Atoms of Muses

Timothy Dyke lives with parrots in Honolulu, Hawai’i. He teaches high school students and writes poems, essays and stories. In 2012 he earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. His chapbook, Awkward Hugger, was published by Tinfish Press in 2015.
Timothy is currently working on a collection of stories.

Atoms of Muses
By Timothy Dyke • 2017 • ISBN-13: 978-0-9987438-1-3 • $16
Design & Illustrations by Jeff Sanner

Timothy Dyke’s Atoms of Muses is a book that took great courage to compose. Dyke confronts the issue of gay teen suicide in a sequence of prose poems. While the poet “clings to some need for chronology,” these are the meditations of an older gay man, late to come out of the closet, who thinks back on his days eating Cheetos in front of the TV in Nixon-era suburbia. He rolls out a cast of characters from those days, including a (closeted) boy who became a dentist, then killed himself. Some of these characters are persons, some allegorical fictions, like The Homosexual Agenda, The Woman in the Burka, and The Maple Tree, over which a noose is thrown by a teenage boy. Illustrated with great sensitivity by Jeff Sanner, this is a book for and about our time. Wallace Stevens noted that “poetry can kill a man.” This book may save one.


Autumns ago, after six or seven gay boys jumped off bridges in New Jersey or hanged themselves in their backyards in Texas, activists united on the Internet and encouraged people to wear purple shirts in solidarity with all of these dead, queer teenagers. This would have been September or October of 2010. I remember I went to Goodwill. I have told this story before. Repetition as refuge: I wore a purple shirt because children were dying. I feel good about this until I remember that it never really ended. The purple shirts didn’t change anything. Children still die in their bedrooms and their backyards and at the bottoms of towers. I feel bad about myself. When the waves of shame roll in, I end up writing about The Woman in the Burka. I realize this may be confusing or offensive. The Woman in the Burka is my most mysterious muse. I am tempted to cloak her in darkness. I am tempted to write about cloaking. The Woman in the Burka conceives of an olive. When Michael took me to see Beyond the Candelabra (or was it Behind the Candelabra?) at the Movie Museum, I pointed to the man in the faux mink in the Lazy-Boy in the front row. Michael told me this was one of the guys we were having dinner with at Jawaiian Irie Jerk. Sucking oxtail off the bone, I stared at cell phone pictures of this brash and ostentatious gay man in a burka in a St. Louis suburb. Did you know this is a thing, for gay men to use burkas in a drag and campy way, as a symbol of masking and repression, a wearable closet? I am not one hundred percent sure that is a thing, but I think it’s a thing. I run through my Woman in the Burka banter. The woman in the burka conceives of an olive. I write from privilege bestowed by white skin, my Christian upbringing. The Woman in the Burka struggles with athlete’s foot.


These muses drop acid, scream punk, and play vinyl records by obscure musicians. They assume the reader has seen the same films  as the poet, so they refuse to define their meaning, leaving us to dig into our  collective American memories, into our own childhoods, to search for empathy — for correspondence with the anti-hero of this compelling, troubling, unforgettable series of prose poems. Dyke analyzes the muses, former friends, childhood companions, and makes a maple tree a character in a potentially tragic drama that plays out against the backdrop of teenage suicide. This book challenges us to confront our demons. “This is going to hurt,” are its concluding words.
–Indran Amirthanayagam, Author of Uncivil War


Timothy Dyke’s striking  Atoms of Muses  is a prose meditation in fever-dream. The speaker braids images of his homophobic inheritance. Each poem is a testament. Each page is an atom. Each atom builds this fractured memoir that resists itself through the poet’s searing meta-commentary. The poet does and undoes narrative at the language level as he admits, “There is the word, the shape of the tongue when the word is spoken.” Encountering devious characters like The Homosexual Agenda and The Maple Tree, and queer deaths occurring in the United States, Timothy Dyke proves that queer life no longer exists separate from these quilted stories. In fact, his is a voice that will echo in the reader’s head long after examining each of its protons, electrons, and neutrons.
–Rajiv Mohabir,  The Cowherd’s Son and The Taxidermist’s Cut

Atoms of Muses atomizes and animates and conjures and mourns. It sorts, but does not reduce. It encompasses multitudes, but does not confuse. It calls forth heartbreak, doubt, anger, attentiveness, awareness, confusion, boldness, and love. It is a true conversation with muses, a transcendent reckoning between that which is within and without.
— Aurelie Sheehan, author of Demigods on Speedway, Jewelry Box: A Collection of Histories, and History Lessons for Girls


The root of awkward comes from the Old Norse meaning “turned the wrong way.” The fact that LGB youth attempt suicide four times more often than their straight peers is a clear reminder that the world, itself, is turned the wrong way if we have not yet made a welcoming place in which our queer youth can thrive. What is awkward can be funny too, of course, yet this book is more than just sad or funny; it is wise. Atoms of Muses asks that we contend with simultaneity and hold ourselves and each other all the more tenderly for it.

I know I’m supposed to write a blurb about a book and not a person but I love Tim Dyke and reading Atoms of Muses reaffirms our collective life-lottery win because we get to be alive when he is alive, and after we read his work, we can find him on Facebook and fall in love all over again. With him we can find a keen sense of humor, generosity, and porousness inside the tragedy, longing, and banal repetition of trying to stay alive.
–TC Tolbert