Vices & Virtues of Isolationism
Sometimes I worry the sun is baking the glue out of everything.
That within fifty years our freeways and condos would collapse
without the constant lubrication of attention. Our hearts, too,
are being used up, a bit each day, so I can’t be sure
a little neglect isn’t a relief. We think of love as the panacea,
but I’ve seen it gut foundries to girders faster than fire.
New Galactic Model
Here’s our best guess: Betelgeuse explodes
in the next million years. Forget the moon.
It’ll shine like a second sun, and who will know
the difference? How many can point out the Pole Star?
Sometimes I forget which way is north. Sometimes I see
a murmuration of starlings circle a building half a dozen
times before they choose a direction. Sometimes, I hear,
the whole planet turns itself upside down. Does that mean
rivers run backward? Does that mean continents
migrate to the other side of the equator? I heard a physicist
say gravity does not pull; that mass distorts space
and gravity is space pushing back. Does that matter
at all to how we understand ourselves? Probably
not to those of us who use our thumbs and index
fingers to distinguish right from left. Certainly not
to the man who wants the fastest route home.
Most of us use a broken understanding of the world
and get along just fine. So should we ignore the new
planets discovered every week? Does it matter if
the birds fly north or south? I’m searching for
a model that simplifies all human knowledge.
When Betelgeuse becomes a pulsar, will I pretend
not to see it spin like the galaxy’s spastic lighthouse?
It depends on whether or not it illuminates the last
ten million years, and the next several thousand
no human would otherwise see.
Apologia for Never Saying What I Mean
I am thinking about the difference between what I think and what I say.
How I take a nebula of emotions and impulses and expect
words to find stable orbit in that space; and I am sure language
must be a kind of translation. If I had not failed as a musician I would
play the piano and ignore words completely. Keith Jarrett moans
and we understand he means you don’t know what love is.
So maybe there is something universal about language.
When I argued with Malia I was always two topics behind
because I kept going back to revise the point I didn’t mean to make.
Every expatriate in Korea thinks woegukin means foreigner.
I didn’t learn until I returned to Nashville and snapped at a Korean
friend in Starbucks I can’t be a foreigner in my own country
that the best translation is not Korean. I’m more frightened
every year at how effectively my mouth misrepresents me.
What would you think if I told you I wished Malia a broken heart?
But what if I said this poem was once titled “Duende”? What if
this were a song called “마음을잃다” but I didn’t tell you how
to say that or what it means? What if my Korean friend spoke
no English and didn’t hear my petulance? I don’t know
if I’m making myself clear. Pretend I elucidated the problem of turning
ideas into words. Pretend I did it with fewer words. If you asked
what I’ve learned, I’d say now I embrace my mind’s slow system, send
thanks to the women who showed me music starts in the soles of the feet,
then surges to the tongue. I have to thank those women who took what
I needed to lose to make room for the vowel of recognition I hold in
my mouth for as long as it takes to reshape the soul into a song.