Jennifer MacBain-Stephens / 4.1/ Poetry



What to the What

Dedicated to Phife Dawg (1970-2016.)
After A Tribe Called Quest’s song, “What” from A Low End Theory Album. (1991)

What was in the crock pot someone bought for someone’s wedding?
What does it matter if crock is close to crack?
What kind of friend or frenemy buys a crock pot?
What does it matter if suburbanites see crack as a prop, as a powder,
in a spoon near Wallace’s mouth on The Wire?

What is it about that I am intimidated by crockery—
especially crockery that sits still for so long?
What is crockery?
Is it close to tomfoolery?
What is an extinct word or a word that doesn’t work

any longer in the context of speaking or writing or
texting but it works in a poem?
What kind of poem uses a word like that?
What is it called again?
What it is called when I write Zeitgeist?

What does it mean that I couldn’t describe this time we live in?
What does it mean that living is tied closely with daily work?
What does it mean that I haven’t begun work yet?
What does it mean when we think of work we think of hats?
What is a yellow construction hat on top of a skyscraper

high high outside in the city but what if I wear the hat inside?
What is the big yellow hat for in Curious George?
What interest is there in monkeys?
What are monkeys who smoke, monkeys who fax in an office environment,
monkeys who rove, what about those who don’t touch monkeys?

What do all of the signs in Africa say if No touch Monkey?
What if I attribute that phrase to Ayun Halliday?
What is the distance between two writers?
What is the distance between two thoughts?
What is the distance between two continents?

What plane should you fly to get to the next continent?
What if time flies?
What if time is wasted?
What is a tombstone worth to you?
What if I meant not the pizza but the stone?

What is wasting ten minutes trying to accomplish an
errand, one morning, and it is a major fail?
What is it worth if it takes thirty minutes to get it right?
Was it the right errand to do then?
What does it mean to not work out,

to just sit there and objectify everyone?
What if everyone around you is an object that stays at, that stays at,
that stays at, rest?
What if it’s also me, who is an object, and not you?
What if I objectify myself in a timely manner?

What if the timing is wrong?
What is bad timing vs. good timing?
What is it worth to remember someone’s favorite color?
Is it red because I always bought him red shoes or is it red
because he chose red for himself?

What is cataloging differences vs.
card cataloging, which is going extinct, and
all cards move into a period of stasis?
All white cards and green cards and tarot cards and cue cards
and flash cards that just hold their place for a brief instant?

What moves from state to state?
What is a good joke?
What calls an old friend back to you and you like
her a lot and then the friendship drifts
off by way of not seeing her face to face?

What inside me misses her and I want to call her
and I don’t know why I don’t and I cannot use “what”
in a sentence properly anyway and
what remembers that I, that I, that I
remember that I wanted to do something important today?

What if I don’t do anything important today?
What day always goes by faster than any other day?
What year was the best year?
What best years are in front of me?
What remembers that voices are different?

What is in us to keep using our voice?
What occurred in the last 3 minutes since I last tried?


faa989cd-fb53-4554-810a-ed8170d4cfebJennifer MacBain-Stephens went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and now lives in the DC area. Her chapbook Clown Machine is forthcoming from Grey Book Press. Her first full length collection is forthcoming from Lucky Bastard Press.  Recent work can be seen or is forthcoming at Jet Fuel Review, Pith,Entropy, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Cider Press Review, Inter/rupture, and decomP. Visit:


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