The teensiest of the tiny technological spurts
that drive you toward creating a tantrum
of things we can’t see and don’t even know
yet that we need winks its little eye tonight:
too soon for mass production, but too late
to cure the leukemia patient who just expired
in room 1407, bed B, even amid laughter
and smoke that fogs the visionary outlook
into an ordinary form. There are the usual
bedsheets to change and fluids to empty
into receptacles marked with biohazard symbols,
while the family retards the flame of grief
until they are immolated in their own living
room. Take heart that the vision is clear
in at least one mind: the smaller the better,
and make it snappy. The molecules rest
in their colloids. They Jekyll and Hyde:
copper becomes transparent, solids become
liquids at room temperature, gold turns
catalyst. Let it start something, then,
and let the properties be altered, within
reason, for structures need something
to count on in the crazy micro-world.
We don’t like spoiled children,
and we don’t like rules that can’t be broken
into a million atoms exercising their right
to assembly. They won’t be arrested, won’t
be standing by their nanocars with flat
fullerenes. It’s every atom for herself:
they drive me nuts with their ambitions
and their fears, the cocktail they drink
for courage. Yes, anything’s possible,
including fuel catalysts and sunscreen,
but I like the idea—urging in its infinitesimal
voice—being suspended in the colloid
that transforms present to past, future
to present. We may not even know when
we have it in our hands, but
the old truism is, after all, true: size matters.
Meanwhile I called to the background
help and help and keep me from
falling into the head-basket or
the heart-bag or from crashing
my ribs into the granite with all
its cold shoulders. Too soon the foreground
swallowed up the gnaw,
the knives of a lost idea cutting
into the scene and editing
the treatment of the wound.
In time, in time with the stopped clock,
we age. I wanted to defy the figure
and lean of rock and hard,
but places conspire and lips
call No, no, if you want to try
again, that’s up to you but here,
we are all out of help and eggs
and every other damned thing.
—for my mother
A filet is cooking in the pocked saucepan, steam
rising as steam does,
and I am thinking of sorrow,
which is also like steam—warmth
and permeation, movement to the edges
of a room, to a ceiling where droplets
fall back down to drown me again.
I have known sadness
in the light and dark, deep
keening silent in the heart
though it rearranges my face and seeps
into others as steam and heat.
For the service, I am ironing
a black dress.
Fabric smoothes over the board,
a black waterfall. I am saying
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean, I never meant to,
but there is no one here, only
the thickening wind.
There is the hiss
of the iron and the wind.
The untranslatable cord
around the air.
In the closet the dress hangs.
In the closet I witness
its demise: soft neck bending.
My ruby sonnet, my port wine, my river
singing over the depths
of science: never suggest that order can crush
time or that time can
expect rivers to change into mournful doves
clambering up the bank
and building a nest of paintings
and chrome. That shining
reflects the dynamics of sunshine
and baby teeth grown
in and getting crowded into the harp
of our daughter’s mouth.
In other worlds, I could say the spider
and the hinge
and the canary are components of
a future we can’t see,
the appearance of more, of something
much more useful
and romantic than the small trap that snaps
shut as time closes.
There are different ways to be malevolent,
setting tiny diorama fires,
teaching your cat to go in a sandbox
down the block, or
knowing you’ll leave before you ever go.
That a sunset fades
in memory causes a vanished spot to rise
under the tent of sky.
No rose, no blush, nothing but a damp glow
hungering for more
light. And what of that insistent singing,
the wreck of spiders
the hinges we can scarcely hang by?
What of the cozy
warmth the canary feels as it sinks
into the poisoned quiet?
So the sun’s apogee and the shiny windows
meet: ants die, carpets fade. If you look
closely, the glass is etched with fingerprints.
Everything is. Well, not everything:
the heart is slick, the brain, a mushy pod
that resists touch. There’s nothing like lucid dreaming
or a trip to the zoo. Once, in another town years ago,
we cheated at Rock, Paper, Scissors, before the charts
showed more elements to add—RPS 25—yes, rocks,
but also knives and guns, swords, mace, the higher
pitch of violence. It was before e-Bay, before all souls
walked around with ear-pods in little worlds
of their own making. You could greet someone
and they might speak. My attic is full of things
I’m saving for my daughters: their grandma’s
silver coffee service, a handmade silk stole, 50s furniture
they may not even like. I take back the years
by holding them in limbo: there you are, 1964,
a reindeer jumper with a jingle-bell nose. Hi, 1969,
and your Scottish doll with her eyes glued shut. I see you,
1976, hiding in my brother’s garish high school
graduation program. The things we kept
could all be trash by the side of the road, a kind of spell
against progress. Abracadabra. Turn yourself
into something useful again. At Chicago’s LifeGem
you can have yourself turned into a “memorial diamond”
to leave to those you love. They won’t be
in the Greenbrier bunker, which would have been full
of Senators had the story not been exposed
in the Washington Post. Where Congress will go now
is a mystery, and joins the list of many other mysteries:
why hypnosis sometimes look so real, how long
things will keep in the fridge, why the fashion
of leggings persists, and why the psycho bells across the street
ring on no schedule, but at random, in fits, a grand,
sonorous garland of bells and, combined with the hum
of lawn mowers biting back suburbia
to manageable wilderness, there’s just enough green
to allow us to believe we connect in some way
with the earth we use up, the land where antelopes
and bison, chipmunks, squirrels, turkey buzzards,
the laughable flamingo, the dog with popcorn-scented pads,
all exist in harmony and create a kind of music
that we sometimes hear, but don’t understand.
Skip forward. Step back. Straddle the best of that time
and this. All the noises we make and hear don’t cancel
the truest message hiding in our cells: you may have found
a lot of fancy ways to get there, but you’re still going to die.
's two books of poetry are The World's Last Night (2001) and Laws of My Nature (2005), both published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. She is at work on a third collection, Civil Twilight, from which the poems here come. Her work has appeared widely in journals, including The Southern Review, LIT, Denver Quarterly, American Letters & Commentary, The Journal, The Gettysburg Review, and Hotel Amerika. She has been granted residencies at Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Fundacíon Valparaíso in Spain, as well as an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Connecticut Council on Culture and Tourism. She teaches at Southern Connecticut State University and at the Educational Center for the Arts, an arts high school in New Haven. She lives with her husband, Jeff Mock, and their daughters Paula and Leah.