The problem of transcendence
fits inside a hand-held mirror.
A shaking page of newspaper
snags on a lamppost, flapping
in the wind. Something emerges
from the story & declares
an end to the yowls of hunger.
The definition of infinity is a mess:
three pounds of glitter mixed
with the grass seeds, grape soda
where the stream should angle
into the lake. You will be asked
which of the five senses is
most precious to you. You should
prepare an answer in advance.
A woman holds a hand-held mirror
& sees a total eclipse of the sun
behind her. She turns but there is no sun.
There is only a no-sun where
the sun should be & just below it
an elm sapling dangling in the sky
from a series of pulleys. She lies down
on the sun-warmed rock behind her
motorcycle. She whispers to herself
this is the totality & the totality
whispers back no,
it is this.
Unable to sleep she returns
to her apartment, locks the door
& becomes a tiny flame.
The light switch in the refrigerator
flips on & off, unbeknownst
to the boy at the kitchen table
slicing a red candle with a razor blade.
When he wrote the words light switch
in his diary he wrote lights witch
but he does not know the sensation
of an animal brain. After slicing
the candle into a thousand thin slices
the size & shape of doll’s eyes he lays
them on a metal sheet & puts them into
the oven. After an hour he opens
the oven door & finds a thousand
tiny candles on the metal sheet.
A thousand tiny flames. Glittering,
shuddering, they march to the
woodpile & whisper to each other
in the language of making love.
When I wrote she became a tiny flame
I mean that she stopped eating
& waited in her apartment to die.
Her name was Rue.
I know this is only a poem
but she was a real woman
that I knew in a real city,
named Richmond, Virginia.
On a sun-warmed rock the word totality can be defined as
a) a thousand tiny candles
b) a fully parsed sentence
c) a woman who has locked herself in her own apartment
& is starving herself to death & the sound
of knuckles knocking on her apartment door.
The word infinity has no definition. In the dictionary next to the word there is a photograph of a handheld mirror in which the camera is visible. The concept of totality in itself is neither good nor bad, but a bucket of water that has no water in it, a rubber eraser the size & shape of an eight-year boy.
When you’re born there were an infinite number of dictionaries
& then they became a wooden table covered with unbound papers
& then they became chipped shreds of wood
& then they became trees
& then they became gold stars.
I award everyone in this poem a gold star.
I’m going to label them infinity. We climb trees in the park
& pluck leaves from the branches.
These leaves make us forget,
or if not forget then
remember another new thing,
then another & so on & on.
And just as every book
wants to kiss every tree,
the people define themselves
with the plucked leaves.