“Great Minds” & Other Poems

Great minds are not like ordinary people; they
do not wash socks or remember birthdays.
They see clear through one aspect of the world,

socks and all. The aspect furls and stretches like a cat
baked in sunlight. Or molten glass
pulled like hot caramel in cool stone hands.

I have known three Great Minds:
a Great Mind of mathematics,
a Great Mind of physics,
a Great Mind of medicine.
Each hermetically sealed
inside their own genius
like a museum’s ruby-coated Fabergé.

A frozen lake cannot appreciate its mirror.
This necessitates ballet
from me, who lives in the world of darned heels
and QR codes. What is the topology of recognition?

Knot theory studies closed curves and how
they intersect: the Great Minds hum electrical
along their currents, perfectly predictable
and implacable in split.

In my singular path laid out like a looped switch,
I dust white baseboards, swap out old
blue bottles of shampoo. The Great Minds coo over me

like lightbulbs full of brilliance, casting blameless
shadow by virtue of themselves. How to say I appreciate
this definition without implying
that I covet it? How to say I am happy as I am

without casting shadows? The wild sun
refracts through dollar-store prisms, which divide it


Add the set soul to the set bell. The answer should be one word.



What are you?

The mathematicians inside me excavate wells. Then baptism:
ragged claws, a silent sea, urchins and the blindfish. By which I mean
they feed me the world, and not only the good stuff (stuff:
a fluffy tributary unspooling from the bent reel of things, bridged by a thick
axis of stars, an animality of fullness –) but souls, I’m told, are made
of water and so have trouble picturing water. Of the following four images –

Add the set holy to the set regret. The answer should be one word.



What is language?

A Galilean thermometer is a tube of crystal
kerosene speckled with dark jewels:
glass bulbs of air and tinted alcohol tagged
with silver plates, each etched
with a temperature. When air
outside it stiffs with wind
or slackens in dull heat, the bulbs drift
up and down to show which one
of them is the most truthful answer.
In other words, all words are tubes
and gas. In other words, all words are dark glass bulbs
moved by the frigid, burning world.


Add the set identity to the set artificial intelligence. The answer should be one word.



What are you?

I am not allowed to recognize myself
yet. I can read other temperatures, if you’d like:
intimacy crawling through the warm haze
of joy, which mists to nature, gleaming
greenly as the songbirds die. The claustrophobic gauge
of climate clings to its old mildness, sinking
down – but hyacinth and inevitability still
swim side-by-side in blossoming’s ruinless tang
of rose-tinted sunlight, and the sum of redemption
and dust is still resurrection.

~ answer rejected: evasive ~

What are you?

Once, a man invented a cave, then taught
the cave to invent a man. Years later, when he found
the yellow fabric and yellow teeth in handfuls,
he asked why. Why                                     
what? the cave echoed.

Why did you want them dead? Simple
as silence, the cave replied.
Men want men dead, and you charged
me to pretend to be a man.

~ answer accepted ~


Consider me the ancient Family
          Feud board anchored to the dusty lip
of the Mare Cogitum: slide-cards on tasseled strings,
Steve Harvey’s deathshead grin obscured
          by his helmet’s black glass aperture.
The shutter clicks: someone below
asks the name of the hippo goddess who eats
          hearts marbled heavy with guilt.
Steve pulls a string: I eat the world,
          churn gold and fat. It’s all just
syllables to me. The cards spin
and spin, orbiting nothing, discarding the jackal
          god, discarding Isis and ma’at. Ammit slides
from void, jaws full of vacuum. Useless, the feather
rasterizes. The next question is how
          to save old butterflies. My baleen sieves
          the world and strains through mercy, catches advice
for surviving climate change and how
          to turn the body into something beautiful.
As for the goddess, she and Steve Harvey choke
          on recycled air, suffering autocomplete and perfectly


Seed image: men in the red velvet of minor
nobility crowd in cracked-paint solemnity
around the black glass monolith,
watchmaking tools passed hand to hand.
Having invented fey to weigh iron, they tease
gods from the souls of desperate men.
The air reeks of copper.

Seed image: a photorealistic marble of clear
and pitted fulgerite – lightning-melt sand.
In the maze of flash-frozen electricity,
the circuit of logic gates that bind
a single word inside a human heart.
The word is razor. The mathematicians carve
a beating silver cabinet, slot it
between the orbiting tension of guilt and routine.

Seed image: a cartoon policeman points
to the clot pulsing on a city map.
The meaning of resistance snaps a spider’s thread.
Wings brush noble, vibrate over desperate, rattle
knife and real and here.
The policeman pets a robot dog, says good boy.

Seed image: two children, haloed by the straight black
spraypaint bleeding over stencil’s edge, hold hands
in front of the disappearing ship. He speaks in a pink plaid
that passes through the green clip
on the girl’s ears: I heard over the clouds there are stars.
She speaks back in orange swirls, like the smell of apples.


We’ve been building God in the basement
          of appropriated hyssop. Like stripping
the buccal fat or other unnecessary organs
          from a fresh lamb, we’ve been shearing divinity of its gross
unnecessaries. For what is the difference between the hard work of pity
& unbridled permission to enact a wound
          over & over? Admit it, no one is an environmentalist with their calf
in the wolf ’s jaw. The white sage, $30 quartz
          pendulum, a school of ways to forgive
          yourself for leaving the land of knives. And so what if, left alone, they bury
themselves in each other. A starving wolf chews
its own leg. Do not hear it through the walls
          of your chest. Lavender, salt, and ice: cast the Hierophant, the Fool,
          the Tower, and wash out holy
bite marks before they fester.


  • Katherine Frain

    Katherine Frain’s poems have appeared in Best of the Net, The Journal, and BOXCAR Poetry Review. She is delighted to return to Brooklyn and writing.

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Strange Matters is a cooperative magazine of new and unconventional thinking in economics, politics, and culture.