ear of sight:
“See how I’m recomposed by every breeze,
As insubstantial as a candle’s flame
Which flares up and then swoons away—and leaves
The fading mark a flickering shadow weaves?
All earth is one capricious page of light . . .”

A writer writes in vain, in such a light.
In vain a reader reads. He strains his sight.
In vain I move my pen, which scrapes and weaves
across the paper in the fitful breeze
Of inspiration—yet I find it leaves
No mark at all upon this page of flame.

For if all things are de-composed by flame,
Frail shadows cast by its unstable light,
How trace those nervous patterns that it leaves—
Each flash, each flicker, vanishing from sight?
How grasp that fabric from which every breeze
Steals the transparent threads with which it weaves?

The afternoon, from lengthened shadows, weaves
A fleeting world of ghostly guttering flame.
A writer sits, pen poised. A gentle breeze
Kidnaps one page (blank, but for dappled light)
And then another, sweeping both from sight.
Away it bears them—wordlessly—bright leaves.

The world is but this drift of brightened leaves—
Their wordlessness the loom on which sun weaves
The blankness and the blindness from which sight
Enkindles vision in the eye of flame.
If demiurge decrees: ‘Let there be light!’
Then let there be, as well, a gentle breeze

To scatter all these bright leaves of mute flame.
Let him who weaves upon this page of light
Be brought to sight by every passing breeze.

Published in The Lyric

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