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"twenty-two meditations" from brett a. maddux's algorithm hymns

Hartford poet brett a. maddux releases his latest collection of poems titled algorithm hymns. “twenty-two meditations” is an extended reflection on life, death, and reincarnation featured in the final section of the book, the tumor hymns. The featured photographs were taken during the writing of the book’s first section, the travel hymns.

Poetry & Photographs by
brett a. maddux

twenty-two meditations

i. amen again still trying to break the habit

still trying to reach the ground cross-

legged over the connecticut in suspension trembling shivering above a

shimmering luminosity alive or so they

tell me & downtown i saw a bride &

groom walking alone along a sidewalk

toward the courthouse & at the river’s

edge two children swing in motion each

one aiming for the sky & at a picnic

table three women sit watching & one

says good heavens & they laugh & on

the corridor beneath the bridge they list

the great floods of the past though not all

of them & not the future ones & a man

draws autumn trees in red pencil beside

the sculpture keckly & there are toddlers

in masks grass moved by breeze like

waves descending it has been two

months since my last cigarette it has

been two months since i last spoke to

rose it has been two months since i

learned how to ascend into air & i keep

thinking it will get easier & some days it

does some days parades on pyrrhic

victories but most days i have to take

myself out to clear the lungs & brain a

bit clear the space where kings & queens

are dancing playing their music for gods

own audience first the bend the traffic

casual & then the pirouette


rested gently upon the lungs bridge

mercy’s blessings life is lived until

forgiveness blends in with the water as

sun eddies grass into the current i have

been told love comes between good &

perfect but i haven’t found it there & i

have been looking & i have been

wondering what it is we come for water

in a spiders web fifteen steps across the

span a gnat that hovers suspended

endlessly over the city & somewhere a

dog is barking as a hawk circles the

aqueduct & i have been wondering what

these animals are doing in my head & on

the tracks a cashed half-smoked cigarette

butt a god that gives until we’ve had


iii. god pulls up a chair takes a seat adjusts

the microphone says i would like to play

for you forgiveness psalms in minor key

& they’ll sound just like the ones you

heard before as the radio plays every

station no kings & no solicitations doors

running right up to the water & if the

boatman asks exactly what you came for

i find it’s best to tell the truth or

something close to it on grand pianos

made of metaphor a time that sounds the

same in either three or four a driving

rhythm bodies can’t ignore over the

water now eyes on the shore see gilded

cities made of bended glass flowers &

snakes that blend in with the grass flows

current from the future to the past as

ravens hover for your souls repast &

wonder how long does this morphine

last with lungs that claim to breathe as

clouds roll past you can not take it &

you can’t give it back

iv. staircase of light that leads you

underneath the boatman asks you for

your baby teeth & quotes a fair price for

your soul before he whispers where’s

your god now & in hartford in ‘36 water

nearly reached the bridge & seven years

before there was depression & three

years later the war was on & in ‘45 they

dropped the bomb & as the floods came

rolling in as hiroshima burned as

children lined up for bread they must

have thought the world was ending

prophecy come water rising markets

collapsing famine & struggle all against

all & lately everyone i talk to seems to

think the world is ending & most of

them seem to think it is happening for

the first time

v. still here still know that this world is

purgatory still know the magic word will

still not let me in children still on

autumn bicycles therapy still by

telephone still power & its tyrants still to

be covered up with flowers still cheap

thrills still every day changes still a nice

woman in the park told me what the

intelligence chiefs said she should be

afraid of in between ads for life

insurance & heavy duty pick up trucks &

she asked me if i’d heard the bad news

so i read to her from the hymnal glory to

george’s born again evangelists glory to

our bombs glory to their lobbyists all our

war criminals & all of their apologists

their violent client states & their rouge

militant nationalists strange how the

holy water seems to wash away all of the

stains from all of the last wars blood still

talking heads on television still

advertisements for prescriptions still

contractors consultants & henchmen still

have some fear they’d like to sell you

you’ll hear them preaching from the

citadel for those who pray to lords of

