A Body’s Universe of Big Bangs

A body must remind itself
to keep alive, continually,
throughout the day.

Even at night while sleeping,
proteins, either messenger, builder,
or destroyer, keeps busy

transforming itself or other substances.
Scientists call these reactions
—to change their innate structure,
dictated by DNA—cellular frustration,

a cotton-cloud nomenclature for crusade,
combat, warfare, aid, unification,
scaffold, or sustain.

Even while the body sleeps, a jaw slackened
into an open dream, inside is the drama
of the body’s own substances meeting

one another, stealing elements,
being changed elementally,
altered by a new story

called chemical reaction.
A building and demolishment,
creating or undoing,

the body can find movement,
functioning organs, resists illness—
or doesn’t. Look inside every living being

and find this narrative of resistance,
the live feed of being resisted.
The infant clasping her fist

or the 98-year-old releasing
hers. This is how it should be,
we think, a long story carried out

to a soft conclusion. In reality,
little deaths hover and nibble,
little births opening mouths
and bodies the site of stories

and the tales given to us, and retold, retold,
never altered, and the ones forgotten,
changed, unremembered

until this place is made of only
ourselves. Our own small dictators,
peacemakers, architects, artists.

A derelict cottage,
a monumental church
struck in gold, an artist’s studio

layered with paints and cut paper,
knives and large canvas—

the site the only place
containing our best holy song:

I will live. I will live. I will keep living.


Enter under the ribbed
vaulting, holding up
the pointed arch
girded by rigid piers
and those brave half-fallen buttresses.

I’m not there. No Gothic cathedral
in my heart.

Inside, not in the nave, the grand
rounded apse, or the light
coming through fractured glass
into the aisle, its pattern hungry for the sacred.
Not the broken pattern of sun
set on the floor.

Instead, I’m in the accident of wings—
look up, in the tower, black shudder and flight
and the light disturbed,
shifting on the faces of saints and martyrs

that darkening in the stone laid by the hands of slaves
and laborers, in the blessed display
made by their sun-deepened
palms, sweat. Poverty in their bodies
which did not keep them from making,
building, carrying one large rock onto another.

Each stone a high chorus of voices
that cannot die: Hoc est corpus meum.

The cashier hands me a sack of food—
black curl around her temple.

The woman and her brow
in the restaurant kitchen—
the back of her hand
wiping forehead.

No need to insert hungry
repetitions and pursuit of godliness
in the carving of men’s faces.

Which is the house
to which I direct prayer
and give thanks? Faces
in the turret that have never
been drawn, the relief
of their likeness carved inside
stone’s voice.

Am I there? Under your feet?

The Bell

The lights in the bedroom flickered off and on.
I lay in our bed listening to a heavy thumping
coming from somewhere, quickening.

In a half-dream, I created the idea of walking to the door
and shouting, Who’s doing that?

Even the thought of it was tiring, and I rolled over with eyes half-closed,
lucid enough to be afraid to sleep but longing for it

with the same urgency I longed to take a deep breath
without pain, or to be able to sit up
without my lungs feeling crushed.

I tried to fill my thoughts with something other
than the every-second-of-half-breathing, the crushing and stupor.

Was the sound growing near?

Was it a foot banging a door, my daughter running circles in the living
room, feet pounding in a rhythmic pattern?

Was it the neighbor at some task again that required loud repetitive
pounding and screeching?

The questions were something to latch onto in my mind. I entertained them.

A slit of light broke from the bedroom door and my son crawled in
beside me, wrapping his small limbs around mine

underneath the coat of blankets. He was whispering but I could not
hear because of the thumping.

Who is doing that, I said. I slept.

My husband woke me to feed me soup, water from a straw.

I sat up in bed, the room bluing. Our five-year-old
jumping on the bed, adding a beat to the drumming

that started again when I opened my eyes (though I was sure
I heard it in my sleep).

It had been weeks since I’d left either the bed, or the couch,
laying, blinking, and when awake, staring through the window,
at a wall, at one of the children’s faces.

Breath came as if through a tiny sieve, which I gulped in small pockets.

You’re here, the doctor said one morning on the phone.
Be grateful. So the air like fish eggs, like the meager rationing
in the form of pills.

Sucking, coughing, my chest strained and ready to snap.

Nebulizer hush and burr. Inhaler sip. Eight more times.

Times seven. Again. Times sixty days.

The world shimmered in blue, the faces of my son, my husband
and our girls, cast in that same blue.

One morning or one night, or the next day, or the night that was yesterday
and before, tomorrow, I dreamt of running at full speed
down our street, past the school, toward the bayou ten blocks away.

The banks were filling with rain, ready to break over the edge
of the concrete embarkment, and I ran so hard every part of me
ached and I knew that this feeling, familiar, happened yesterday,

today, and tomorrow. I woke up wheezing and choking.
The thumping in my ears, my own heart racing,
like I was running, every second running.

At the insistence of my husband, I sat outside wrapped in a blanket,
feeling shorn. I watched my children play in the front yard
while the light flickered through the leaves of the tree on the lawn.

Underneath the world—or was it beside it, along it, between it?
(There was no relative space to pin it)—I saw the pulsing of blue,
an under-color to the kaleidoscope of reality’s rough imagery—

my son’s kid sneakers of black and red and white, flashing lights
when he jumped, my-eight-year-old’s plastic sandals, both of the children

dangling off the edge of a spider swing, their small hands flayed out
and waving. The laughter, her sigh.

Underneath it all was this color, not an earthly blue, blue of ocean,
precious stone or gem cut into rock, a sky flanking a horizon. No.

This blue which was not blue was the color of sacred, deep,
with a center to it, blood of childbirth, the whitened lips of the dead,
the infant’s purple wail—

all of it mixed together, long and unraveling, a cruel silence
with a terrifying bell inside.

I rested my head back on the chair and stared at the sky
that was no longer the sky.

I blinked and felt close to that color—this underwater, the blue eggs,
blue veins on an infant’s foot, the black feather of a blue jay that feigned
blue, the blue mouth of a glacier.

Was this what ran parallel and twinned to our lives,
a universe linked with a battered rope to this one,
where I had died, and hanging by a thread
to the universe where I lived.

The giant bell in its cruel silence behind the blue,
and my rollercoaster heartbeat readying me for the terrifying drop
to the ground. I longed to hear the bell.

I would not share it, only save it inside my body,
and never, even to my worst enemies, (but is that true?)
tell anyone the sound it made that killed small parts
all at once with a blow.

I opened my eyes, heavy pinned.

I had already heard the bell.
I had already imagined my children without me.

I sat feeling the holes of it,
growing cold.

Light overhead grew brighter
until wind threw the branches together,
a dark shadow enveloping our family.

Spin faster, I said to my children.
Do it again.