All Times and All Tenses in this Moment

More by Mary Szybist

In Tennessee I Found a Firefly

Flashing in the grass; the mouth of a spider clung
     to the dark of it: the legs of the spider
held the tucked wings close,
     held the abdomen still in the midst of calling
with thrusts of phosphorescent light--

When I am tired of being human, I try to remember
     the two stuck together like burrs. I try to place them
central in my mind where everything else must
     surround them, must see the burr and the barb of them.
There is courtship, and there is hunger. I suppose
     there are grips from which even angels cannot fly.
Even imagined ones. Luciferin, luciferase.
     When I am tired of only touching,
I have my mouth to try to tell you
     what, in your arms, is not erased.

In the Beginning God Said Light

and there was light.
Now God says, Give them a little theatrical lighting
 
and they’re happy,
and we are. So many of us
 
dressing each morning, testing
endless combinations, becoming in our mirrors
 
more ourselves, imagining,
in an entrance, the ecstatic
 
weight of human eyes.
Now that the sun is sheering
 
toward us, what is left
but to let it close in
 
for our close-up? Let us really feel
how good it feels
 
to be still in it, making
every kind of self that can be
 
looked at. God, did you make us
to be your bright accomplices?
 
God, here are our shining spines.
Let there be no more dreams of being
 
more than a beginning.
Let it be
 
that to be is to be
backlit, and then to be only that light.

Related Poems

All those Attempts in the Changing Room!

          An Interrupted Monologue by Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1630

Look for me
where I learned to look for myself, 
in my ring of attempts
in the light of a sinking candle.

A candle?

       My soul, if you will.
My paintings bear witness to its
long affair with the real.
My flesh preferred games and counterfeits.

Counterfeits?

       My portraits!
The diary I kept in pigments.
This youthful 'me'—one instance—
in a beret and swaggering chain.
The sneer on my lips?
       That's Envy spurring Ambition.
The gold of my cheek and chin?
       There's the cost of pretence. 

So I played to the glass,
desiring the sweets of applause,
every morning delivered my face
to a rasher cause:
       van Rijn, the actor, the lover,
       the courtier, the beggar,
       the burgher, the sinner, 
       the saint, the seducer…

The more lies I told under cover
the truer they were. 
God save me! My pictures, whatever my will,
told the truth to my eyes!

And that was your genius.

My ingenium? Christ's punishing muscle!
God was always at war with my skill. 

With your skill?

More likely the Devil.
Oh, my struggles with God
rivalled Jacob's with the angel.
Even as a young man, I knew where I stood:
Here was God.  Here was Lucifer.
I prayed to them both, damned both, 
took from both when I could.

From Lucifer, his light—ochre bronze and lead-white.
A fine brush for elegance—linen and gold—
His greed to paint glory and splendour in firelight—

But from the Lord God, eyes.

And when He handed me eyes,
I knew I'd never escape them.
I shrunk them, I botched them again and again
in the shade of my hair or my hat.
I surrounded my forehead with shadows,
wore black and more black.
 
But my eyes still insist that I judge
myself through them—
myself in the changing room of myself,
myself in Act One on the world's stage,
my root nose—lecherous, cruel, pocked, thick,
my smooth skin bared for the plague,
myself who would see myself mocked in old age,
poor, unrepentant, penniless...sick, sick! 

Self-portrait as a young man?
Ignorant, egotistical, clever young man.
Who could know then
what I'd be in years to come?
Or what eventually did or must happen?