I wake to see a cardinal in our white
crape myrtle. My eye aches. Bees celebrate
morning come with their dynamo-hum
around a froth of bloom.
Though presently it’s paradise for the bees,
noon will reach ninety-nine degrees.
Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourd’ hui
will stultify hope in ennui.
I watched Raging Planet on TV.
Earth’s orbit around the sun appears
to alter every hundred thousand years.
Each thirty million years,
mass extinctions attend Earth’s
traverse of the galactic plane.
The asteroid rain that cratered the moon
returns, brings species’ deaths.
In the Hudson Bay region of Quebec,
the Laurentide ice sheet
only a geological eye-blink
ago lay two miles thick.
Disasters preceded us, like violent parents.
Pangaea’s fragmenting land mass
drowned origins like lost Atlantis:
an enigma for consciousness.
These continents will re-collide
in their rock-bending tectonic dance,
as once before Tyrannosaurus died.
So change continues by chance,
as if meaningless—granite to sand,
sand to sandstone, sandstone to sand.
In five billion years, the sun will expand,
to Venus and Mars, then end
planet Earth. The hydrangea blooms
its dry blue, burns a brown lavender.
Earth whirls in space and August comes—
this slanted light my calendar.
As I water the pink phlox, I wonder
what use there is for a world of matter—
why the universe exploding into being invents
night and star-incandesence?
We are the part of it that feels it,
thinks it, seeing this time in its slant
on bloom with our physical brains that
change it as they sense it.
We become. We hum a story as tune,
in sonata form that runes this sphinx-
riddle sequence as notes that the pharynx
fluctuates, to mean.
So “This Nearly Was Mine” assuages,
braced against old loss and war.
Emile de Becque sounds rich with knowledge
of children and love, before.
Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from A Diary of Altered Light: Poems by James Applewhite. Copyright © 2006 by James Applewhite.
They have discovered, they say,
the protein of itch—
natriuretic polypeptide b—
and that it travels its own distinct pathway
inside my spine.
As do pain, pleasure, and heat.
A body it seems is a highway,
a cloverleaf crossing
well built, well traversed.
Some of me going north, some going south.
Ninety percent of my cells, they have discovered,
are not my own person,
they are other beings inside me.
As ninety-six percent of my life is not my life.
Yet I, they say, am they—
my bacteria and yeasts,
my father and mother,
my drivers talking on cell phones,
my subways and bridges,
my thieves, my police
who chase my self night and day.
My proteins, apparently also me,
fold the shirts.
I find in this crowded metropolis
a quiet corner,
where I build of not-me Lego blocks
pigeons, a sandwich
of rye bread, mustard, and cheese.
It is me and is not,
that makes the sandwich good.
It is not me then is,
a mystery neither of us
can fold, unfold, or consume.
Originally published in The Beauty (Knopf, 2015); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
In nature, molecules are chiral—they turn in one direction or the other. Naturally then, someone wondered: might sugar, built to mirror itself, be sweet, but pass through the body unnoticed? A dieters’ gold mine. I don’t know why the experiment failed, or how. I think of the loneliness of that man-made substance, like a ghost in a ‘50s movie you could pass your hand through, or some suitor always rejected despite the sparkle of his cubic zirconia ring. Yet this sugar is real, and somewhere exists. It looks for a left-handed tongue.
Originally published in Come, Thief (Knopf, 2011); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Back then, what did I know?
The names of subway lines, busses.
How long it took to walk 20 blocks.
Uptown and downtown.
Not north, not south, not you.
When I saw you, later, seaweed reefed in the air,
you were grey-green, incomprehensible, old.
What you clung to, hung from: old.
Trees looking half-dead, stones.
Marriage of fungi and algae,
chemists of air,
changers of nitrogen-unusable into nitrogen-usable.
Like those nameless ones
who kept painting, shaping, engraving,
unseen, unread, unremembered.
Not caring if they were no good, if they were past it.
