December 10, 2014

Sharon Kessler


Seems like every time you turn around,
something else just hit the ground.
—Bob Dylan, “Everything Is Broken”

I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.
—William Stafford

The dvd/cd/cvd/mp player: eject mechanism stuck.
The wily master practicing his martial art
is caught in the eternal
teeth of the machine.

My son’s computer: modem driver
erased itself. Soldiers immobilized in the heat
of battle. The escape velocity
of glass:

When I slammed the window,
the old pane,
in its rot-bitten wood frame,
splintered. (Not

the screen, though. That
disintegrated months ago.) The couch, too, unfolded,
its sprocket sprung, its hinge
unhung, unrefoldable. Everything

is broken, I complained, and my husband smirked,
eyeing that couch-gone-to-bed, and giving me
the lewdest look. The broken things
of the world

have never moved him. I’m the one who collected
the kitten with the punctured lung
from where it lay in the matted leaves: the mother
licked it once and walked away. Nothing

I can do, the vet said. What’s broken
is broken. Only last week
my daughter was watching
Men in Black

on the video when
suddenly the two
towering icons,
lofty and self-evident,

rose up on the screen. Sitting on a bench
in Battery Park, the actors
took no special notice
of what was no more

than conversation’s backdrop. Did you see that? I yelled,
and my daughter rewound the tape. We watched it
over and over, not as they had us do
on CNN. Everything that was broken

we made whole again. I told my daughter, This is a form
of resistance. While the newsreel
is stuck in its groove, our fata morganas

My daughter gathers broken children
like dolls: their apathy
frightens me, but she jumps right in
to their broken hearts and tinkers

until all their complicated machinery
kicks in. But the motor
on the Hoover’s
gone again. The vacuum, or

the broken edge of it. Superimposed on a map:
Master Time Line. Revision #15.
Entry Interface to Coastal Crossing.
Approaching the Coast. Crossing
the California Coast. Mach 18. Crossing Nevada.
Crossing Utah. Crossing New Mexico.
Remote Sensors
Off-Nominal External Event. Momentary Brightening
of Plasma Trail. Crossing North Texas.
Last Pulse
Before Loss of Signal. Last
Recognizable Downlist Frame. The antenna
snapped off in the car wash so I took my son
to the seashore. Twenty video tapes
survived the crash, as did hundreds

of lab worms from a science experiment. One tape shows our hero
floating weightless above the smooth curve of this coastline.
My son is too old for tears
so I cry for him.

He sits on the sand at Caesarea, hot and unhappy,
while I lie down in the water
and let the waves break over me
again and again. Maybe it’s because

I haven’t told him yet, about those
who are lost in sorrow or broken, the way
their shadows draw up darkness
from the sea,

that even when we absent ourselves from
the burning hourglass or webs of salt, that
even when grief unfurls
with a snap of the cord,

whether we stare it down or look away, we are all
travelers on Earth’s dark craft,
husks of speed in the night.
Flaming wings.

from Rattle #44, Summer 2014

[download audio]


Sharon Kessler: “I published my first poem in the 2nd grade, in the P.S. 207 newsletter, but then considered other callings: cryptographer, Mossad spy, chemist, and astronaut. Most of these required math, for which I had scant talent. I hid Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind inside my 11th grade math book. Poetry was like walking on the moon or breaking a code or having a secret identity or discovering a new element. I began writing it with a passion. I eventually moved to Israel and married a mathematician, with whom I coauthored three children. I was happy enough as a poet until, during a writer’s residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute, I accidentally stumbled upon a museum exhibit of old printing presses. Amazed by them, I spent the next few years learning to set type and print chapbooks on an antique press, scavenge old equipment, and smuggle related paraphernalia, unavailable in my adopted country, through TSA checkpoints. In my poem published here, the text in the ‘Time Line, Revision #15’ is taken verbatim from a map published in the investigation of the tragic crash of the Columbia space shuttle.” (website)