Yes & No

Mike Keith
March 1999


The poem below obeys a somewhat peculiar lexical constraint, dictated by a certain correspondence between letters and numbers found on an item you use almost every day. Can you guess the rule behind its composition?

Yes & No

A thought, an invocation;
I, thou - an invitation!
I go, acting a bit, miming
"Outgoing", "macho", "comic", "chum".
(Am I convincing?)
Hinting, I touch -
Ah, magic! Ah, communion!

We wed.
Selflessly, deeply we express
Deferred, repressed reflexes.
We see, we feel, we weep.
We fly!

We see. Yes, we see.
Elderly, peerless, perplexed, depressed.
We dwell sleeplessly, we spew freely.
Slyly refereed,
We flee.

Aching, I go about -
In Manhattan, in Manitoba,
In vacant catatonia.
Imagining again, but numb -
Bottoming out, moaning -
Unmoving, unhuman,
Inhabiting a gothic mountain tomb.



Here is the secret: The first and last stanzas use only those letters found next to even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8) on the telephone dial, while the middle two stanzas use letters that correspond to odd numbers (3, 5, 7, 9).

This method of dividing the alphabet puts about twice as many common words into the first group (which gets the vowels A, I, O, and U) compared to the second (which only gets E and Y), while the letters Q and Z cannot be used at all.  Note that one group gets the word "we" while the other gets the word "I", which had a lot to do with how the poem evolved.  (Coincidentally, if you divide the alphabet a different way - into those letters typed by the left and right hands on a typewriter - "we" and "I" also get split between the two groups.)  In our scheme the words "yes" and "no" appear in the two different groups, thus emphasizing the duality of the split as well as providing the title for our poem.