Rock wools, water fans, earth scale, mouse ears, dust,
Transformers unvalued, uncounted.
Cell by cell, word by word, making a world they could live in.
Originally published in Come,Thief (Knopf, 2011); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
A librarian in Calcutta and an entomologist in Prague
sign their moon-faced illicit emails,
No one can explain it.
The strange charm between border collie and sheep,
leaf and wind, the two distant electrons.
There is, too, the matter of a horse race.
Each person shouts for his own horse louder,
confident in the rising din
past whip, past mud,
the horse will hear his own name in his own quickened ear.
Desire is different:
desire is the moment before the race is run.
Has an electron never refused
the invitation to change direction,
sent in no knowable envelope, with no knowable ring?
A story told often: after the lecture, the widow
insisting the universe rests on the back of a turtle.
And what, the physicist
asks, does the turtle rest on?
Very clever, young man, she replies, very clever,
but it’s turtles all the way down.
And so a woman in Beijing buys for her love,
who practices turtle geometry in Boston, a metal trinket
from a night-market street stall.
On the back of a turtle, at rest on its shell,
Inside that green-painted shell, another, still smaller.
This continues for many turtles,
until finally, too small to see
or to lift up by its curious, preacherly head
a single un-green electron
waits the width of a world for some weightless message
sent into the din of existence for it alone.
Murmur of all that is claspable, clabberable, clamberable,
against all that is not:
You are there. I am here. I remember
Originally published in The Beauty (Knopf, 2015); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of the author, all rights reserved.
When the earth is tempered, compressed and cooled in the heavens like something somber and inanimate, I wonder if we'll be photographed, our spectrum smudged and framed on someone's laboratory floor, each hue of color speaking of how we were conquered by our own base elements. They'd peel back the layers, speculate about the chain of our history, if it was sung or written, if their probes could still find it in the chipped palms of our carbon fists, carrying off the frozen samples where the small sum of our "soul of ideas" would be cupped like breathing ashes in their stainless steel hands.
From First Probe to Antartica by Barry Ballard, published by Bright Hill Press. Copyright © 2003 by Barry Ballard. All rights reserved.
We stand on the edge, the fall
into depth, the ascent
of light revelatory, the canyon walls moving
up out of
colours of the layers cutting
down through darkness, sunrise as it
precipitate of the river, its burnt tangerine
flare brief, jagged
bleeding above the far rim for a split
second I have imagined
you here with me, watching day's onslaught
standing in your bones—they seem
implied in the record almost
by chance—fossil remains held
in abundance in the walls, exposed
by freeze and thaw, beautiful like a theory
stating who we are
is carried forward by the X
chromosome down the matrilineal line
recessive and riverine, you like
me aberrant and bittersweet, and losing
your hair just when we have begun
to know the limits of beauty, you so
distant from me now but at ease
in a chair in your kitchen, pensive, mind
wandering away from yesterday's Times, the ink
rubbing off on your hands, dermatoglyphic
and telltale, but unread
on the chair arms after you
had pushed yourself to your feet such
awhile ago, I'd say, for here I am
three hours behind you, riding the high
Colorado Plateau as the opposing
continental plates force it over
a mile upward without buckling, smooth
tensed, muscular fundament, your bones yet
to be wrapped around mine—
this will come later, when I return
to your place and time, I know it, you not
ready for past or future, our combined
bones so inconsequent yet
personal, the geo
section of the canyon dropping
from where I stand, hundreds
millions of shades of terra cotta, of copper
manganese and rust, the many varieties of stone—
silt, sand, and slate, even "green
river rock," a rough misidentified
fragment of it once unknowingly
dropped when I was a boy into my as of yet un
settled sediments by a man who tried
to explain how slowly the Earth meta
morphosed from my meagre
Wolf Cub's collection of rocks, his sheer
casual physicality enough to negate
all received wisdom, my body voicing its immense
genetic imperatives, human
geology falling away
depth I am still unprepared for
the canyon cutting down to
the great unconformity, a layer
so named by the lack
of any fossil evidence to hypothesize
about and date such
a remote time by, at last no possible
retrospective certainties, what a
relief, your face illegible
these words when I began not what I had
intended to say—something new about
the natural dynamic between
earth and history, beauty and art—
but you are my subject, unavoidable
and volatile, the canyon
floor a mile from where I objectively
stand taking photos I will later develop of
the ripe, trans
formative light on these surreal
buttes to show you on the surface
how beautiful and diverse
and unimportant our time together
or with anyone else
Reprinted from Hypothesis with the permission of House of Anansi Press. Copyright © 2001 by John Barton. All rights reserved.
