Ancient Theories

A horse hair falls into the water and grows into an eel.
     Even Aristotle believed that frogs
                                formed from mud,
that mice sprouted like seedlings in the damp hay.

     I used to believe the world spoke
                           in code. I lay awake
and tried to parse the flashes of the streetlight—
       obscured, revealed,
                    obscured by the wind-sprung tree.
Stranded with you at the Ferris wheel's apogee
       I learned the physics
                    of desire—fixed at the center,
it spins and goes nowhere.

       Pliny described eight-foot lobsters
                         sunning themselves
on the banks of the Ganges. The cuckoo devouring
       its foster mother. Bees alighting
                         on Plato's young lips.

In the Andes, a lake disappears overnight, sucked
       through cracks in the earth.
                         How can I explain
the sunlight stippling your face in the early morning?

Why not believe that the eye throws its own light,
       that seeing illuminates
                    the world?
                         On the moon,
astronaut David Scott drops a hammer and a falcon feather,
     and we learn nothing
                    we didn't already know.

More by Nick Lantz

Fork with Two Tines Pushed Together

It's fast and cool as running water, the way we forget
the names of friends with whom we talked and talked
the long drives up and down the coast.

I say I love and I love and I love. However, the window
will not close. However, the hawk searches
for its nest after a storm. However, the discarded
nail longs to hide its nakedness inside the tire.

Somewhere in Cleveland or Tempe, a pillow
still smells like M_____'s hair.
In a bus station, a child is staring
at L____'s rabbit tattoo. I've bartered everything
to keep from doing my soul's paperwork.

Here is a partial list of artifacts:
mirror, belt, half-finished 1040 form (married, filing jointly), mateless walkie-talkie, two blonde eyelashes, set of acrylic paints with all the red and yellow used up, buck knife, dog collar, camping tent (sleeps two), slivers of cut-up credit cards, ashtray in the shape of a naked woman, pen with teeth marks, bottom half of two-piece bathing suit, pill bottles containing unfinished courses of antibiotics, bank statements with the account number blacked out, maps of London, maps of Dubuque, sweatshirts with the mascots of colleges I didn't attend, flash cards for Spanish verbs (querer, perder, olvidar), Canadian pocket change, fork with two tines pushed together.

Forgetfulness means to be full
of forgetting, like a glass

overflowing with cool water, though I'd always
thought of it as the empty pocket

where the hand finds
nothing: no keys, no ticket, no change.

One night, riding the train home from the city,
will I see a familiar face across from me? How many times
will I ask Is it you? before I realize
it's my own reflection in the window?

Preface to the “Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion”

In the late spring of 1985,
we met in the weedy lot of the Orchid Pavilion Nursery
for a little ritual purification.

Everyone came, all the half-brothers and half-sisters,
the children not yet born,
and men so old they were young again.

We sat beside the aqueduct, and gold cans of beer
floated down to us
like the lines of poems.

The end of the twentieth century hung over
us like a cartoon anvil, but the breeze
that day was a knife so sharp

you couldn’t feel it cutting pieces off of you.
But then, when it’s sunny, no one remembers
how quickly a century turns over.

Our mothers always said that living and dying
ran on the same business model,
that one hand washed the other.

But how to tell that to the rat whose whiskers
will be bound into the brush
that inks these very lines about him?

No, there’s no use pretending the tears our mothers wept
over newborn babies and the dead
were even the same species of water.
 

Related Poems

Humanimal [Feral children are fatty]

4. Feral children are fatty, complex and rigid. When you captured the two children, you had to brush the knots out of their hair then scrape the comb free of hard butter. Descent and serration. No. I don't want to ask primal questions.

5. Kamala slips over the garden wall with her sister and runs, on all fours, towards the complex horizon between Midnapure and its surrounding belt of sal. The humanimal mode is one of pure anxiety attached to the presence of the body. Two panicked children strain against the gelatin envelope of the township, producing, through distension, a frightening shape. The animals see an opaque, milky membrane bulging with life and retreat, as you would, to the inner world. I am speaking for you in January. It is raining. Amniotic, compelled to emerge, the girls are nevertheless re-absorbed. I imagine them back in their cots illuminated by kerosene lanterns. I illuminate them in the colony—the cluster of residences, including the Home—around St. John's. No. Though I've been there, it’s impossible for me to visualize retrieval. Chronologies only record the bad days, the attempted escapes.

d. I was almost to the gate. I was almost to the gate when a hand reached out and pulled me backwards by my hair, opening my mouth to an O. The next day, I woke up with a raw throat. The cook gave me salt in warm water. I waited until she was gone and then I bit it. I bit my own arm and ate it. Here is my belly, frosted with meat. Here are my eyes, bobbling in a tin.

6. It's Palm Sunday and Kamala, with the other orphans in a dark, glittery crocodile, walks from Home to church. Her two arms extend stiffly from her body to train them, to extend. Unbound, her elbows and wrists would flex then supinate like two peeled claws. Wrapped, she is a swerve, a crooked yet regulated mark. This is corrective therapy; the fascia hardening over a lifetime then split in order to re-set it, educate the nerves.

e. The cook fed us meats of many kinds. I joined my belly to the belly of the next girl. It was pink and we opened our beaks for meat. It was wet and we licked the dictionary off each other's faces.

7. Is this the humanimal question? No, it’s a disc, transferring light from corner to corner of the girl's eye. Like an animal tapetum. The way at night an animal. Animal eyes, glinting, in the room where he kept her, his girl, deep in the Home.