Rockets flash briefly across the chilled sky, plumes of smoke, ash carried off by impending winter.
Over the lintel of the entry to the Inter-Continental Hotel Chicago, carved deeply into the marble Es Salamu Aleikum staring implacably through ponderous brass framed doors onto the Miracle Mile. Countless guests pass below it unseeing.
My son and I sit across a small table spilling bits of tapas onto the cloth, laughing lightly at the young boy bathed in a puree of tomato, his shirt dotted in goat cheese. My son explains the inflation of the universe, gravitational waves cast off by coalescing binary neutron stars. His words pull me deeper into my seat. We speak somberly of the jet engine parked haphazardly in the Queens gas station unwilling to mention 265 lives salted across the small community.
We embrace by his door, the few measured hours run. He turns to call his girlfriend, I turn my collar up against the November night.
The Red Line train clatters slowly back into a sleeping city. In my room I brew a cup of Darjeeling.
*”We will drink tea in Kabul tomorrow morning, if God wills it.” – Basir Khan, Northern Alliance Commander, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, 13 November 2001.
First appeared in Hearsay, 2004 and in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).
In the beginning there was a void, stasis, dimensionless. I am a point, without size taking form only in motion, so too the seat on which I sit on United flight 951 not going from point A to point B for neither can exist in motion transcending time.
Each decision sets one me on a path, into a dimension, dimensions while I tread a different path and I a third, yet I have seen the step ahead before having been on its path as all random walks must cross endlessly. The universe grows crowded with exponential me’s creating paths, and so must expand, until we cross and in some minuscule amount contract the cosmos.
Often I seek pain to slow the pace, or pleasure to quicken it, always immutable. I have learned all of this in my endless search for my paradoxical twin who prefers the accelerated pace, moving as quickly as possible, who looks younger at each intersection. Good night Albert.
First Appeared in Afterthoughts (Canada), Vol. 2, No. 4, Autumn 1995.
We were told the average background color of the universe was turquoise. She said “that’s because a coyote ripped it from the mountains outside Cerrillos. But now they say it’s actually a shade of dark beige, drying mud colored.” It was a glitch in the software, the astronomers said. The coyote was unmoved.
She sits on the floor sorting coupons and roughly clipped articles on herbs and natural remedies. Occasionally she looks down at the hollow of her chest, at the still reddened slash left by the scalpel. “I’ve got no veins left. I hate those damn needles. If they want to poison me, I’ll drink it gladly. Socrates had nothing on me.”
I rub her feet as she slides into the MRI tube, and pull on her toes. “I can pull you out at any time.” I look at my wrist but there is no time in this room, checked at the door. Just the metronomic magnet. As she emerges she grabs my hand, presses it against my chest. I cradle her head and trace the scar across her scalp, trying to touch the missing brain matter, the tumor it nestled, pushing aside the brittle hair. “Lightly toasted,” she whispers with a weak smile. She hates white coats and stethoscopes. “They’re the new morticians.” They take her in small sections. She is a slide collection in the back of my closet, on the pathologists shelf. I want to gather them all and reassemble her. I want her to be a young girl of fifteen again.
Coyotes wander down from the Sandia hills. They gather outside the Santo Domingo Pueblo, sensing the slow seepage of heat from the sun baked adobe. There is no moon. They know each star. They stare into the darkened sky. They see only turquoise.
In the interstitial moment between birth and death a universe comes into existence, something that never before existed and existed always, new and well-known, unseen and visible for eternity.
Measure it well for it is incapable of measurement, and ends without warning and precisely on schedule. In the momentary breath that marks the transit, we proceed nowhere and cannot return to where we began.
God is fixed in the firmament seen as puppet master by some patrician uncle, small child endlessly shifting blocks in new, transitory universes. All things recede from a point, have since the creation and that point, dimensionless is God, vast and infinite. It swings lazily, back, forth a needle in its cusp tracing lines in the bed of sand in constant motion as we and earth, and all of our universe spin slowly around its focus, it swings lazily back, forth, tracing an ever-shifting path marked in displaced sand ponderous from its fine steel tendril which rises to a point without size, shape, or time, frozen a singularity from which all else emanates. God lives, bat-like on the ceiling of the San Francisco Science Museum and the Hayden Planetarium and countless other buildings given to science, omnipresent yet fixed dimensionless and infinite always a ladder’s climb just out of reach.
As a child I would often stare up into the night sky. The stars, the planets, at least the two I knew I could see. My parents didn’t think my behavior odd, they assumed I wanted to be a scientist and explore the universe. I let them believe this. It was far easier than explaining that the alternative was to sit in the living room with them and listen to them bicker about something so minor that happened that day, with no escape from their earthly prison.
It is far less a matter of space for we have that in profusion if mostly always beyond reach, but unnecessary anyway given our pervasive fear of being alone while always trying to define our particular uniqueness. The universe has a vastness we can never hope to grasp and so we turn inward, where space is constrained, and we can imagine impenetrable borders that exist solely within the mind. But the dimension that gives rise to fear and loathing is time, for it despite its vastness, is always finite and always, in our deluded eyes shrinking as the universe expands, and we know there is a point when time becomes a deathly singularity.
The universe is more vast than we could begin to contemplate forty billion galaxies of forty billions stars, thrust out a child, an aged one bent by time mothers with children in tow, giants standing above with names belying their stature. Sitting here, pen in hand it is comforting to know there is another, and another stretching infinitely, secure in their uniqueness, in the shadow of their suns, casting words into the void.