nazareth for those who pray to liquor

cabinets for those who pray to be

subanimate just name the dream & they

can sell you that for those who draft the

ones you love a pill to cure your vague

impotent blues turn the volume up here

comes the breaking news

vi. the river beneath my body looked like

god herself feeding diamonds to her

horses made of gold floating on the

horizon tall buildings filled with middle

managers queen of all those who show

mercy she has inscribed a circle on the

face of the waters at the boundary

between the light & the darkness

vii. still here soul still tired still counting blessings on fingers toes & vertebrae bird still comes in low against the wind above the water but still it’s coming sun side of the hill or shaded still alive or so they tell me still grateful for the mystery two years since i’ve seen most of my friends but i know that they still hold me still i am carried on their shoulders there is still dirt between my fingers from the soil in the gardens where they still teach me how to grow the fruit my body planted cross-legged on the ground of gratitude meditation on two years of solitude still god’s needle comes to find the groove still my heart can float above & float between & from a distance it can see them & in an instant it can meet them in this liminal attendance out of body in transcendence god the meaning of forgiveness if you’ve been wondering where your friends went open the door that keeps the record of your time you will find it in your mind & you will hear them playing music in the night & it will sound like birds & barking dogs that levitate in memory of the way it was the way it is the way it will someday be & it will wink telling you the cosmic joke how you keep thinking life is passing by & that you’re real & all of this is really happening & when at last you reach the end you hear the punch line ​ viii. breach i have seen young men in the streets some screaming out in fits of pique some joyful some in misery hands seen reaching out in hunger or in peace sometimes in anger or in love sometimes in pain the world still seems to turn the same so i’ve been trying to become vision my eyes & my feet what i say & what i mean the difference between reverence & reverie learning songs & learning to sing them with my lungs in resurrection from the sea coughing ascendant & obscene praying my father doesn’t die this week row row row your boat gently down the stream merrily merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream ​ ​ ix. a wheel it’s spokes but not it’s medicine an old friend says hello from distance if only i had ears to hear it ringing clearly through the universe on burning chariot on intergalactic hearse dogs on the leash of planet earth elements mixing in with the oxygen a blue moon rising up the interstate a calendar of how long mercy takes what is the word for nature’s scripture women & children taking pictures dressed in such elegant ribbons in sunday best as leaves descend on breezes gently weaving floating from the west i smell the stars i hear them glowing ​ x. i hear choirs barking i hear church bells ringing i hear shadows bending i hear morning is what comes after the night babies at south green bus stops poetic justice jackets pushers static on nearly every frequency god of my animal divinity express bus on the way to bradley i scan every passing face to find no passenger six flowers & i’ve lost every one the seventh seal is yet to come the one i love still does not love me of all the truths that i’ve learned to believe in like all the dust that passes through collecting everything i lose to bind in no particular order good morning moon my father coughing by the water my lover left me in the bardo strangers describing facebook photos in this one they are inside the door & in this one outside a laugh that echoes river corridors a joke parents can tell in front of children in this one sinners are forgiven & in this one they’re not so much depends upon the god we teach kids to believe in hello my friend the things you need are within you they will try to sell you fear & shiny objects to distract you & lead your body to tall buildings to contract you so you can buy a little nine to five reality an ad you saw on television for some new medicine that teaches corporate wisdom an electric pocket box for digital miseducation a god to overcome my habits you silly algorithmic rabbit you do not need to be afraid we’ve got something you can take for that just sit quiet & relax breathe in the lungs that you still have first there is life & then what comes after it of all the things you claimed to own & who you claimed to be i hear a silence in the streets i know it echoes if you listen we return you to your previously scheduled reality already in progress back to barking choirs back to breach this one is born so ceremonial i know that it will all be over soon so i am writing this one from another life

