Jim Daniels

ARS Poetica Chemistrica & Hitting the Bullseye of Depression
June 22, 2023 Daniels Jim


 alchemy: a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life.


Taking Chemistry class with 10th graders, I attempted—late to the college prep party—to catch up with a legit science course, having decided to suddenly become a poet, or, as my stoner friends said, a fucking poet, the earnest underclassmen adopted me as their mascot burnout, the football coach/teacher who remembered my brother his star running back, rounding my grade upward to passing, and all was going well until Charles, one of the beaker-geeks, my lab partner, blew his eyebrows to the ceiling and cracked a lab table in half following my advice to let’s just see what happens after spending lunchtime getting high in the parking lot (as I usually did) and mayhem ensued and I was sent home to rest awhile while they figured out the ins and outs of my future in chemistry and the State of Charles, but Charles got a new pair of glasses and refused to blame me, a sudden celebrity in our school of mostly future factory workers in a robin-hoodish kind of way and I returned a week later, excused from further labs, exiled to paper tests where I was given answers by a kindly 10th grade girl who also admitted to writing poetry and nearly exploded my heart. For the rest of my life, I have been trying to recreate that explosion, that ringing in my ears, having missed the unit on alchemy coming in late from the parking lot.





Having been here before,
I recognize the landmarks


as I pay for parking
and begin the long hike


from the pot-holed parking lot,
ignoring the shuttle bus


on principle or desperation,
exaggerating my limp.


I am only just beginning
to enter the sadness arcade


pushing my way through
the barred one-way gate


but I already have the lack
of rules memorized. All I know


is that I’m tall enough
to go on all the rides.

Jim Daniels’ latest poetry collections include Gun/Shy, Wayne State University Press, and a chapbook, The Human Engine at Dawn, Wolfson Press. His next fiction collection, The Luck of the Fall, Michigan State University Press, is forthcoming in fall 2023. A native of Detroit, he lives in Pittsburgh and teaches in the Alma College low-residency MFA program.