Instruction Poems
November 3, 1999
San Francisco

You write a line and then write the instructions for the next person to write the next line.


physics: chemistry without wings

[give another example, following the form]

birds: reptiles with feathers

[continue with above instruction]

love: life with illusion

[continue above, giving a definition of Halloween]

Halloween: illusions (of feathered reptiles) with chemistry

[continue: only use 1 or 2 words that have been used in the poem]

fame: illusion of a love-life with self

[define something food-related]

pasta: edible strings engulfed in ruby-red liquid

[continue, with no rules]

progress: mistress of false pasta

[define spandex]

spandex: someone's idea of a practical joke

[define your favorite style of hat or hair]

braids: fluid tension


Her recovery began once she started drinking the daily milk bath that soothed her rash,

[explain what caused the rash]

her rash, which, she believed, had resulted from a certain confluence of the evening sky and the state of Murphy's nose along with

[finish this thought; use "or" 4 times; tell me more about the milk bath]

the Oreo cookies used as epidermic emollient or as a snack while waiting for the butler to arrive with the next movie for the VCR or helping of the cook's homemade pizza; she would pepper her drink with soap or shampoo, while listening to strains of Rachmaninoff's Third Symphony or Bartok's First.

[talk about the live band and press coverage]

If only her rash were completely eliminated! The dry, chafed patches were enough to keep her from attending her son's piano recital, where he was to attack all twenty-four Chopin Etudes in under five minutes; but far worse was the tragedy that her itchy palms would keep her in the house when she should be out seeing Julie Roth's band, "Jones Trailer", at the Paradise Lounge at 6pm on Thursday!! (or visit the website at!) But she wasn't going to let her damn dermatitis spoil her chance to

[talk about what your ideal meal would be, where and why. Use the word "churlish" when describing the main course]

have some fun on a Friday night! She was going to order in We Be Sushi's deluxe sashimi special, and she would wear her faded flannel nightgown and pink fleece slippers while gobbling down all sixteen pieces and thinking very slippery thoughts about the churlish sushi chef who had prepared the delicate flesh with dexterity and care

[can you bring the milk bath cure back in & finish?]

while laying on her back; smelling the slight order of tuna wafting from the empty take-out box, she realized that it was once again time for her milk bath therapy.


On my desk sits a small hydroponics experiment.

[Define: Hydroponics]

I study it in absent-minded moments, this study in water, this seedling without dirt to root in.
[What do I think?]
Pondering with a fluidity that this experiment that might yield fruit occupies a space on my table.
[How does the table look?]
The unvarnished table worn smooth by touch is not unlike the countertop at the shop where I purchased the hydroponics equipment -- where the storekeeper kept winking at me when asking me what I was trying to grow.
[Describe the plant, without using the word "leaf" or "stem" or "root."]
I tried, at the time, to explain what it was I was aiming for, but I could not quite express is, perhaps, in part, because I did not know. Now that the experiment has begun in earnest, I see why. The thing on my desk is not a growing thing, though it does, I admit, grow. It has ears, and a mouth, and it says hydroponic things to me all the time.
[Continue the description, including a subtle element of fear or eerieness.]

It was last Thursday when my furniture began to disappear, & I could swear I had more fish in my aquarium.

[Mention a relative.]
Cassandra Sandson, my orange angelfish, is not present among the others. How I miss her, a present from my aunt Betty last year before she went crazy and put all of her teeth in backwards.
[Surprise the reader with who the aunt really is, and why the furniture was missing, and where the cats went.]
It turns out, actually, that Aunt Betty was the one who stole my chaise lounge and end tables. i guess she was lonely, expecting some company, and wanted Cassandra back.


I pounded flour 1919 under Northeast smokestacks.

[Say what you did after.]

Years later, I was diagnosed with a lung disease directly related to this activity.

[Reflect back to the year 1938.]

After nineteen years of inhaling ground wheat, the germ had finally gotten me. The doctor's words seemed to change the air pressure in that cold examining room.

[Make it less abstract.]

He said "You've got about six months to live, Jack, before they give out on you."

[How is Jack supposed to feel?]

I was curiously relieved, finally glad to know why I had trouble walking 2 steps witihout collapsing. So, it wasn't working in the coal mine or the 6 -pack a day smoking habit that crippled me.

[What does Jack decide to do with his life savings of $500?]

I was also relieved because I had no intention of ever working another day in my life, and I thought it would be grand to have an excuse to spend my life savings -- 500 bucks -- in a 6-month binge of some sort;

[What sort?]

so, after four years at the barber shop at Lamont Furnace, PA, I decided to run for Mayor. I thought my chances were good

[Describe the travelling circus.]

seeing as how my competition was the bearded lady from Wichita. Her runningmate, Sal the Three-legged Acrobat, was one I had seen in Bakersfield not three years back. In their day, the circus folk would take a VW bus from town to town, giving thirty-minute shows, but mainly recruiting.

[Wrap this up.]

Unfortunately, my campaign was not fun or successful. And all the characters in this story, including myself and all the circusfolk, died 6 months later.


Mercy was the last in the door

[Make Mercy move quickly.]

The picnic group had fled the hornet and Mercy, always the slowpoke, had slammed the screen door just avoiding the aerial onslaught.

[What does her brother say to Mercy?]

Jonathan, Mercy's young cousin who admired her greatly and did nothing to hide this fact, threw his arms around her, not sparing even a moment wherein she might catch her breath.

[Something bad happens to little Jonny now. Lead up to it or make it happen. Avoid consonants. Just kidding.]

Just then a rogue hornet managed to eat through the webbing of the screen and latch itself to the back of Jonny's neck;

[Describe the size of Mercy's dad's rifle.]

piercing the flesh and causing Jonny to run about the room in blind circles. Mercy thought her poor cousin was just up for a game of Crack the Whip, and held on tight, spinning faster and swingin Jonny straight into her father's colleciton of working miniature Chinese rifles.

[Wrap this baby up.]

This preciousu set of antique firearms that sat upon a rack, close to the fireplace, crashed heavily to the ground and woke Mercy's dad, Hector, from a deep sleep. He ran into the room, pulled Mercy off of Jonny, who was still fiercely gripping to little Jonny's back, and said "Haven't I told you not to play in the house!"


Physics makes the world go round and round and round

[What makes the world go square?]

18th-century French theatre makes it go square

[What physics did they practice at the Bastille?]

but at the Bastille, the troops practiced their tennis game,

[How does this relate to physics?]

calculating the force required to hit the ball at increasingly thrilling velocities.

[So how does French theatre make the world square?]

with face paint

[Describe French theatre of the 18th century.]

The edict had come down from the king that extremely ugly dolts would be actors, thus creating a market for face paint and jobs for hisi cousins.

[What kinds of design best hide warts?]

The most flattering pattenrs were full cartoon depictions of the Revolution, and the troupe decided to paint successive episodes & always stand in chronological order.

[How was this affected by the potato famine?]

When the potato famine hit, the need for face paint in France also increased, since the French of the 18th century mainly imported their face paint from Irish farmers of the 19th century. Some say this essentially caused the famine, as most of hte face paint was made from food products meant for hungry Irish people. Either way, the death of 18th-century French theatre was rapid and unpublicized. Sadly, every post-famine form of French drama is an illusion, and does not qualify as "theatre." On the bright side, Physics prospered and prospered for years to come.