xi. a promise i made to my sister not to

write anymore bullshit about time or

elements or shapes or numbers not to

think that i can understand things not to

try to solve the answer to the riddle

that’s been rolling round in circles in my

head goddamn it there i go again i guess

i have returned to shapes & forms i

guess that i have been reborn but i am

trying not to notice it i’m sorry britany i

will call you & we can talk about

existence knowing the odds are pretty

slim & knowing how the story ends for

me & for my friends & for everybody on

the planet born to a culture that believes

it’s kind of morbid to go mentioning our

own impending deaths to feel warm

breath against your neck & know it’s

really coming someday whether your

soul’s prepared or not this life is not a

parking lot it is a bridge forever spans it

stops & then it starts again it keeps a

lighter in its purse & death is what gives

living purpose a light that leads to what

is glowing deep inside of us a promise i

made to my sister no possessions no

subdivisions in what time i have left

rambling on & on again this is the song

that never ends where air & birds are

trying to lead you to the consciousness

of trees a door that doesn’t have a key

that opens slow into what’s coming after

please know that this one sounds like

laughter real life the stage & all its

actors are sipping water sitting on the


xii. a desert that is coming for your city a

dog that stands on both hind legs is

sitting pretty & the fact that it’s a robot

doesn’t seem to bother anyone who pets

it before the war we all believed that the

machines were here to help us

a letter you start writing to your children

about the world & why everything’s

burning & when you get to the good part

you can’t help but to laugh before the

water wars people used to set their

sprinklers in the grass

depending on the time you have & how

long you have it if you ask the question

you will get the answer see men pouring water on the dust bankers & mercenaries

breaking up the trusts holding tight to

everyone you love if in fact this is the

prewar before it started people were

addicted to these things called cell

phones smoking algorithmic outrage

singing pseudo-religious love songs

humans referring to their lives & bodies

as a brand before everything got a little

out of hand people begging to have their

lives influenced corporations selling

them prepackaged revolution & nobody

noticed until the water started rising

xiii. we interrupt this broadcast to bring you breaking news

we go now to our correspondent live & on location in

the future

good morning chuck yes we are here at the corner of

franklin & maple where a hole has opened up into

what appears to be the intersection of space & time

witnesses say they think sagan may have been on to

something when he said we have the cosmos inside of

us & that he may have been describing a similar

phenomenon to tolstoy who said that the kingdom of

god is within you

sharon have you gone through the hole

yes chuck we did step into the hole which opened up

into this same intersection one hundred years in the


& what did you see there

well chuck everything looked the same only there were

drones patrolling the sky & there were no humans &

for the most part everything seemed to be under water

have humans gone extinct in this new future sharon

no chuck we were able to speak to a robot who was

scuttling around in the water splashing playfully at

another robot who told us that at some point humans

agreed to let billionaire tech developers implant chips

into their brains to connect them directly to the internet

& now humans spend all of their time locked inside

staring at a bright light fearful of shadows in what the

robot described as a “coma of advertisements”

& how does that differ from the present sharon

it doesn’t chuck

xiv. born just to be charity standing orders

born just to be born once i built a railroad born just

to be born again now it’s done born just to be

born again fond but not in love

please master tell me please master sell me please master sell me something cheap

please master holy water for my body

please master lonely wandering through

capital monopolies please master bathe me in heteronomy

please master what does the data say is wrong

with me please master let me rest my head upon your

belly please master place my face beneath the left

breast mole please master hold me please master i hear time is always ending &

if that’s true i’d rather end it where you are

north of the grass & south of the stars the

ringing nuclear alarm a warmth that flows out

from your arms as existence gently collapses

all around us no more water no more

commerce starvation falling bombs &

converts to the religion of the earth the circle

medicine the cosmos the sound of birds

ringing like proverbs please master tell me please master tell me what these animals are

