Poems by Joseph Stern

Causality, Joseph Stern

Personal Things

I have taken an experimental approach to this question.
Benjamin Libet


are the sum of us, or (                           

‘. . . acts are preceded by a specific electrical change in the brain (the ‘readiness potential’, RP)
that begins 550 ms before the act.’

Think of the sand, and plastic forks,
Mushrooms, and fried potatoes—your children eating
At that picnic with friends, the conversation, what you started to think about

        ‘Human subjects became aware of intention to act 350-400 ms after RP starts . . .’

While walking, looking at the trees,
The shadows, what you said about your life, the feelings
You had and the things you felt but couldn’t say, or wouldn’t, or did

        ‘As far back as Leibniz it was pointed out that if one looked into the brain with a full knowledge of its physical makeup and nerve cell activities, one would see nothing that describes subjective experience.’

)none of it is personal.

Grammar Me Not

There was once this word
That was hot
Then only got hotter
And burnt
Through the paper it was written on
Yelling itself over and over again
At all the other cool calm quite sensible terms
Still on the same page
The rational words who had stable gigs in respectable stories
News articles academic journals and post it notes
The words who seemed so warm so willing
To get used
Defined and classified
Looked up and marched out
But this word refused to be used
So it marched off
Saying that it meant everything
That once had meaning in the world.


Consider this word
Which once meant a small room
Designed for the dedication of a life to prayer,
Contemplation of the infinite and our links to all other beings

And now means a small group
Serving a lethal institution, a cage for a life serving time,
And the smallest structural unit that can live in an environment
Where captivity leads to the endless repetition of stereotypical behavior.

Consider the complex
Of these ideas, of these spectacles
For the mind, of these motley beasts competing
To captivate an audience, and see how this menagerie mutates

Through time into a modern zoo,
How its organic habitats becomes stocked
With labeled beasts becalmed for soothing viewing,
For our most convenient explanations: a mind is a cell that cannot escape itself.


Joseph Stern HeadshotJoseph Stern’s writing and photography have appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, Sanskrit, Main Street Rag Publishing Company, Brush Talks, Common Ground Review, and other publications.