The man looks uptown, spies the alphabet
ducking into a cab, watches as it goes north
toward the river, then starts to follow.
He feels in his pockets for some kind of sign,
finds purple freesias & small lightning bugs,
wilted wings, dim sparks & long, green stems.
He is sure that his search for words stems
from childhood, days of living on alphabet
soup from a can, but the thing that bugs
him most is the way sounds travel north
after nightfall, the tired glow of neon signs
lighting their way, and no choice but to follow.
Now, he wonders which cab he should follow,
wonders if freesias really need their stems
to survive, wonders if the chalkboard sign
down the street is really the alphabet’s
doing—its way of taunting him, teasing him north
to where the river air is riddled with bugs.
He learned somewhere that true bugs
have beak-like mouths; that they follow
the heavy scent of tree sap like a North
star. He studies a map, sees the river stem
out into dead ends. He wants to bet
that each letter goes its own way, a sign
that language is breaking down, a sign
that looking for words is like looking for bugs
in dark woods. He watches the alphabet
slink through the high tide, following
itself to the flanking shore, where a stem
of water reaches out like a blood vessel, a North-
bound body. He marks the North
side of his compass as a way to signify
division, a reminder that the stem
cell divides through mitosis, the way bugs
can split the air in half, and he decides to follow
Zeta all the way to the end. He wants to bet
that he will find a lightning bug among the Northern
lights, its dim pulse a sign that he will need to follow
each stem of the river in order to find the entire alphabet.