WHATEVER IT IS, IT COMES IN WAVES
Now if I think of the earth’s origins, I get vertigo. When I think of its death, I fall.
—C.D. Wright (1949-2016)
Photon flights, superimposed, are sure to give us gravity.
So they say. As if we don’t have it already. Consider
the woman at the bus stop in slush-grey mid-January
who worries a worn-out, filled-to-bursting backpack
as she talks to herself and peers down the street, shouting
only at strangers who try to point out the sign that reads
STOP CLOSED—because it matters. Yes, even the little
displacements. Even the interferometer, gravity-catcher
extraordinaire, with its two arms four kilometers long, remembers
the crash of nearby surf, the rumble of passing trains,
the tectonic bruxism of the earth. Exclusion is the realm only
of scientists whose hearts beat just like our own—
too loud and too soft, too long and too short. Whose TVs stay on
all day in their offices, volume low, the news ticker
ten-times-hourly proclaiming yet another departure: a singer,
an actor, who knows. Whose inboxes and cellphones
deliver the more intimate others: a writer, a teacher, an ex-friend.
Grains of sand in a mounting heap, shifting and sliding
beyond language, beyond discourse, and yet each grief still
its own treatise on weight, peer-reviewed and exploring
how one life—and who among us ever anticipates which?—
will explode in its passing like some distant light source
570 billion times brighter than our sun. 20 times brighter
than all the galaxy’s stars put together. A superluminous
supernova 2.8 billion years in the making. Can you even? I do
by setting out candles for the dead—one for each of us,
that is, so far into the future. And the past. Life on Earth
a mere matter of cell membranes still mastering the old
sun-and-oxygen trick when that magnestar began spinning
fast enough, clean enough, to send out such bursts.
(If it even was a magnestar. If it still is one, after all this time.)
But we’re watching, and that’s something, isn’t it?
Waiting. Wondering. When the next wave arrives, will it be like
the improbable bus that shows up anyway, signage
be damned, to carry us home through the gloom and the damp?
The long, open arms of our instruments—patient,
indiscriminate—can record this gravity well of lost stars, big
and small alike, just fine on their own. We’re only here
to add heft. Just a little. I mean, someone has to fall in every time,
don’t they, for science, for humanity, and wave back?
January 17, 2016
[ download audio]
Maggie Clark: “In a week that saw a range of major cultural icons die in their late sixties without fans really knowing about the artists’ illnesses in the first place, we also heard tell of the brightest supernova on record, and rumours about a possibly impending confirmation of gravitational waves. This poem was inspired by the drastic shift in notions of time needed to contrast such disparate, but still significant human events in the mind’s eye—if such a balancing act is possible at all.”