August 4, 2008

Jay Udall

OF UNITY AND WHOLENESS

The problem with unity is the problem
with the thesis, the ego, monotheism:
Everything must fit into the Idea
or be disregarded, pushed away, driven out.
So the man came looking for his lost book,
mumbling something about quantum mechanics,
growing louder and angrier as he searched
our tables, shoving aside our books
and papers, puncturing the atmosphere
of our poetry reading, his face, hands, clothes
burnished with dirt, eyes flitting like moths
behind thick glass. When he suddenly asked
if he could take a turn at the mic, we said no.
Right about then the sun would have been rising
in Manilla. An old woman I will never know,
and can say nothing more about, opened her eyes.
Every summer the fur on my cat’s back
gets so matted I have to cut it off with scissors
and for many weeks after he walks around looking
like a post-op patient. Weeds grow in my garden,
even when I’m not thinking of them. Someone found
the book, The Elegant Universe, torn in two
unequal pieces, cover gone, outer pages
smeared and stained, pale yellow glue
splintering off the spine. The man took it
in his hands, smiled, softened. He said
his seven-year-old son had wanted to be like him,
so stole some of his stash, smoked from his hollowed
chicken-bone pipe, then ran laughing in front of a car.
One theory says a perfect, absolute unity existed
once, before creation. Since then it’s all a matter
of broken symmetries. The man walked away,
out of this poem, across the street,
into the open night.

2007 Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention