Randomly Moving Particles
Randomly Moving Particles
That Christmas I ran through fire in London
carrying my old father across my shoulders.
My mother too, she followed. You alive alas,
I could not bring.
Flight attendants wear Santa hats, Rudolph ears,
and keep straight faces during the emergency drills.
In the easy weeping that arrives with high altitude
grief is not too powerful a word. I grieve for you
in the life left behind, the existence diminishing.
I hear the cirrus I fly through crackle like dry clay
and planets squealing on their pivots in deep space.
I set my watch five hours behind. Eventually I sleep.
The Maryland coast below my plane losing height,
pleasure boats in the miniature expensive harbours
baring white teeth in green mouths dropped open,
then suburbs working avenues into close-knit tweed,
leaves all fallen, blue swimming pools glaring empty,
is changing to was, bluntly reformed parts of speech,
nouns being ocean now, adjectives wide, and emails
stacked in thin air waiting for my phone to wake up
as the facts of my life are occluded within my life.
There is no river flowing. There is infinite block time
and a decisive spotlight-finger pointing now to this
minute now to another.
Also there is jetlag
a clothes-bag of soft grey linen filled with hammers
dragged by their own weight down the marble brain.
Baltimore Department of Transportation what the fuck.
Odd potholes maybe but entire gravel trenches
Jiggly loose brick crossings, dolphin-backed tarmac humps,
scoops, cobble runs, bare mud even
Then downtown past the haunted high rises and blind eyes
of Gotham-Golgotha scattering underground steam-bursts,
last gasps exhaling whatever trash Ratking snacks on beneath,
concrete and fenders, gravel titbits, knocked-off exhausts,
until finally out and through into widening brighter light
with gorgeous silvery Chesapeake sky overreaching
and sweet tyre warbles where I in passing come to stay.
Snow begins, throwing down blank pages
to catch everything close, wind’s advances,
paw-prints and strangers, never you close.
The second day in my life I shall not live
through entirely, the hours less than 24,
is beginning when. I would like to be told.
My shadow has severed its ties and taken off
over the whiteness arriving. I am not afraid.
A point continues when it has no other part.
Four billion miles from the sun
making it the most remote planetary flypast in history
New Horizons has surveyed Ultima Thule
from a distance of 2,200 miles.
Its shape is a contact binary
which is to say two touching bodies.
It is a russet colour
caused by the exposure of hydro-molecules
to sunlight over millions of years.
Originally an agglomeration of pebbles
it coalesced into successively larger bodies
until only two remained.
These gradually travelled towards each other
and merged in a walking speed kiss
more like docking than collision.
When my sleep begins I find myself at the front gate
watching shadows fold down into a car and drive off.
Breath-mist on the windows. A phantom of exhaust.
The childish liquid dribble I could have used to follow you.
Instead I turn myself inside and leaned a the door-back
in the new and weirdly high definition of time in solitary.
The pathos of a dumped umbrella still sparky with rain.
Sinister daylight in the bedroom becoming a block of ice
trimmed and polished to fill the same exact dimensions.
With so much malice in natural law, such purposive hurt
in the life of inanimate things, I had half-expected to turn
to the Atlantic sky passing and see you miles below me
like a drowned woman in a well, endlessly the same,
Punctual as the evening star
a Baltimore Police helicopter
fingers the surface of the harbour.
In the long dark before Spring arrives,
a skinned log, chewed off and leprous,
offers itself as a ray of sunlight trapped.
Here is the old question of leave or remain,
my given-up country and my new treading sparks
from each other’s heels, which way madness lies,
which way I lose years for a starter, also skin flakes,
certainly hair, everything wisdom has accumulated
except this hard nub of myself, this idea moulded
by my first contact with life I now also brush aside.
My father in his last hours as himself,
soft-spoken always and that rarely
but lucid and definite when he does,
why has it come to this why this why,
and me in silence returning the echo.
Someone outside is using an electric saw to chop
a pipe in two at this implausibly late hour. I hear
the piece he wants strike the road and echoes fly.
