From a collection of poems to be published in 2011 by Graywolf Press
Tina says what if dark matter is like the space between people
When what holds them together isn’t exactly love, and I think
That sounds right—how strong the pull can be, as if something
That knows better won’t let you drift apart so easily, and how
Small and heavy you feel, stuck there spinning in place.
Anita feels it now as a tug toward the phone, though she knows
The ear at the other end isn’t there anymore. She’ll beat her head
Against the rungs of her room till it splits, and the static that seeps out
Will lull her to sleep, where she’ll dream of him walking just ahead
Beside a woman whose mouth spills O after O of operatic laughter.
But Tina isn’t talking about men and women, what starts in our bodies
And then pushes out toward anywhere once the joy of it disappears.
She means families. How two sisters, say, can stop knowing one another,
Stop hearing the same language, scalding themselves on something
Every time they try to touch. What lives beside us passing for air?
Last year, there was a father in the news who kept his daughter
Locked in a cell for decades. She lived right under his feet,
Cooking food, watching TV. The same pipes threading through his life
Led in and out of hers. Every year the footsteps downstairs multiplied.
Babies wailing through the night. Kids screaming to be let outside.
Every day, the man crept down into that room, bringing food,
Lying down with the daughter, who had no choice. Like a god
Moving through a world where every face looked furtively into his,
Then turned away. They cursed him to his back. He didn’t hear.
They begged him for air, and all he saw were bodies on their knees.
How close that room. What heat. And his wife upstairs, hearing
Their clamor underfoot, thinking the house must just be
Settling into itself with age.
Tina says dark matter is just a theory. Something
We know is there, but can’t completely prove.
We move through it, bound, sensing it snatch up
What we mean to say and turn it over in its hands
Like glass sifted from the sea. It walks the shore,
Watching that refracted light dance back and forth
Before tossing whatever it was back to the surf.
How else could we get things so wrong,
Like a story hacked to bits and told in reverse?—
He grabbed my blouse at the neck.
All I thought was This is my very best
And he will ruin it. Wind, dirt, his hands
Hard on me. I heard the others
Jostling to watch as they waited
For their turns.
They were not glad to do it,
But they were eager.
They all wanted to, and fought
About who would go first.
We went to the cart
Where others sat waiting.
They laughed and it sounded
Like the black clouds that explode
Over the desert at night.
I knew which direction to go
From the stench of what still burned.
It was funny to see my house
Like that—as if the roof
Had been lifted up and carried off
By someone playing at dolls.
Who understands the world, and when
Will he make it make sense? Or she?
Maybe there is a pair of them, and they sit
Watching the cream disperse into their coffee
Like the A-bomb. This equals that, one says,
Arranging a swarm of coordinates
On a giant grid. They exchange smiles.
It’s so simple, they’ll be done by lunchtime,
Will have the whole afternoon to spend naming
The spaces between spaces, which their eyes
Have been trained to distinguish. Nothing
Eludes them. And when the nothing that is
Something creeps toward them, wanting
To be felt, they feel it. Then they jot down
Equation after equation, smiling to one another, Lips sealed tight.
The earth beneath us. The earth
Around and above. The earth
Pushing up against our houses,
Complicit with gravity. The earth
Ageless watching us rise and curl.
Our spades, our oxen, the jagged lines
We carve into dirt. The earth
Nicked and sliced into territory.
Hacked and hollowed. Stoppered tight.
Tripwire. The earth ticking with mines,
Patient, biding its time. The earth
Floating in darkness, suspended in spin.
The earth gunning it around the sun.
The earth we ride in disbelief.
The earth we plunder like thieves.
The earth caked to mud in the belly
Of a village with no food. Burying us.
The earth coming off on our shoes.
Animals everywhere, packed into stalls. Their legs
Stiff, pointing whichever way. Eyes fixed,
Unblinking because they know. They’ve seen
Our lives, heard us thinking to ourselves, and so
They wait, always ready. Won’t go quietly
In through the massive doors. Won’t go like pets
Into the big wet room where everything ends.
They nose the pellets meant for food. They eat
Only enough. They sip from the trough. Small sips,
Watching the workers as they pass.
Tina says we do it to one another, every day,
Knowing and not knowing. When it is love,
What happens feels like dumb luck. When it’s not,
We’re riddled with bullets, shot through like ducks.
Every day. To ourselves and one another. And what
If what it is, and what sends it, has nothing to do
With what we can’t see? Nothing whatsoever
To do with a power other than muscle, will, sheer fright?