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Saturday, October 29, 2011

What are the odds there's someone behind the cosmic curtain who reads our thoughts—

Christopher Buckley

Christopher  Buckley

Christopher Buckley received the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry for his most recent collection, Rolling the Bones (University of Tampa Press, 2010). He was raised in Santa Barbara, California, and currently teaches in the Creative Writing Department at the University of California Riverside. He is author of seventeen books of poetry, including Modern History: Prose Poems 1987-2007 and Flying Backbone: The Georgia O'Keeffe Poems. He is recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, two NEA grants, a Fulbright Award to Yugoslavia, four Pushcart Prizes, the James Dickey Prize fromFive Points magazine, and two Gertrude B. Claytor Memorial Awards from the Poetry Society of America. (Author photo by Matt Valentine)

A Little about Not Knowing Very Much

When I was 5 and first in school,
I refused, after lunch each day, 
to take a nap, fearing 
there was nothing 
on the other side 
of sleep. 
              It was something 
I arrived with on the planet, 
worrying that my mother—
in her one red cloth coat and 
father in his camel hair blazer 
and green knit tie—would be beyond 
any cry I'd raise there below 
the courtyard and classrooms 
and the monkey puzzle trees 
twisting dark as seaweed 
far into the air. 
I climbed the avocado trees, 
hung by my knees from a bough, 
pennies falling from the pockets 
of my jeans, confirming that 
my place was on earth. 
Coastal clouds strung out 
like a Sumerian alphabet 
and a crow was a riddle 
of pitch and feathers against 
the blue—I made no sense 
of his clattering sound-bytes, 
about how he saw it 
all from there. 
                      I came up 
with no translation for the grey, 
sky wide open for interpretation, 
a polished page of longing 
for which, I had faith, 
there was resolution and 
           Despite the blanks 
I drew for the next 20 years, 
I think nothing out of the ordinary 
transpired—Assyrians continued 
to descend upon the plain, 
one fundamentalist after the next 
ascended an orange crate 
in the street to tell us 
his God was God and what 
all of us should do. 
                             Oxcarts, barges, 
horses, the refined blood of reptiles 
from the Mesozoic era—we circle back 
on ourselves with improved apparatus, 
thinking we are going somewhere 
this time alright, the fine print 
about flesh and bones, barely 
legible in the old provisos 
the stars have always held 
over our heads .... 
                            What are the odds 
there's someone behind the cosmic curtain 
who reads our thoughts—a face peering out 
bald and burnished as Ghiberti's 
from his golden Gates of Paradise? 
And I ask myself, Do I have time 
to read about the Renaissance 
again—what perspective is there 
beyond the vanishing point 
of the earth, the matchstick anarchy 
of light? 
             Is anyone home 
on Alpha Centauri, our nearest neighbor, 
as our early TV waves arrive 
with Howdy Doody and Flash Gordon 
in his galvanized ship sparking away 
in empty space as our first representatives, 
with Groucho and his eyebrows, 
the duck dropping from the ceiling 
with the secret word? 
                                 How long 
can we hold our breath as they check 
100 million starry channels 
at a time on the SETI dial? 
Lucky, I guess, the NBC Nightly News 
will be another 60 years 
getting there, though our stealth 
black-winged bombers are not all 
that different from those in the '40s, 
and the boys on all sides are always 
blown to bits, their bones scattered 
along the side of the road while 
men in Savile Row suits step 
into the bank. 
                    Diogenes made his 
homeless home in the streets of Athens, 
ate his onions with contempt 
for human achievement, and may have been 
onto something, making a virtue 
of extreme poverty. His only "challenge" 
as administrators like to say, 
was looking for an honest man, 
holding that lantern for years in vain—
no grants, no pension fund— 
you'd think he'd have caught on 
at some point? 
                       The blood-faced buzzards 
spin up and glide beneath the strings 
of evening without a mission statement, 
but know what they are looking for, 
feel it's fine to float there for nothing 
more than the bequest of air. 
                                          Down here, 
our hummers are used to us 
sitting beneath the extended arm 
of our pine, the feeder suspended there, 
as they lace their wire-like feet 
confidently around the little perches 
outside the flowery ports to glug 
the red sweet water, but pause 
to eye us up, still cautious 
about creatures as statuesque 
as we. 
          Our cats learned long ago 
not to bother about these birds 
who burst through the air like particle waves 
with feathers, and so they stretch out 
for their siestas on the chaise lounge 
awaiting their can of salmon 
in fancy sauce served up promptly 
at 5:00. 
             What's coming next 
is anybody's guess, outside, of course, 
the reliable collapse of our cells, 
and how dispirited even the best 
among us are about this one piece 
of evidence we have, absolutely, 
in hand. Nevertheless, I wouldn't 
want to know right now, what 
will become of me. Knowing that 
you don't know is the best choice, 
if, that is, you think you have a choice, 
given whatever it is we are granted 
a country mile short of illumination—
the limited-time gift of our ignorance 
rising like spindrift, a savor of light 
above the waves.... 
                             At the end 
of August, I'd be happy to know 
we're finally going to get 
some rain, happy with even 
a small glass of local pinot 
in the shade with which to salute 
the incredible furnaces of the stars 
that burn almost forever before 
collapsing, exploding, and 
gathering together again—atoms 
whirling with their undisclosed 
purpose toward the dark.


White Shirt 
University of Tampa Press

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