Richard Jackson is the author of 9 books of poems, most recently Unauthorized Autobiography: New and Selected Poems and Half Lives: Petrarchan Poems. Resonance will appear in 2010. His translation of Aleksander Persolja's Journey of The Sun appeared in Slovenia and he is the author of two critical books, two anthologies of Slovene poetry, and several chapbooks books of translations from Italian. He is the winner of Fulbright, Guggenheim, NEA, NEH, and Witter-Bynner Fellowships, the 2009 AWP George Garrett Award, and has 5 Pushcart appearances. His poems have been translated into 15 languages and he was awarded the order of Freedom Medal from the President of Slovenia.
Nothing but Trouble
.............The nothing that is not, and the nothing that is.
So there was Alexander Graham Bell hanging around the back
of my mind. Some short circuit or another had confused him
with a barn owl, the barn owl with a dove, and the dove
with a blue heron. Just when you think nothing is there
it appears like an unseen planet you know only by the way
its sun wobbles. But why did he suddenly appear here
in the cavernous Basilica di San Francesco at Arezzo? Like us
with all the space between our atoms, or all that space between
planets, it is mostly nothing. At the far altar is the famous fresco
of Adam dying. Bell wanted to invent a machine to talk to
the dead. That's why he seemed so blue. We could say he's like
this or like that, but "like" really only tells more of what he is not.
Scientists tell us you can only see the real world by not looking
at it. When you look you change it. Is that why Terri's picture
of the Moose came out blank? It seems like more trouble
to see things than to imagine them, so I'll go on here. Five year old
Emily says there is a little world inside each flower. Some
Begonia petals are called Angel Wings. Her sister,
Anna, reads messages from her dead friend in vapor trails.
When we arrived at the town buried beneath the dam's waters
there was nothing but what we could imagine, and that was enough.
It's hard to call anything what it is. Ezekial ate God's scroll
to learn his words. Most of the wall frescoes here have been
painted over because it was too much trouble to keep them up.
Sometimes you can catch the faintest outline of one before
it dissolves like a cloud. There's no secret that is secret.
The glowing clouds in each galaxy will soon broadcast
what laws have formed them. Terri says the bottoms
of cumulous clouds are flat because that's the way children
draw them. The void doesn't care what laws we have for it.
Sometimes she fingers through the abandoned lives left hanging
on the clothes rack at the second hand store. When you see them
fluttering in the rafters above the altar you could believe the soul
lives in the doves' coo. The trouble is they are trying to get rid
of them. Nothing but trouble the Sexton mumbles over the rattle
of his key chain. My friend Amy says she avoids trouble by
becoming invisible. Sometimes we're just a scale in need of a weight.
Trouble is when you think you are invisible and you are just trouble.
Meteors are invisible until the burn up in the atmosphere.
It's what kills things that makes them visible. Levinas says
that we are involved in everyone's death. That means the nameless
juvenile killed in the drive by on 36th street, and the girl gutted
for attending school in Afghanistan. Flocks of souls rise form
the desert like a mirage. The tongues of the silent sit like coffins.
They say nothing of the acid thrown in the girls' faces, nothing
about what God might mean. They are no Ezekials. Nor are we.
But what was Alexander Bell supposed to mean in all this?
That the only worlds that endure are what we invent?
He wanted to build a clock for a time beyond our own.
Its beds are empty. Its rivers run dry. Oars with no boats.
One thing begins to cancel out another until nothing is left.
There are such abandoned places inside me, I don't know.
Spinoza said the soul is just the body's idea of itself.
He thought God was a precise but invisible clock.
This isn't getting me anyplace. Maybe I should have
ignored Bell and started with the heron. I saw a perfect
white one fly over the Thai restaurant the other night.
There are too many ideas flickering here like those votive
candles trying to fill the hollow spaces of the church.
Some of them flicker then turn into invisible daylight stars.
In the beginning the universe was nothing but a quantum see saw.
In some Churches the candles are electric which takes us
back to Alexander Bell. I have to find a way for him to leave.
All of our light is borrowed from somewhere that's
no longer where it was, the galaxies, the sun, our own
solar system all running away from each other
and leaving a kind of vacuum we'll never fill.
No wonder the figures in our dreams always disguise
who they really are. There's hardly anyone in this church
except the woman mourning at the side altar for her
dying husband. What do we call the space we leave behind?
Aeneas grasped the empty air he thought was his mother.
Is that why we feel a presence when there's nothing there?
Leonardo's lost Battle of Anghiari probably lies hidden
behind Vasari's great painting in the city hall of Florence.
Or it may not. X-Rays will tell us. But when you take away
anything there is still the space it occupied. It's nothing.
No one except Goya knew how to show war's real horrors
like his man impaled on a scrub oak tree, something
like what they've done in Bosnia. Or to Neda Agha Soltan
pictured shot and dying on a Tehran street by a cell phone
Bell once imagined as his visible speech machine.
If only we could be invisible to the shadows holding guns.
We never know how many beats are left in our hearts.
Still, if you do nothing you might as well be invisible.
Nothing lasts forever. The clocks are frowning. The soul
sounds hoarse. A farmer plows up a decades-old bomb.
There are baby stars being born in the empty space
of the universe. When they die they turn into diamonds.
No one knows why one of the stars in Orion is shrinking.
Most of what I've mentioned here came from text messages.
The tourists phones glow like tiny halos over their words.
We've begun to decipher radio waves from the big bang.
Is it true that we came from nothing? that those figures
in the backs of our minds are nothing but short circuits
or like the names worn off of old tombstones? like these
shattered frescoes searching for their originals? What
about you who I've kept hidden here all this time? Sometimes
we leave our feelings in the mirror for the next person
to put on. Our promises leave without closing the door.
They wander troubled among our dying neurons. That's why
we can hear the heart's despair in that little ringing in
our ears. Maybe the soul is a player piano we pretend to play.
In the altar fresco Moses is saying his last words to everyone
he's loved. For a moment he seems to want to reach for
whatever last vision walks in shadow across his brain.
I can hear the Sexton starting to close the doors.
I think each of these sentences can fit into their own twitter.
How far have the light photons around us traveled?
The lines from here to there are all down. The man outside is
selling postcards from the Rapture. It doesn't include me.
This used to be troubling but now its nothing.
Whatever Moses said rests like a refugee in his brain.
His trees seem to grasp the sky. His hope is scratching
new stories in the stained glass. The last tourists listen
to their guided earphones as if the static could tell them
what he was promised, but it's nothing, nothing at all.