Once, I saw a horse walk backwards
through city traffic. And at the Bleecker Street
subway stop, a homeless man gave me
half a sandwich one cold afternoon.
You look sad, he said.
This is the same story told two ways:
Autumn vandalizes the trees and my desk is
a mess again. Along with the universe,
my filing system is breaking down.
I need to connect things. To bind them.
In mathematics, museums, in roadside altars,
in arias, oceans, I look for signs—
on the counter today, icing glistening
in the sun: a lemon cake.
I saw it
and for a moment everything was transformed:
chemistry, mood, the rent in
the universe, the chaos in my room,
where, as usual, I end up getting lost in
the beauty of equations—
how long stars will spin, the power of a car’s engine,
a cake described entirely as units of heat.
Scientists are in search of
but so much is lost in friction, in noise,
in translation, in hesitation,
in pointless anxieties. But look,
the clementine peel is all in one piece,
aroma hovering around it
like a halo. Do you see how orange? How
it curves in homage to former roundness
in this broken way? Entropy
prepares the ground for every
kind of requiem: for roadkill and citrus peel,
the ashy smell of concrete as the rain falls
down, and the sun. I do love the way
it collects, reflects in pools in the courtyard.
I know the look of entropy
by heart, also by the creases
in my face. And my knees, my god, they kill
me when I stand, daily evidence of the way
relentlessly, irreversibly, particularly
when I’m not looking
and my thoughts go astray, decaying
into mere electric impulse,
limbic reaction, and
animal instinct—call it neuralgia.
The smallest noise makes me twitch.
Triggers are everywhere, in the street,
in cafés, in the stony hallway
where strangers walk round and round
the spiral staircase at night,
each footstep eroding, ever so slightly,
the ancient oak planks
while the elevator is out of order,
which seems like forever. Late at night
I hear their last sighs, last texts,
high heels, round and round,
keys jangling, they put their bags down,
they slide bolts, slam doors,
mumble their pronouns.
There’s no other way to get home—
the heat death of the universe
to the design of this place: same design
that dooms a secret nest
in the elm tree.
I’ve been watching it for months, begging it
for poetry. How did I miss it,
ragged and torn, until
today when hope, catching my chest, lifted
me up like pure helium. Once, a star
consumed its hydrogen and helium,
collapsed and exploded, spewing
shards of iron. They flavor my blood, here,
now, stellar debris running red
when I bite my tongue.
To connect things
I wait on hold: your call is very
important to us, they say,
and I notice the way my teeth ache
on the left side. I grind them when thinking
about the tornado, my mother’s crushed
finger, mangled in the door
I slammed to get away—a bad dream
replaced, finally, by a real deer
in my headlights on the freeway
in Michigan when I was a teenager,
its deadening thud, then the vertigo,
my car in a skid on ice and snow—
round and round endlessly, and so
I didn’t stop,
I was the arrow
marking the direction of time. And I
keep on moving forward, witness to
this endless series of gorgeous
this entropy, this migraine, this neuralgia,
this promise of gravity, this conspiracy
of sun pools, this perfect lemon
cake you brought home
from the bakery today because
I was sad.