doing in my head please master nothing starts & nothing ever

ends please master i was born just to be born again

please master let me in on the joke behind the

dim unknown please master wrong forever on the throne

truth forever on the scaffold it wasn’t my idea

so i won’t be bashful & when i finally

understand the cosmic joke i’ll hear the angels

laughter echoing the rafters sounding a little

like a five-eyed alley cat does please master dogs that bark into the night

please master ask the advertisers to stop

selling every body egos & lies like we even

exist this reality is brought to you by coca

cola please master any way the wind blows

please master turn out the lights the party’s


xv. i have two heads one is governed by the

bomb & the other’s governed by the

algorithms & neither one pretends to

know the difference

i have two heads one is governed by the

spirit & the other one stays quiet so to

hear it as it whispers to me gentle things

as it tries to sell me wedding rings &

plastic bassinets on credit holy be the

god of the internet

i have two heads one for father one for

mother one for fire one for water one

that hates me one that loves me i have

two heads & only one of them is

working but i haven’t learned to tell

which one or why

i have two heads one is green & one is

red one is born & one is born again one

goes on forever & one gets stopped up

on depression i have two heads one for

sadness one for pleasure one taken off

for love & one taken off inside of nice

churches one for chorus one for verses one machine & one is person one is

grace & one is mercy

i have two heads one to row the boat one

to merrily down the stream one pretends

that life is real & one knows it is just a


xvi. hidden world we are dreams casting

light & shadow we are ones & we are

zeroes we are bodies very briefly & then

we’re not we are creation & it’s gods &

children hidden world we write it down

in allegory we call it life or purgatory we

try to get where we are going pretending

all along that we exist & that all of this

is really happening prophecy of the

algorithms set our bodies to the rhythm

of the alternating hymnal we are liminal

we are blue moons wet with water

xvii. a finger draws itself upon the river’s

surface & the wake echoes out to the

shore asking nicely for the morning

asking money for dope & money for rope & iridescent is the word they use

for how light refracts oil in water &

incandescent is the word they use for

glowing with intense heat & i guess i

don’t know what word they use for when

people get sold wars by their military-

loving leaders & their billionaire presses

but it seems to happen often enough to

call it something hell in my lifetime

already three or four (seven) & that’s

just the ones they tell us about for a few

weeks before getting bored with it &

that’s depending on if you count the one

they’re selling us right now all against

all every single person i meet of any

persuasion being fed a steady diet of

outrage anger vague pronouncements of

violences to come & i wonder what that

will lead to first they sold bombs to the

good newspaper readers on recommendation from wise sages &

bureaucratic middle managers hello

friends why don’t we drop a few tons on

iraq afghanistan & send some drones to

africa sell weapons to any bidder let’s

see what happens then first you have the

war against the terror & then they sell

you war against your neighbors in every

issue & edition that i can find so that

should end well & lately everyone i ask

admits they’ve been feeling angrier &

more terrified staring vacantly at their

telephones convinced somehow the

world must be ending as though any of

this is new seeing signs in every shadow

wonder why that might be & i guess

john was right about those neurotic

psychotic pigheaded politicians so

hallelujah go & ring the bell pretend that

there are answers to the question pretend

that you really exist pretend the time is

short now when really it is not & good

luck with all those salesmen & their war


xviii. gaze in revival windblown carnival is

come to town in the quiet if you listen it

is loud & it is sharp enough to sever any

tree limb like a father with a daughter on

his knee counts the blackbirds one two

three draws the circle soft & sweet cycle

complete trying to make it proud of me

& if i fail i know that they’ll have me

committed water flowing iridescent

close my eyes & meditate upon a love i

loved in some other life the stars that

found me in the night in suns valley

played the music & they taught me to

dance to it they said that nobody can

plan for this so medicate me i am feeling

spiritual the light that glimmers on the

river hears it too it sounds like imitation

furniture please take your seat upon the

floor to hear the souls luminous chord

the present tense & nothing more

xix. soul battled sympathetic undilated pupils

the first bite always tastes more lovely

than the last good morning friend all of

your ghosts are here & once again they’d

like to bum some cigarettes they asked

me where your lover went but me i

didn’t have the heart to tell them so

instead i read a list of every nerve

contained within the human throat &

showed them advertisements to keep

them docile mercy my friend i have

come to sell you some prescriptions you

can take this one for fear you can take

this for suspicion & paranoia take this

one for a place at war in eighty nations a

gentle sedative to combat night terrors

this one helps you see politicians hiding

behind two different names for one

ordinary corporate flavor one says

chocolate one says vanilla but they both

taste like money & if you refuse to take

it they’ll scream at you on television &

the internet which elicits the desired

effect take once every four years to feel

you have a choice this one settles vision

in some vacant middle distance for

casual conversations with strangers &

acquaintances subliminal & everlasting

best if taken with the bread & some wine

side effects include transcendence into

light & when you die you have to live

another life

xx. amen if i am born again just like any

other matter in this universe that leaves

& then comes back snake in the rocks

beside the tracks my soul is climbing up

the mountain to where the air is growing

thinner & from there i can see the city

clamoring desperately at distance partial

usually to the eucharist first passing &

then dropping ordinance little of column

a little of column b a little something for

the bankers & their trillion dollar

military as the people watch the play

they stage every couple years billion

dollar ad campaigns for fear to sell them

on the lie that they can have some say in

it to convince them none of this is really

happening just some speed freak

aberrations just waging war in seven

nations eighty if you count the drones &

bases please do not look behind the

curtain you may not like what you will

see how much does it cost to wage an

endless war when you die god will ask

you what you’re sorry for they claim

that this has never happened before

unless you count the many times it has i

guess that won’t sell as many ads better

to pretend this is exceptional better go &

fetch your algorithmic hymnal where

every prayer begins & ends with the


xxi. on a day when we still have water as the

light moves across it i’m flowing

refracted counting all the way to three

on a day when i still have love i will fall