(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.