it wasn't san andreas fault it wasn't mine things just started sliding.
Reprinted by permission of Daleth Foster. All rights reserved.
We will call you "Agua" like the rivers and cool jugs.
We will persuade the clouds to nestle around your neck
so you may sleep late.
We would be happy if you slept forever.
We will tend the slopes we plant, singing the songs
our grandfathers taught us before we inherited their fear.
We will try not to argue among ourselves.
When the widow demands extra flour, we will provide it,
remembering the smell of incense on the day of our Lord.
Please think of us as we are, tiny, with skins that burn easily.
Please notice how we have watered the shrubs around our houses
and transplanted the peppers into neat tin cans.
Forgive any anger we feel toward the earth,
when the rains do not come, or they come too much,
and swallow our corn.
It is not easy to be this small and live in your shadow.
Often while we are eating our evening meal
you cross our rooms like a thief,
touching first the radio and then the loom.
Later our dreams begin catching fire around the edges,
they burn like paper, we wake with our hands full of ash.
How can we live like this?
We need to wake and find our shelves intact,
our children slumbering in their quilts.
We need dreams the shape of lakes,
with mornings in them thick as fish.
Shade us while we cast and hook—
but nothing else, nothing else.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 1995. Reprinted with permission of Far Corner Books, Portland, OR.
(Note: a space station generates gravity by revolving one way and then another. When it reverses direction to revolve the other way, there are several moments when gravity is suspended.)
My mother and I and the dog were floating Weightless in the kitchen. Silverware Hovered above the table. Napkins drifted Just below the ceiling. The dead who had been crushed By gravity were free to move about the room, To take their place at supper, lift a fork, knife, spoon— A spoon, knife, fork that, outside this moment's weightlessness, Would have been immovable as mountains. My mother and I and the dog were orbiting In the void that follows after happiness Of an intimate gesture: Her hand stroking the dog's head And the dog looking up, expectant, into her eyes: The beast gaze so direct and alienly concerned To have its stare returned; the human gaze That forgets, for a moment, that it sees What it's seeing and simply, fervently, sees... But only for a moment. Only for a moment were my mother And the dog looking at each other not mother Or dog but that look—I couldn't help but think, If only I were a dog, or Mother was, Then that intimate gesture, this happiness passing Could last forever...such a vain, hopeless wish I was wishing; I knew it and didn't know it Just as my mother knew she was my mother And didn't...and as for the dog, her large black pupils, Fixed on my mother's faintly smiling face, Seemed to contain a drop of the void We were all suspended in; though only a dog Who chews a ragged rawhide chew toy shaped Into a bone, femur or cannonbone Of the heavy body that we no longer labored To lift against the miles-deep air pressing Us to our chairs. The dog pricked her ears, Sensing a dead one approaching. Crossing the kitchen, My father was moving with the clumsy gestures Of a man in a space suit—the strangeness of death Moving among the living—though the world Was floating with a lightness that made us Feel we were phantoms: I don't know If my mother saw him—he didn't look at her When he too put his hand on the dog's head And the dog turned its eyes from her stare to his... And then the moment on its axis reversed, The kitchen spun us the other way round And pressed heavy hands down on our shoulders So that my father sank into the carpet, My mother rested her chin on her hand And let her other hand slide off the dog's head, Her knuckles bent in a kind of torment Of moonscape erosion, ridging up into Peaks giving way to seamed plains With names like The Sea of Tranquility —Though nothing but a metaphor for how I saw her hand, her empty, still strong hand Dangling all alone in the infinite space Between the carpet and the neon-lit ceiling.
