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About this Poem 

“Bertrand Russell said, ‘Electricity is not a thing like St. Paul's Cathedral; it is a way in which things behave.’ And it's not ‘they’ who say, but Walter Benjamin who said, ‘Things are only mannequins and even the great world-historical events are only costumes beneath which they exchange glances with nothingness, with the base and the banal.’ In September, 1940, Benjamin died under ambiguous circumstances in the French-Spanish border town of Portbou, while attempting to flee the Nazis.”
—Mary Jo Bang

Costumes Exchanging Glances

Mary Jo Bang, 1946

             The rhinestone lights blink off and on.
Pretend stars. 
I’m sick of explanations. A life is like Russell said 
of electricity, not a thing but the way things behave. 
A science of motion toward some flat surface, 
some heat, some cold. Some light
can leave some after-image but it doesn’t last. 
Isn’t that what they say? That and that
historical events exchange glances with nothingness. 

Copyright © 2014 by Mary Jo Bang. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 26, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2014 by Mary Jo Bang. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 26, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Mary Jo Bang

Mary Jo Bang

Mary Jo Bang's work has been chosen three times for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series

by this poet

poem
The foot goes forward, yes.
Yet there are roots. And a giant orb
which focuses its cyclopic eye
on a moiré morning.
When the microcosm is dry—it's earth;
wet—it's water.

Water, reeds, electric eel: one possibility.
Sun, reeds, dust mote and mite: another.
Whatever the elements
(it's urban/it's pastoral,
it's
poem
You know, don't you, what we're doing here?
The evening laid out like a beach ball gone airless. 

We're watching the spectators in the bleachers.
The one in the blue shirt says, "I knew, 

even as a child, that my mind was adding color 
to the moment." 

The one in red says, "In the dream, there was a child
poem
                She slept through the earthquake in Spain. 
The day after was full of dead things. Well, not full but a few.
Coming in the front door, she felt the crunch of a carapace

under her foot. In the bathroom, a large cockroach 
rested on its back at the edge of the marble surround; the dead 
antennae