Patrick Cahill

March 11, 2020

Continuing with our mission of highlighting a few poets who have new books that were presented to a diminished audience at AWP this year due to the Coronavirus, we move on to San Francisco poet Patrick Cahill. To have Cahill’s poems available to us in his new collection The Machinery of Sleep is to remind us of the importance of small presses, in this case Sixteen Rivers, a shared-work, nonprofit poetry collective. And after witnessing Cahill work laboriously for years to publish poets as co-founder and editor of Ambush Review, a San Francisco-based literary and arts journal, it’s high time we get to celebrate his own powerful poems. I’ve admired his work for years, as I’m sure you will.

Cahill received his Ph.D. in History of Consciousness from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and wrote a study of Whitman and visual experience in nineteenth-century America. Portions of the work appearing in The Machinery of Sleep have appeared in The Daguerreian Annual and Left Curve. He lives in San Francisco where he volunteers with the San Francisco Recreation & Park in habitat restoration.

Following is the “blurb” I wrote for the back cover of his book:

“Enter Patrick Cahill’s The Machinery of Sleep and you enter a marvel of a world consumed by dreams, memories, deep observation, love, death, and more. With great artistry, sometimes sharp-edged, sometimes extraordinarily tender, Cahill brings us poems of astonishing range: wise and poignant, heartbreaking, life-affirming, and sometimes humorous. He is a master of marrying emotion with craft — not one word is wasted, not one more word is required. We read these words and travel far — from ‘Q’s world (MIA)’, based on ‘conversations…with an acquaintance who spends time in another world’ (‘Shawn occupies three bodies now’) to ‘The Poet Ponders His Lot’ (‘The mouse speaks English, but squeaks in French…a motor mouth to boot. But cute.’) to ‘She fled with the moment’ (‘even the arabesque of her wingless flight / the fragrant air / that circumscribed her memory / of water ice and snow / fled the universal dark / and nameless matter / of which she was herself / an infinitesimal dot’). The Machinery of Sleep is a collection that will hold you from the first line until the last, for there is so much richness here, so much brilliance end to end and back again.” — Katherine Hastings

Let’s move on now to a few elegiac poems from The Machinery of Sleep. Your comments are always welcome.



you a composition of desire even in the fog star

jasmine burdens the air, its fragrance a devious substitute

yes, even in the fog


take us to your Russia, Natalya your frozen sun blurring

its migrations of snow, those blue and senseless distances

Natalya take us from these disappearing surfaces


we’ve ground the lenses for clarity for poetry makes

nothing happen yet Spinoza inhaled the powdered glass

of his trade and died of it


have you ever pined for the perfect role rolled for the

perfect dream dreamed the perfect mountain where the pine its

garland weaves woven the perfect sacrificial mountain tree


the moving air moved through your reflection beyond the

window above the walk the living too moved through

you I looked right through them to traffic beyond


then one day you began you began to disappear

lingering there behind me your reflection gone and if

I turn around one day, you won’t be there


Brief Time

In one of her self-


Frida Kahlo translates

her shattered spine

into a fluted


of broken stone

ten years

before her death

ars longa

vita brevis

Seneca’s translation

of Hippocrates

but in the original

art is the art

of medicine

and life this brief

poor allotment

given those

who hope to master

a most difficult art


Gone Astray

That bird flying into the future left us behind

what hallucinations fill those trees

gone astray in thought

you wait for a voice under the oak

beyond your expectations

or trace of where you’ve been

talus stealing the mountain trail

clouds moving their shadows across the slopes

our first language knitted in place

or twined around a vision

we amateurs amator amare

lover to love


Note: In the poem “Gone,” above, the first quotation is from W. H. Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” the second from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To Jane: The Invitation.”


Published by Katherine Hastings

Katherine Hastings is the author of three collections from Spuyten Duyvil Press (NYC): Shakespeare & Stein Walk Into a Bar (2016); Nighthawks (2014); and Cloud Fire (2012), as well as several chapbooks. Poet laureate emerita of Sonoma County, CA, Hastings edited Know Me Here — An Anthology of Poetry by Women; Digging Our Poetic Roots — Poems from Sonoma County; and What Redwoods Know — Poems from California State Parks, published as a benefit for the California State Parks Foundation when 70 parks were faced with permanent closure. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Book of Forms — A Handbook of Poetics (University Press of New England, Lewis Putnam Turco, editor); Verde Que Te Quiero Verde — Poems After Federico Garcia Lorca (Open Country Press, Natalie Peeterse, Editor); Changing Harm to Harmony — Bullies & Bystanders Project (Marin Poetry Center, Joseph Zaccardi, editor); Beatitude — Golden Anniversary (Latif Harris and Neeli Cherkovski, editors), among others. She hosted WordTemple on NPR affiliate KRCB FM from 2017 — 2017 and founded the WordTemple Poetry Series in Sonoma County (2006 — 2017) where she also taught craft-focused poetry workshops. Following the October 2017 wildfires, Hastings moved with her partner to Western New York in 2018. "Shakespeare & Stein Walk in to Bar is animated by the two most rewarding and replenishing of poetic forces: dexterous formal diversity and a fierce, unflinching searching..." — Malachi Black "Rooted in what Hastings calls the "momentary forever," these marvelous poems, so rich with detail and so full of duende, explore the paradoxes of transience. Yes, the poet reminds us: 'The alarm is set and ticking' for each least thing in the living world..." — Susan Kelly-DeWitt On Cloud Fire: "'s your veiled history." — Lawrence Ferlinghetti "For Katherine Hastings, 'The mirror is a lake of longing'. Her poems are told us by 'a woman with a moon in her chest;' their surprising images embrace close observation, deeply dramatized love and losses, and have the power of crossing boundaries of spirit to reveal truths otherwise unseen." — Daniel Hoffman, US Poet Laureate, 1973 — 1974

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