So I squandered what little audience I had with sheer laziness. But now the end is in sight, and all I want to do is sew this thing up in private, like Frankenstein in his lonely lab. Ok, bye, and see you in the funny papers.
The power plant. Or. The lightning.
Inauguration Day, 2009.
Fort Collins, Colorado.
Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“Maybe fire is the opposite principle to light, and comes to the use of those who do not go the way of light. Fire has to consume to give all its light. But light gets its knowledge—and has its intelligence and its being—by going over things without the necessity of eating the substance of things in the process of purchasing their truth. Maybe this is the difference, the different base of not just these two poets, Bill and E.P., but something more, two contrary conceptions of love.”—Charles Olson, “GrandPa, Goodbye”
“We shall build a tower that will reach to the stars!” Having conceived Babel, yet unable to build it themselves, they had thousands to build it for them. But those who toiled knew nothing of the dreams of those who planned. And the minds that planned the Tower of Babel cared nothing for the workers who built it. The hymns of praise of the few became the curses of the many – BABEL! BABEL! BABEL! – Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.”–Thea von Harbou and Fritz Lang, Metropolis
Sometimes all I want is a little more power.
“(There is a myth that Prometheus did more than steal fire from the sun and bring it down to man: it is said that Prometheus fathered man.)”
There was a stadium.
My father hurled a lightning bolt like a javelin.
The stadium became a brain
where electric branches
dart from synapses
and this poem billows up like thunderheads.
I am made of lightning.
My father sat in the cave. Covered in black hair. It was as invisible as his long teeth and simian jaw, but flashes from the storm outside briefly silhouetted his body.
Our troop roiled in the murk, bodies swapping blows. An antelope stank somewhere close. I crouched on a rock watching for my father’s fleeting profile.
Sudden light invaded the cave.
A tree outside caught fire.
My father stood.
He picked up a stick.
He marched toward the flames.
He carried back the power plant.
Our troop howled with fear and shied away from the shadows that shivered on the cave walls. My father had to coax each one of them to the stack of branches that he set alight and kept burning. Some tried to touch the flame and cried in pain at being burned.
I drew my father on the floor with my finger.
Stick figure lifting his torch.
My father gave me light to draw by.
I gave him my first drawing.
By morning my careful lines had been replaced by a panicked dance of footprints.
Electricity is brevity
and power at once.
In Frankenstein or: A Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley omits any detail of the chemical process which brings the creature to life. Victor Frankenstein, the narrator, claims to be redacting the information from the careless disposal of other scientists. In fact, Shelley’s imagination had outstripped reality’s permission.
A silent adaptation made by the Edison Electric Company in 1910 condenses the creature in a cauldron of chemicals, flesh scraps hanging themselves on a palsied frame. In the end the creature confronts himself in a mirror and vanishes, becoming only his reflection. Victor rushes in and finds the creature’s image taking his place in the glass, stealing his selfhood, until that semblance disappears to reveal Victor’s. The implications of the scene are complex, but the title card just reads
“THE CREATION OF AN EVIL MIND
IS OVERCOME BY LOVE
James Whale’s 1931 film version has the creature lifted toward the storming sky on a mechanized gurney. A strike on a sphere-topped lightning rod powers the machinery that animates the creature. It was after Whale’s version that the creature became known as “Frankenstein” as though he had taken on his creators’ name. As a son.
But the creature could not speak. In the first full sound cinema production of the story.
When my mother was in her twenties and her grandmother Hazel was in her eighties they worked together to write a history of Hazel’s life in Leadville as a daughter of Cornish miners, her move from the mountains to the plains to become a teacher, her marriage, her family, a living-history.
My mother compiled the scattered notes her grandmother would send in the mail, crafting random flakes of memory into orderly rows of chronology. She typed up two copies, one for her own family, and one for her uncle’s family in Sterling. Hazel asked that the copies be kept within the families, the family.
Against her wishes
I can’t help but leave a fragment from this history
on the floor of the power plant. Anyway
my mother sent me this quote
and gave me permission to use it.
“For light we had candles and kerosene lamps. Then the big day came when Leadville got electricity in homes. I ran all the way home from school to see the lights. Each room except the parlor had a drop cord that hung from the ceiling–one bulb. The parlor had a chandelier. What a joy to turn on a light.”
II. The Martin Drake
“The whirr of flapping leathern bands and hum of dynamos from the powerhouse urged Stephen to be on. Beingless beings. Stop! Throb always without you and the throb always within. Your heart you sing of. I between them. Where? Between two roaring worlds where they swirl, I. Shatter them, one and both. But stun myself too in the blow. Shatter me you who can.”
My father works for the Martin Drake power plant in Colorado Springs.
Other men make radiators or poems. He makes lightning and puts his sun in your house.
My father gave my fourth grade class a tour of the power plant.
