after Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, by Cornelia Parker
How to move into an unlit room? Intuition
is a stone cast from the doorway. Listen—
a ricochet says many objects. Skitter and coast says, flat
floor, far wall, no obstacle; plummet and drop says stairs.
Or no stairs.
Imagine your life as a length of white cotton string, the end
of which you cannot see, nor the beginning.
Imagine my life as a white cotton string
Follow them across the tabletop, into the vast expanse of woodgrain
that is the future.
What will you do if the strings do not end
but are the same string, one line rounding a corner into the other?
The space beneath my ribcage is a room in the Tate Modern,
blackout shades drawn, a bare bulb hung from the ceiling
like the meeting of spark to gas, hand to face, lips to throat.
A halo of debris moving outward. Gas can. Window frame. Spoon, spoon,
unopened letter, horseshoe.
The splintered walls of a shed, and the rupture-flung shadows
a second shed. Still exploding.
The room has two doors. One faces east, the other north,
and a wet line of patrons’ prints connects them, shining white
in the bulb’s shifting gleam.
Occlusion of light, of entering a corner room from different doors,
unable to see past the corona of damage.
The cast stone drops and drops, revealing nothing.
When we meet, when we touch, what will usher in?
What wreckage will we risk?
I am Isis of the marketplace. On every crowded street and sidewalk
of Saturday’s Strip District rush
I am crouched in black river’s-edge mud,
dragging the water
I search for your throat
among throats swathed in gauzy summer scarves,
your hands among hands that sink into
cool barrels of red lentils, yellow lentils,
the fingers weighing lychees or white eggplants
that glow like moons, lips that part
for honey-drenched tongues
In my net today, only wrist, wrist.
And then, your shoulder blade. Sudden,
half-hidden by ribbed cotton,
and caught one breath before the body
of the not-you it belonged to
disappeared into a sea of stalls.
This morning at a café, I collected your ankles, teeth,
and the fine arch of one rib
through the wrinkled buttondown of someone
bending to help his love
into her seat before a table set with bone china, mismatched forks,
tea and a pale slice of pear galette.
She twitched and shook, muscles
leaping like a litter of kittens knotted in a bag of skin
and tossed in the river to drown.
I left with a clicking handful of bones
and a question: could I love
as he loves, knowing from the start how it will end,
each moment spent like a coin
to cool the eyes?
As if in answer, faces rose like fish
to the roiling surface of the river:
all those I loved before I understood
loss. All those I would have chosen
not to love,
had I known.
It is like sinew-stitching scraps
of leather to make a bag
because you want to open it, because you want
to see what’s inside.
I line up my tools: awl and needle. Lengths of linen
and pounded-tendon thread.
For a long time I leapt toward the fleeting bones I saw
in crowds, expecting to follow
someone’s long fingers to the blue-veined crook of your elbow.
I expected your body to come
whole. Already beloved.
I know now you were butchered, scattered into a river
of other bodies
and so I am a scavenger: a raptor diving from a high wire.
I learn to glean;
I learn where to punch
through the meat of a shoulder
to stitch on its arm,
how to build a body like a house I know
but have never been inside.
To bind what falls apart
All at once, you are assembled, bandaged in scars.
Your skin flushed faintly green as you rise
into riverlight whole.
Body I know.
Mouth I have already bitten
now speaking with a voice I’ve never heard.
I know how I will suffer
even as I open your shirt, press my mouth
to the notch where your collarbones almost
but do not quite meet—
Parallel Universe Epithalamium
What are you now?
Once honeybee, dragonfly, red-winged blackbird, whatever I was.
And now? World without hive or nest, without the spectrum’s longest wave.
Without family or phylum in which I belong.
Wherever you are, is there the myth of the hydra? A many-headed lizard
against whose necks a hero dulls his sword,
and each time a wriggling head thuds to the blood-spattered dirt, fanged mouth snapping,
two, three more spring from the wound?
The whole body splitting and branching.
Our world was one such monster.
There are moments of lucidity. Even now, wet-winged
on a flung branch—
rent leaves and cicatrized bark recall origin, taproot,
the subcutaneous beginning.
everything possible. everything happening. under the world’s skin
every possible world brimming—
Wake, surface to an unraveled life: the blunt-force
trauma of dementia, carwreck, rehab; a same-body, almost life.
it is happening right now, it is happening to you right now,
happening in some other, in every other permutation, it is already happening
When lunacy draws its hand down my face like lights-out,
the last thing I think:
somewhere I am open-mouthed, somewhere your thumb
along my cheekbone, somewhere else.
I spend your lives blinking, breathing.
The shadow-selves streaming from us resonate like a the lip of a ceramic bowl
ringing when the nesting bowl is lifted from it—
we inexplicably collect lake-tumbled glass in a jar, rocks pulled from a beck.
Another body we loved once swims in, walks along
those bodies of water, their other versions.
In this possibility, my world is long. In every instant of it, your worlds shear away,
a succession of lives lived as I wake or sleep, and in each one, you die.
A year of my dreams saw lit wicks put to drapes, beams blazed and weakening.
Thunder, like a wild spring storm, and collapse.
Because once we were like bees, we are bees again,
articulations of a single organism:
the split tree grows wholly in halves, its scorched center
sending up spring-sap branches, drawing water from a deep, intact root.
Now the house is a hive of mirrors. Around every corner, not reflection
but a whole self,
divided only by space, the material of our bodies.
The bees defy physics. Their days are mundane with bilocation, a whole self parsed
and occupying many spaces at once: clover, hedge, queen’s quarters, air.
What separates them, the hive from the field, this world from another world?
Inconsequential matter. What separates us.
Erinn Batykefer is a writer and a librarian. Her first collection, Allegheny, Monongahela won the Benjamin Saltman Prize a long time ago. She’s currently at work on a new collection of poems and a novel and lives in the part of Connecticut that is basically just an extension of New York. She tweets at @erinnbatykefer and @eb_writes; her websites are here and here.