Copyright © 2005 by Tom Sleigh. Previously appeared in The Threepenny Review. Reprinted with permission.
My husband says dark matter is a reality
not just some theory invented by adolescent computers
he can prove it exists and is everywhere
forming invisible haloes around everything
and somehow because of gravity
holding everything loosely together
the way a child wants to escape its parents
and doesn’t want to—what’s that—
we don’t know what it is but we know it is real
the way our mothers and fathers fondly
angrily followed fixed orbits around
each other like mice on a track
the way every human and every atom
rushes through space wrapped in its invisible
halo, this big shadow—that’s dark dark matter
sweetheart, while the galaxies
in the wealth of their ferocious protective bubbles
stare at each other
unable to cease
Copyright © 2015 by Alicia Ostriker. Used with permission of the author.
Looking out of the front page, a wild-haired,
gentle-eyed young German man stands
before a blackboard of incomprehensible equations.
Meanwhile, back in the quotidian,
Carver takes the school to the poor.
;He outfits an open truck
with shelves for his jars
of canned fruit and compost,
bins for his croker sacks of seeds.
He travels roads barely discernible
on the county map,
teaching former field-slaves
how to weave ditch weeds
into pretty table place mats,
how to keep their sweet potatoes from rotting
before winter hunger sets in,
how to make preacher-pleasing
mock fried chicken
without slaughtering a laying hen.
He notes patches of wild chicory
the farmers could collect
to free themselves from their taste
for high-priced imported caffeine.
He and his student assistants bump along
shoulder to shoulder in the high cab,
a braided scale of laughter
trailing above their raised dust.
Today, Carver is explaining,
as far as he understands it,
that fellow Einstein’s “Special Theory of Relativity.”
He’s hardly gotten to Newtonian Space
when a platoon of skinny dogs
announces the next farm.
As they pull up,
a black man and his boy straighten,
two rows of shin-high cotton apart.
With identical gestures they remove
straw hats, wipe their foreheads with their sleeves.
Their welcoming glance meets Carver’s eyes
at the velocity of light.
From Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson. Copyright © 2001 by Marilyn Nelson. Published by Boyds Mills Press, Inc. Used by permission.
INSERT SHOT: Einstein’s notebook 1905—DAY 1: a theory that is based on two postulates (a) that the speed of light in all inertial frames is constant, independent of the source or observer. As in, the speed of light emitted from the truth is the same as that of a lie coming from the lamp of a face aglow with trust, and (b) the laws of physics are not changed in all inertial systems, which leads to the equivalence of mass and energy and of change in mass, dimension, and time; with increased velocity, space is compressed in the direction of the motion and time slows down. As when I look at Mileva, it’s as if I’ve been in a space ship traveling as close to the speed of light as possible, and when I return, years later, I’m younger than when I began the journey, but she’s grown older, less patient. Even a small amount of mass can be converted into enormous amounts of energy: I’ll whisper her name in her ear, and the blood flows like a mallet running across vibes. But another woman shoots me a flirting glance, and what was inseparable is now cleaved in two.
"Einstein Defining Special Relativity", from Quantum Lyrics by A. Van Jordan. Copyright © 2007 by A. Van Jordan. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Count o’er the million leagues from here to yonder star.
On then. On to the next count of a million more.
Sum up the myriad gleams that light the night;
Add too, the orbit where the cold bright moon doth soar.
That done, return to earth and with thy mind outline
That huge expanse called space; and then out from our Hearse
Of changing dust dream out the words—The Universe.
This poem is in the public domain.
There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.
And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest
And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.
