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Also by Brooks Haxton Poetry

They Lift Their Wings to Cry


Nakedness, Death, and the Number Zero

The Sun at Night

Traveling Company

Dead Reckoning


The Lay of Eleanor and Irene Translations

My Blue Piano by Else Lasker-Schüler

Victor Hugo: Selected Poems

Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus

Dances for Flute and Thunder: Praises, Prayers, and Insults Nonfiction

Fading Hearts on the River


Copyright © 2021 by Brooks Haxton

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto.


Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Haxton, Brooks, [date] author.

Title: Mister Toebones : poems / Brooks Haxton.

Description: First edition. | New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2021.

Identifiers: LCCN 2020017755 (print) | LCCN 2020017756 (ebook) | ISBN 9780593318522 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780593318539 (ebook)

Subjects: LCGFT: Poetry.

Classification: LCC PS3558.A825 M57 2021 (print) | LCC PS3558.A825 (ebook) | DDC 811/.54—dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/​2020017755

LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/​2020017756

Ebook ISBN 9780593318539

Cover photograph of Richard Haxton by Brooks Haxton

Cover design by Kelly Blair


To Daniel Moriarty

native brook trout…their backs

Purple-black and traced with gray…like

Maps, dream maps, like no maps

I could ever hope to draw or follow.

—Daniel Moriarty

No, I can’t say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.

—Daniel Boone



The Other World

Mister Toebones, Called in Several Languages the Reaper

To Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham

After the Snow Squall


Early in the Christian Empire

The Featherbed


We Could Say Oỷρανóς

Sea Cave

Catullus, Carmen III

Catullus, Carmen VIII

Essential Tremor

To Josephine Chamberlain Ayres Haxton

Under the Searchlight of a Robot Sub

The Loving Essence of the Duckmole

Observations from a Hillside Stairway on the Day of Atonement, Just Before My Wife and Daughters Break Their Fast

Kropotkin and the Lake on Mars

Thanks to the Makers of Shells

Message, 1944

Unlit Kitchen, 5 A.M.

To Floyd, Louisiana

Sunset, Mare Spumans

From the Journal of Dr. Beaurieux

To the Water Bear

The Nationality of Neptune

The Arctic Vortex at Snooks Pond, 2014

Apologies to the Dead

Flower Medley


Near Saturn

Lingerie Femme and the Vagaries of Pronunciation

To Bald Eagle

Circa 1961


To Sirius B

A Voter from Mississippi Considers the State Constitution

A Cat Lover’s Guide to The Bell Curve

To Jesse James

Love and Empire

From Anyte of Tegea

The Cormorant at Snooks Pond


The Moons of Jupiter

Don’t Get Me Wrong

Tracks Everywhere at Noon

The Bewilderment

To the Moon

Transit of Venus, 1882


Where But to Think Is to Be Full of Sorrow

Fig Preserves




A damselfly lit on the inside seam at my knee,

her tail tip blue as a blue flame.

She flitted away.

Nothing was settled by now. Nothing was certain.

Ten thousand riffle bugs twitched on the pond.

My boat kept drifting into the cattails.

Another damselfly there lit on the inside seam

at my knee. She flitted. She lit again, on my knuckle.

Everything so far had already happened.

Everything else was about to happen.

Bluegill swam under the boat.

A redfin pickerel hovered and darted away.

Again I had fallen in love

with my wife, when I thought

I might lose her, and I was the one lost.

There was a slow leak in the hull by my foot.

The wind blew hard, and a dragonfly

soared straight into it.

When I tried to row home, the prow

kept swinging about in the wind.

It was easier backwards.

The prow with each stroke dipped

and rocked up wobbling out of the water.

The Other World

They found the skeleton of a man

under the grass at Crooked Lake.

His people left him in his grave

a chariot with spoked wheels

and heads of horses in full tack,

with severed leg bones posed to strut

at the instruction of the dead.

From a burial site of the Eastern

Han comes a galloping horse

in bronze, lips and nostrils

flared, right hind hoof set

on the sturdy back of a swallow

who turns her head as if

surprised to carry him in flight.

Mister Toebones, Called in Several Languages the Reaper

Phalangium opilio

A daddy longlegs on an oak leaf at the cemetery

froze and started bobbing. Children in the country

used to pick these up by one leg. They said,

Grandfather graybeard, tell me where my cattle are,

or I will kill you. Where he pointed, waving

with another leg, they looked, and now their names

were chiseled on the stones around me, Grace

and Samuel and Sarah. Mister Toebones

is a name they would have liked: I took it

from the Latin. He quit bobbing. With his second

legs now, which were the longest, he was reaching

into the air for molecules as vivid to his toes

as memories to an old man’s brain. I can remember

from my childhood Grace gone quiet

on her deathbed. People say that the daddy longlegs

bears the deadliest known venom. Mister Toebones

bears no venom and bites nobody but little worms

and larvae. My father showed me in the turret

on the reaper’s head the two eyes mounted

left and right. With one of these he must

have seen me at my father’s grave. He must

have tasted with a bristle on his second

forefoot just a touch of something human.

To Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham

I just found out, Hasan, your full name means

Father of the Most High,

the Good or Handsome,

son again of the Handsome,

son of the Young Eagle.

I am son of Kenneth,

son again of Kenneth,

which means Handsome, like Hasan.

My first name Ellis also, like Ali,

claims God as my salvation.

As for Haxton: in your time, I think,

in Hawks-town, my namesakes trained falcons,

not the Sons of Eagles maybe, but their kin.

Our names are synonyms.

But more than that, Hasan,

though dead a thousand years,

you came to me when I was young.

When I taught children in sixth grade

to make a pinhole camera

from a cardboard box,

with photographic paper for their film,

although I did not know it then,

this was a gift I passed along from you

to them, and inside this

they formed from light their images.

One girl I taught that spring

spiked such a fever in her brain

she died. At twelve from a mosquito bite

she died. They dug

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