The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Marilyn McCabe’s “Perpetual Motion”

perpetual motion

The Human Equation

Let a = your neighbor The one with the pool and all the screaming
kids and his incessant mowing, clipping, leaf blowing, and all the while
blasting Billy Joel over everything else, and every Sunday evening his
Aunt Millicent’s mufflerless Ford.

Let b = a stranger Who forgot about the flame on the stove, and the
sports page left on the counter, too close to the flame, and the grease in
the frying pan from breakfast, all of which conflagrate so quickly that
the man, who is upstairs taking a nap, wakes to choking smoke, and
stumbles to the hallway, to the stairs, down the stairs partway but there
is so much smoke, so much smoke that he stumbles, falls

If y = you,

consider that

z = y(a) + y(b)

if z = how you are able to hate wholeheartedly a, wish him ill, brood
over your coffee cup at him out the kitchen window, snarl invective
daily, and once drove right past him when his car was stuck in the snow
that one year that was so bad, pretended you didn’t even see him;


one summer morning, driving to get the paper, hot, you saw the flame
eating the house (b), pulled over quickly, ran from the car to the house,
banged on the door, threw open the door to the beast of smoke, ducked
inside calling, calling, heard b mumble from the darkness to the left,
plunged forward, kicked his foot by mistake, grabbed at him, half
dragged, half carried him out, as his cat shot through your legs, and you
all gasped and choked in the smoking air.

(Does b ≠ a?)

Solve for z.

This selection comes from Marilyn McCabe’s book Perpetual Motion, available from The Word Works. Purchase your copy here!

Marilyn McCabe’s poem “On Hearing the Call to Prayer Over the Marcellus Shale on Easter Morning” was awarded A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando Prize, fall 2012, and appeared in the Los Angeles Review. Her book of poetry Perpetual Motion was published by The Word Works in 2012 as the winner of the Hilary Tham Capitol Collection contest (available from Small Press Distribution, Her work has appeared in literary magazines such as Nimrod, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly, French translations and songs on Numero Cinq, and a video-poem on The Continental Review.  She blogs about writing and reading at

Marika von Zellen has a BA in English and Creative Writing from Cornell College (no, not the one in Ithaca). She’s had poetry and fiction published in Open Field, Temporary Infinity, The Grin City Monthly, and the anthology Rock & Roll Saved My Soul. As an Editorial Assistant for Sundress, she’s copy-edited the book Picture Dictionary (2014); as a freelance editor she copy-edited the photography book Face It (2013). In the summer of 2012, she attended the Grin City Collective Artist Residency in Iowa. Besides writing, she enjoys theoretical physics, playing piano, ghost-hunting, climbing trees, and drinking good Czech beer. She’s also a scholar of Lewis Carroll.


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