Then a couple arguing run past but he is too fast
and catches her, although she loudly fights him off
and manages to escape. When I pull up the blind
that has concealed me from the man inspecting flats
opposite, I see above an expanding ripple of roofs
the moon gather its fragments, fling them away.
Now snow has melted and frost retreats
piecemeal down my street to the harbour
where wind is blustering the water black,
ancient water rising beneath new water,
shouldering it aside slippery and slight,
asserting what is deep down and inviting,
whispering in the old defeated languages,
remembering the islands made of oysters,
cod shoals packed in tight and the pilgrims
walking dryshod ashore on heads and tails.
The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2, having spiralled down
and landed on the asteroid Ryugu, has fired successfully
a tantalum bullet weighing 0.2 ounces into the rock’s surface
and collected the debris using its specialised sampling horn.
The goal is to understand better the solar system’s history
and evolution, the role that carbon-rich asteroids played
in the emergence of life on earth, and to pioneer methods
of harvesting valuable minerals and metals for future use.
I come to the pool in the quiet hour after 2:00 p.m.
when the lanes are empty and the surface still,
except where clean water, piped from below,
produces pressure like veins figuring marble,
invisible within but creaturely as skinship itself.
You are absent here too, your fingerprints sanded,
no further evidence available, the very idea a cork
pushed down in a wine bottle but unavoidal
a dark life tilted and sliding, tilted and sliding.
Trump’s team have enlarged the size of his hands
by screwing with photos they then release online.
Meanwhile the man himself in the Rose Garden
wears his mobster’s overcoat and wide red tie
knotted so the tongue falls long and slendering.
Optics! Optics! But my sight endlessly running,
my eye divided in bad home reception, finds also
the PM scurrying to frame an opposite idea, power
swelling in diminishment. Optics, dammit, optics!
Snowdrops among other things in raised civic beds.
A gaggle of novices pleading for the remission of sins.
A congregation of angels who sing in the Spring wind
canticles no one can hear.
Otherwise sneaks of light
escaped from the underworld, the flickering glimpse
dying in life allows.
What language is spoken here? It seems close to mine
but I can seldom make myself heard, and when heard
am never well understood. People laugh uproariously
then wobble off with their busy hams jostling together.
Veterans accost me. I meet a sad clown by the harbour
strumming an electric guitar, and his amplified music
troubles the wheels of the universe like loose gravel.
The Chinese Rover and its lander
have taken pictures of each other
on the dark far side of the moon.
The Chinese say their spacecraft
is in good working order
and the Rover has just woken
from a period on standby.
Images make the landscape appear reddish,
a far cry from gunpowder,
the detectors are less sensitive to blue and green.
Thanks to tidal locking
we see only one face of the moon from Earth
meaning among other things the moon
takes exactly as long to rotate on its axis
as it does to complete an orbit of the Earth.
The far side is much more rugged than the near
with a thicker and older crust
more widely pocked with craters.
I take to the Gunpowder River in the early season,
pursuing a rail-trail navvies bullied clean through,
boulders of their blasts encumbering the stream,
bud-casings stippling the quick mahogany surface,
trout sunk deep down, stunned by the priestly cold,
then step into the same element myself regardless.
There is the impression of sousing, of compressing,
and the valley widens from dead centre, the idea
of you opening also, my line signing up to blank air
before quizzing among stones and tricky stick-jams,
looping wherever the current loops, extricating,
then enquiring again, the trout starved no doubt
but making do, something else I have to tell you.
There is the world behind
with its water-bug dimple
and airy scuttle.
There is the world to come
where home remains to be seen.
There are days passing
and days when the clock sticks.
There are the small mercies
of WhatsApp and FaceTime
and the kindness of children.
There is the friendly arrow-shower daily
of email somewhere becoming correspondence
that ascends to survive in the iCloud.
My father on his deathbed.
My father when his body-machinery is working
but his mind
while preparing to set his jaw
and turn his face to the wall.