Originally published in Of Gravity & Angels (Wesleyan University Press, 1988). Copyright © 1988 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author. All rights reserved.
|There are so many types of
|“personal” in poetry. The “I” is
|a needle some find useful, though
|the thread, of course, is shadow.
|In writing of experience or beauty,
|a cloth emerges as if made
|from a twin existence. It's July
|4: air is full of mistaken
|stars & the wiggly half-zeroes stripes
|make when folded into fabric meant
|never to touch ground ever again—
|the curved cloth of Sleeping Beauty
|around 1310, decades after the spinning
|wheel gathered stray fibers in a
|whir of spindles before the swath
|of the industrial revolution, & by
|1769 a thread stiff enough for
|the warp of cotton fabric from
|the spinning frame, the spinning jenny,
|the spinning "mule" or muslin wheel,
|which wasn't patented. By its, I
|mean our, for we would become
|what we made. String theory posits
|no events when it isn't a
|metaphor; donuts twists in matter—10
|to the minus 33 cm—its
|inverted fragments like Bay Area poetry—
|numbers start the world for grown-ups
|& wobbly fibers, coaxed from eternity,
|are stuffed into stems of dates
|like today so the way people
|are proud of their flag can
|enter the pipes of a 4.
|Blithe astonishment in the holiday music
|over the picnickers: a man waves
|from his spandex biking outfit, cloth
|that both has & hasn't lost
|its nature. Unexpected folds are part
|of form where our park is
|kissed by cucalyptus insect noises ^^z-
|z~ ~> crr, making that for you
|Flag cloth has this singing quality.
|Airline pilots wear wool blend flag
|ties from Target to protect their
|hearts. Women, making weavings of
|unicorns in castles, hummed as they sewed
|spiral horns with thread so real
|it floated; such artists were visited
|by figures in beyond-type garments so
|they could ask how to live.
|It’s all a kind of seam.
|Flying shuttles, 1733, made weaving like
|experience, full of terrible accidents &
|progress. Flags for the present war
|were made in countries we bombed
|in the last war. By we
|you mean they. By you it
|means the poem. By it I
|mean meanings which hang tatters of
|dawn’s early light in wrinkled sections of
|the druid oak with skinny linguistic
|branches, Indo-European roots & the
|weird particle earth spirits. A voice
|came to me in a dream
|beyond time: love, we are your
|shadow thread ~ ~ A little owl
|with stereo eyes spoke over my
|head. I am a seamstress for
|the missing queen. The unicorn can’t
|hear. It puts its head on
|our laps. Fibers, beauty at a
|low level, fabric styles, the cottage
|industry of thought. Threads inspired this
|textile picnic: the satin ponytail holder,
|the gauze pads inside Band-Aids,
|saris, threads of the basketball jersey,
|turbans, leis over pink shorts, sports
|bras: A young doctor told us
|—he’s like Chekhov, an atheist believer
|in what’s here —that sometimes, sitting
|with his dying patients, he says,
|“God bless you.” It seems to
|help somewhat. They don’t know what
|causes delays between strings—by they,
|I mean the internet. Turns out
|all forces are similar to gravity.
|We searched for meaning ceaselessly. By
|we I mean we. Sewed it
|us-wards, with flaws between strings.
|It seems there is no revolution
|in the Planck scale. My sisters
|& I worked for the missing
|queen: she said: be what you
|aren’t. A paradox. There are some
|revolutions: rips in matter, the bent
|nots inside our fabric whirred &
|barely mattered anymore. Our art
|could help take vividness to people
|but only if they had food.
|No revolution helped the workers, ever,
|very long. We worked on this
|or that flag after sewing this
|or that unicorn. They called Trotsky
|back from Canada. Tribes were looser than
|nations, nations did some good
|but not so very always, &
|the types of personal in art
|turned & turned. Nylon parachutes in
|1937. Lachesis. We shall not flag
|nor fail, wrote Churchill. O knight,
|tie our scarf on your neck.