He led us through the flames like Virgil
and we were his 25 little Dantes.
But now that I have grown and left my father’s house
who will guide me
through this building like a burning sepulcher?
Go to the power plant. Find the classroom. Pull down the canvas roll wedged between the back wall and the ceiling. Printed on the roll is a schematic, a map of the process. Colored lines delineate the machine’s parts: the coal loader emptying to the oceanic fire in the burners that boil steam pressurized through pipes to blast against pinwheel turbines, sparking bolts day and night. Grey scribbles are the clouds hot enough to sublimate my father’s bones in an instant. Finger sized bushes of orange stand in for the fire that could cook his eyes into gas.
If I followed this schematic into the power plant it would lead me nowhere.
It could even lead into the fire.
I made up the name Martin Drake.
Martin. Bird wings electric current quick.
Drake. Snake breathing fire
and for draconian.
The power plant is a martin drake.
My father is a martin drake.
But the power plant is not named Martin Drake.
The power plant doesn’t know its real name.
It’s dressed up in blue metal.
Trace my wires back to their beginnings.
You’ll find the power plant.
Martin Drake was the man the power plant was named for.
I didn’t make up the name.
I never said the wires aren’t tangled.
The schematic makes the system seem orderly, a logical cause and effect progression. But being there, in the building itself, I feel lost among the pipes, hatches, steel, grates, stairs, conveyor belts, elevators, knobs, buttons, lights, vents, valves, rails and I don’t know how to end this list any other way than saying so. I don’t know how my father finds his way around the power plant, and yet he does, and does so better than I ever will, better even than I know my way around this poem.
My father invented a building that was a tangle without end, built it to hide the martin drake that lurked inside. Then King Minos imprisoned my father and I in a tall tower so that the secret of the labyrinth could never escape. When we tried to flee on wings made of feathers and wax, I flew too close to the heat and I plummeted into the sea.
When my cousin was a boy he thought the power plant was a cloud factory.
I thought the clouds it made were ashes from coal fires.
I thought my father made Vesuvius.
While I was writing this poem, Craig Arnold, a poet I’d seen read a year earlier, went missing on the volcanic island of Kuchinoerabu in Japan. He was researching a poem on volcanoes. A search party tracked his footprints to the edge of a cliff but his body could not be found.
The power plant is a factory for obscuring clouds.
Cooling towers temper the steam used to spin the turbines, allowing the condensed water to re-circulate. On cool and humid days the rising vapor saturates the damp air and makes a white fog. The clouds are often mistaken for the smoke from a fire.
Pliny’s vaporous pine disintegrates.
The power plant makes clouds
only as bi-product.
The power plant doesn’t have time to be a cloud factory
because the power plant is an explosion on schedule.
This storm with quotas can’t admire
its own wispy clouds.
It doesn’t care for its floating hair.
Floating on air.
But despite the power plant’s relentless logic
and all the enlightenment it gives me
when I stare into the cooling ponds
I see the blue steel feathers of the martin drake
chasing its two eyes made of glowing coal.
I know that this is not a musical poem. But I am not at fault. Those touring the power plant are asked to wear earplugs against the machines, that moan like miles wide beasts. Without them I would be pushed closer to the precipice of deafness, as close as my father, who in 25 years has lost the high tones in his hearing.
And I believe that music in poetry
is nothing more than accidental screams
emitted by the real machinery of thought.
For forty hours a week my father left our house for the power plant. In the first years he was there he worked eight hour shifts, either day, night, or swing. Later he switched to twelve hour long shifts, all day or all night. He called nightshifts “working graveyards”.
When my father said he was working swing shifts
I imagined a line of grown men on a swing set.
When my father said he was working graveyards
I imagined bleached skeletons
darting between headstones
trying not to be seen.
My mother stayed at home, raising me while my father worked.
I thought of her as clean blonde hair
and him as rough
Today my Father is a Shift Supervisor. He leads “crews” of men and women working as Control Room Operators, Boiler Turbine Operators, and Plant Systems Operators. He also acts as an interface with the Maintenance, Engineering, Site Security and Management divisions of the Martin Drake Power Plant itself and the larger Colorado Springs Utilities Organization.
“his crew, a ‘people,’ Clootz and Tom Paine’s people, all races and colors functioning together, a forecastle reality of Americans not yet a dream accomplished by society”
Crew of the Pequod.
My father plays Ahab
prop peg leg and made up scars.
He leads humans
to fight nature
for the right to burn its fuel
into light. Nature with its white tail
resounding against ocean.
Martin Drake. Moby Dick.
Is it a metal whale
or a blue steel ship
steaming in place
in shadow of mountains
like breaking waves of rock?
The power plant is a location.
Martin Drake Power Plant at
700 Conejos street.
Locus. Axis. Imago mundi.
