My mother wanted to tell me
of my great-grandmother,
a woman she barely knew,
but who she imagined more fully
that life itself
would ever have allowed.
History, in her hands
was malleable, you could
shape it in ways never happened.
She wanted to tell me
but she knew that
her grandmother wouldn’t approve
of adopting when your womb
was perfectly serviceable,
certainly not for a man
more than a decade older
who could not uphold
his most sacred obligation.
She wanted to tell me,
but I am adopted
and this woman can be
no more than a story
of passing relevance to me.
Our purpose is to understand
and then explain
the order of the Universe:
the logic of the neat array of stars
from our centrally located
observation deck, the galaxies
as so many fractals seeking
to hide their organization.
We have no ability to control
and lack the mechanisms
to make all but the most minute
adjustments and then as if
to energize a stray electron
into a higher energy state.
We would like to foretell
but we have no essential premise
on which to erect our framework
just a cornerstone unwilling
to settle in place or time.
We can only recount
what we have learned
cautious that we miss
only events of lesser importance
even if they are prehistory
long before they occur.
Before the beginning
was the beginning.
Published in the May 2004 issue of Vent
Between now and eventually lies all of history. We are unable to see it
though it lies in our field of vision. That’s the problem, we only know
how to look backward. We are barely able to see where we are. It isn’t
that we don’t want to be here, merely that here is difficult to see, for
we have a tendency to block our vision. Imagine a map with an X or other
marker saying “You are Here.” Yet seeing that, we know we are not there, for
in that instant we will look down and see where we truly are. But the better
statement to the “you are here” sign is not to call it wrong, but rather
to simply ask it, how did you know. It will answer, your visit was history
lying between my now and my eventually.
There comes a moment
at which both memory and history
become blurred at the edges,
where the bedrock on which belief
has been so carefully erected
seems more magma, shifting
threatening to bring down the superstructure
of desire and assumption.
It is the fading that is at once
both fear inducing and exhilarating
for faith is tested and will most likely fail
leaving uncertainty in place of illusion.
This is the joy and treat of aging
where your own life has former lives
that you cannot be certain you lived,
which seem familiar enough but
never with the crystalline clarity
you imaged memory must have.
Memory is a Buddhist river
and so much of the fun
is continually getting
your feet wet once again.
I took yesterday and pressed it between the pages of my unabridged dictionary. The day began at sunrise and ended just before it became a supplicant, though to what, was not at all apparent. Days can be frustrating when they refuse to allow sufficient margins. I always thought Thursday’s among the best behaved, or at least the most compliant but that’s no longer so. The promise they used to hold out is evanescent now. It doesn’t really matter anyway for when I went to get it today to place it in my book of days, of course it was gone. I won’t look for it, yet one day it will, like so many others turn up amid the page barely preceding histrionics.
Years later on, having walked
calmly away from my former faith,
I am left still pondering
where you find the words
to describe, to teach the unspeakable,
and how you use them to reach
children who have no right to know
the unspeakable, but who must,
lest they later speak it.
It was a generation ago for me, two
for them, three now for my own
grandchildren but the losses
they know are staggering: Las Vegas,
9/11, Manchester, Sandy Hook,
and on and on and on and on
and how do you help them grasp
the number six million, 10 million, when
they have but ten fingers,
shielding their eyes from the horror.
He asked her what she did, and
the question surprised her. Most
didn’t ask that until much later on,
but she replied, “I am a historian.”
He said, “Isn’t that an odd profession,”
quickly adding, “and I don’t mean for a woman.”
“It is,” she smiled, “but I fell in love
with history as a young girl,
and I’ve been fortunate to watch
stars being born and die, galaxies appear
as if from nowhere, seen events
that happened before our own sun was born.”
She could see he was confused, perhaps
that he thought her mad as others had.
She calmly added, “You understand,
I am an astronomer and all I see
is the history of our universe.”