|There are more than two ways
|to make beauty so movements end
|like sutras or horizons, somewhat frayed.
|Je est un autre wrote Rimbaud
|the gun-runner. Over & inner &
|code. The unicorn, c’est moi. The
|rips by which the threads are
|tethered to their opposites like concepts
|of an art which each example
|will undo. We spoke of meanings.
|I, it, we, you, he, they
|am, is, are sick about America.
|Colors forgive flags—red as the
|fireskirt of the goddess Asherah, white
|as the gravity behind her eye,
|blue for the horizon unbuttoned so
|the next world can get through.
|The “thin thread of calculable continuity”
|Santayana refers to —it’s not a
|choice between art & life, we
|know this now, but still: How
|shall we live? O shadow thread.
|After the cotton workers’ lockout 1922
|owners cut back sweatshop hours to
|44 per week. In string theory
|the slippage between string & theory
|makes air seem an invented thing
|& perhaps it is, skepticism mixed
|with fear that since nothing has
|singular purpose, we should not act.
|To make reality more bearable for
|some besides ourselves? There’s a moment
|in Southey’s journal when the tomb
|is opened & the glow-beast exits—
|right when the flying shuttle has
|revolutionized their work—by their I
|mean our —& cut costs by
|half. So lines are cut to
|continue them & if you do
|help the others, don’t tell. String theory
|posits symmetry or weight. My country
|’tis of installing provisional governments.
|Why was love the meaning thread.
|Textiles give off tiny singing no
|matter what: washable rayon, airport
|carpets, checked flannel smocks of nurses,
|caps, pillowcases, prom sashes, & barbecue
|aprons with insignias or socks people
|wear before/during sexual thrills after
|dark subtitled Berkeley movies next to
|t-shirts worn by crowds in raincoats.
|Human fabric is dragged out, being
|is sewn with terror or awe
|which is also joy. Einstein called mystery
|of existence “the fundamental emotion.”
|Remember? You unraveled in childhood till
|you were everything. By everything I mean
|everything . The unicorn puts its head
|on your lap; from there it
|sees the blurry edge. How am
|I so unreal & yet my
|thread is real it asks sleepily~~
From Pieces of Air in the Epic by Brenda Hillman. Copyright © 2005 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted with permission of Wesleyan University Press.
A tumbled down, and hurt his Arm, against a bit of wood. B said, "My Boy, O! do not cry' it cannot do you good!" C said, "A Cup of Coffee hot can't do you any harm." D said, "A Doctor should be fetched, and he would cure the arm." E said, "An Egg beat up in milk would quickly make him well." F said, "A Fish, if broiled, might cure, if only by the smell." G said, "Green Gooseberry fool, the best of cures I hold." H said, "His Hat should be kept on, keep him from the cold." I said, "Some Ice upon his head will make him better soon." J said, "Some Jam, if spread on bread, or given in a spoon." K said, "A Kangaroo is here,—this picture let him see." L said, "A Lamp pray keep alight, to make some barley tea." M said, "A Mulberry or two might give him satisfaction." N said, "Some Nuts, if rolled about, might be a slight attraction." O said, "An Owl might make him laugh, if only it would wink." P said, "Some Poetry might be read aloud, to make him think." Q said, "A Quince I recommend,—A Quince, or else a Quail." R said, "Some Rats might make him move, if fastened by their tail." S said, "A Song should now be sung, in hopes to make him laugh!" T said, "A Turnip might avail, if sliced or cut in half." U said, "An Urn, with water hot, place underneath his chin!" V said, "I'll stand upon a chair, and play a Violin!" W said, "Some Whiskey-Whizzgigs fetch, some marbles and a ball!" X said, "Some double XX ale would be the best of all!" Y said, "Some Yeast mised up with salt would make a perfect plaster!" Z said, "Here is a box of Zinc! Get in my little master! We'll shut you up! We'll nail you down! We will, my little master! We think we've all heard quite enough of this sad disaster!"
This poem is in the public domain.