Hospice wall that is,
cherry blossom pink
thanks to the one ebullient tree
crashing the window pane.
My father who fought and bravely once upon a time.
My father who carried his myriad astounding griefs
and never says a word.
More than 40% of the planet’s insects are now in decline
at a rate eight times faster than mammals, birds and reptiles,
amounting to a collapse of 2.5% every year for the last thirty.
This biomass presently outweighs humanity by seventeen times
and includes bees, butterflies, caddisflies, dragonflies, stoneflies,
flies, and beetles—of which there are 350,000 different varieties.
There are always some species that take advantage of a vacuum
left by other species, but all the evidence points in one direction.
In ten years a quarter, in half a century half, in a century none.
The cigarette slip-stream, acrid but desirable,
of some fat sod blocking the sidewalk ahead.
Sun blinding my eyes like a rage of hot metal.
Poor service and cherry tomatoes spongey
in Whole Foods well before their sell-by date.
Crap music in the pool annihilating thought.
No one here. Dusk failing the Exelon block
frail but definite as a yellow cowslip patch.
I tell myself be more adventurous and march north,
south, east and west—east is the harbour so a dead end—
but soon balk at the limits of my safety, which I know
by smoke signals that arise from smouldering tyres.
I revert to my old new ways and find comfort in that
but the question keeps arriving: What am I doing here.
I often repeat myself and the answer still escapes me.
The Eastern Seaboard drowned in line with the I-95,
hothouse existence, sketchy burials, rocket plumes,
then gravity drag and a dependable tablet for sleep,
narrowing eyes losing sight of the bluest eye closed,
and the kindly cloud-cover prompt with kindly veils.
The planet FarFarOut, 140 times further from the sun,
ten times the mass of Earth, the furthest object known
in the solar system, the boundary of our power to see,
much mooted, previously known simply as Planet Nine,
definite now but sheltering in the Oort Cloud, very faint.
Here I am always and continuously beginning.
Here I am dressed in a skimpy little garment
made of what ideas and work I do this instant.
Here I am looking beyond the pale of my existence
at the undefended life to come I can only imagine.
Here I am repetitive while seriously bewildered.
Here I am corrupt yet become unearthly innocent.
I sweep back again
up the tarmac path between headstones
to my father’s grave and mother’s beside.
My father however
still wearing the Irish tweed suit
with surprisingly loud orange stripe
and regimental tie in which he was buried
He has chosen this exact moment
to burrow through the rotten wall of my mother’s grave
and raise her in his arms again.
Or quite possibly he repeats this action
every minute of every day.
In either case it is a very delicate operation
and requires his complete concentration.
My mother after all
is kicked-in and crushed along the left side of her head
a glittering pulp,
and everything she stores there
is leaking out through her ear,
which she would very much like to stop
at all costs. For which reason
my father turns to me and says
he is sorry
but now it is simply too late
to give his attention to anything else.
Where have you been, you particles whizzing off everywhere,
touching some delicately, pounding others. I know your ways,
I have tracked your zig-zags and circuits, my skin remembering,
a butterfly woken from its cranny by delirious spring sunlight
now clasped on the window sipping its pool of black shadow.
O Trump is he still here, this time dry-humping the flag,
goofily beaming, lavishing his love, false, chuntering on,
the flow remarkably free of impediment, almost devoid
of dead air, of -um and -ah and -er, unctuous, dictatorial,
abandoning threads mid-phrase, returning or maybe not,
having the fluency of relatively unmonitored spontaneity,
false, lacking the normal signs of difficulty in thinking what
to say when performing the chosen word-stream, less talk-
talk than sing-song, abandoning phrases and starting points,
spasmodic, self-interrupting, false, severely unintelligible
as explicit statement but highly expressive by implication,
false, ego-centric and inconsiderate, never showing teeth
when smiling, smiling seldom, lifting corners of the mouth.
When night has fallen
I climb onto my roof to count the stars
and see beyond them the gas nebulae
flaring like ideas that start before words
and instantly die.
Then I wake up and become Elpenor
for the twinkling of an eye.
It is past mid-day and the ships are gone.
Come back I shout, but there is no one.
So I climb back down to the ground
but miss my step on the ladder
and break my neck.
Now who will lay me out to rest
in my beautiful armour.
Now who will keep me from dreaming
lives that can never be mine.
These are the questions I put to the sand
as it pours through the bones of my hand.
Questions I put to the shade
of the oar that grows in the earth above my head.
Because I carried my father from the flames.
Because I am dredging memory and glad to.
Because I respond to the gravitational pull
(chewing my fingernails admittedly, asking
have I eaten my own body-weight). Because
my mother followed. Because I live dead days.
As surprising really but in its way as simple
as a god moving among his earthly inferiors,
a flock of sparrows bursts from a dust-bowl
and sinks into bare branches of a sycamore.
Dark matter of randomly moving particles.
A god whose elements, ashen in silhouette,
produce a scratchy melody that decorates
my time in passing, if not the proof a god
has left his engine running while he vanishes
to look for something elsewhere he forgot.
Ripley, an anthropomorphic test device, rides again
aboard the SpaceX Dragon, fitted out with sensors
around the head, neck and spine to record everything
an astronaut would experience during the mission.
Look forward to meeting you, tweets Anne McClain
from the International Space Station. My own mouth
becomes my own by dark degrees, both arms likewise
while the dawn chorus of sparrows attempts to sing.
Their first serenade is useless, the brittle chink-chink
of prisoners digging to escape their cells, but daylight
cannot be helped now, the Earth ignites its thrusters,
and the SpaceX Dragon’s soft capture gets under way,
docking with a spring system that dampens movement,
then deploying clever hooks to create an air-tight seal.
Computer says no, and that gets a laugh
so parliament tries it. When parliament
says no, the world splits its sides. Then
parliament says no to no and melancholy
seeps from the centre out like the black
stain in the eye of a pansy flower. Blame
what. Blame the sodding silver sea, etc.
Blame the national psychic head-wound
bleeding for generations until the brain,
starved of oxygen, intentionally dreams
only of green mountains, arrows and bows
burnished, the word yes no longer assayed.
On FaceTime in your white jumper and black
silk shirt with the lacey neck akin to a nightie.
No one can tell the temperature of a blue sky
simply by looking. A restored film of soldiers
fighting in 1914–18 shows their terrible teeth.
A child has chicken pox. The question of leave
or remain has become a free vote. Every single
soldier in that ditch beneath the flowering may
has thirty minutes to live. We are more sensitive
to noise now than when we were young. I have
lost you. You have lost me. No, I am here again.
At the end of the harbour
sunset has caught fire,
and ladders on light hinges
drop from sky attics.
But angels fluff their ascent
and the god loses patience,
stamping through his floor
to ensure evening deepens.
Above the ring-road a dinosaur fly-past,
a seagull finding a thermal to wander the city,
and across the further distance a freight train
sings America’s grace note and defining music.
I am homesick for the future. I have torn up
the foundations of my life and stand on them
now scouring the wall of the horizon, or now
staring into the bare tree outside my window
where dead branches in the crown gesticulate
with stiff arthritic jabs while others living sway.
It is mid-day meanwhile and weak sunlight slaps
down into the harbour but mostly reflects back
into the sky greasy but simplified. The bars open
and first customers arrive. A cormorant passes.
But a story with no story, how can that end well?
If a diary there is death, if correspondence death,
the moon wearing thin in her threadbare shawl.
The bright instantiation of things incomplete.
Of life that remains unlived, the end in sight.
Less and less the conviction of rounding out
more and more the sense of a widening sky.
Rotation and fixity. Bafflement. Fear. The moon
returning to show again the face I saw just now.
I lie in the prow and look down. Water
at this point in the harbour is so clear
I can easily imagine my fingers reaching
to touch the gravel bed that lies below.
This is the rim of the Earth before the fall.
My bow-wave swells each and every pebble,
where timid creatures fleeing my approach
burrow and wait for the threat I am to go.