A crossroads inscribed in a circle
with 700 rabbits in a cage
at exact center.
The power plant is Prometheus
bound to the stone. a
While my father was at work he does one of two things.
He lays down in the coal burners while the martin drake tears him to pieces
makes him spinning steam then sparks
shoots him into every line cable wire
bulb battery capacitor transistor
diode tube and screen
all of him burns away
nothing made back into coal
and somehow he returns to us
to eat dinner again.
Once my father dislocated his shoulder climbing a ladder in the power plant.
He said he reached for a rung and his arm leaped free of its cuff. But I think the martin drake grabbed his arm and wrenched it out of place, like Beowulf to Grendel.
I saw him in sunlit hospital hallway. Wind through open windows lifted white curtains toward our meeting. He embraced me with one arm, the other in a sling.
The power plant is a dis-location
that is also a Dis location.
The power plant is a worker’s arm
that gets free from its shoulder.
A center of power that sends it power everywhere
across the western grid.
Our city’s eccentric center
The power plant is Prometheus unbound
and floating free.
But how to find my way though this place
where no paths meet
and fog haunts out of the ground?
I am a writer lost on a volcano.
While my father is at work he does one of two things.
The other thing he does is stare
into a burning bush
that has not yet been consumed.
I’m not sure which one of these two things he did at work.
My father decided to hike Barr Trail up Pikes Peak. He made it to the top, did not meet God and found the train back down closed. He hiked down in darkness.
A few weeks later I was born. The day after that was his birthday.
Child, father of man.
When Moses came down from the mountain the radiance of God was on him . As he spoke the commandments of God he was so bright that no one could look at his body. After he finished speaking he covered himself in a veil to obscure this aura. He would only lift it when he went in the tabernacle to speak with God.
Cells eat like coal burners.
Earth is a small metal ball.
Conductor for currents crossing
a universe that spends itself for fuel.
The present burns the past
to charge the future.
The power plant is a small or large machine made of everything.
Try negative theology. A negative charge. La via negativa.
What is not the power plant?
III. Massacre of the Innocents
“A first bowl of the victim’s blood, drained from the wound, was offered to the sun by the priests. A second bowl was collected by the sacrificer. The latter would go before the images of the gods and wet their lips with the warm blood. The body of the sacrificed was his by right; he would carry it home, setting aside the head, and the rest would be eaten at a banquet, cooked without salt or spices—but eaten by the invited guests, not by the sacrificer, who regarded his victim as a son, a second self.”
My father’s favorite singer is Johnny Cash
“Love/is a burning thing/and it makes/a fiery ring.”
A statue. Marble.
Two sexless human forms. Both of the bodies wear Greek chorus masks, with the word “Labor” on one’s forehead and “Love” on the other.
The body with the Love mask is stretched chest up on an altar. The body with the Labor mask form holds a knife overhead, pointed at the Love’s liver.
It is not clear whether the masks are assigned to their proper forms. Or if the names are even the right ones. Or if the forms are even human.
A statue. Or is it “statues”.
Career day. My father brought a miniature power line and a small gas generator to my second grade class. He carried a frilly dressed baby doll in a thrift store sack. He turned the machine on and his own electric hum turned the air into glass.
My father pulled insulated gloves all the way to his elbows while explaining the danger of downed power lines. He pulled the plastic child from its plastic womb and tossed it against the wires.
An electric shock feels like many things.
A bone cracking shiver.
A reptile snap of jaws.
A phosphorous camera flash.
A flame that burns itself.
The doll caught fire, cradled in the wires. It pitched from its electrified hammock and fell to the floor. A smell like rotting tires rose from the victim. Polyester clothes melted to pink plastic, dripping on the floor, a new fluid of this tortured body.
My father has a power I do not.
It makes him have Abraham
hands with each hair
upright like a lightning rod.
When I was a baby I would cry when my father came home from work.
Today he laughs and says that it was my Oedipal complex on display.
But what did it feel like
covered in soot
and sore of body
and your only son crying at your return?
Why this sacrifice
of love to labor
and am I not still crying that he left
just to come back again?
The power plant cares for its children
Which is quite a lot. However.
People made of lightning should not touch their babies.
They will become lightning.
But my father has two children.
Two growing bodies his labor has fed.
He has attended both our cries.
One lets fire lick its guts.
One has coal stained skin.
Both have lightning in their heads.
One is a neuter. One is a son.
Which one? Me
or the power plant.
Twelve years after I saw the baby doll burned on electric wires my father told me that he doused the plastic child with hairspray in the parking lot before he came in. Without a starter the doll never would’ve burned so quickly.
A reporter at the Gazette interviewed me for a story on this poem. The paper sent a cameraman to tape me reading in front of the power plant at night.
After the taping, the cameraman talked to my mother and I about an accident he’d been sent to photograph the day before. A nineteen year old woman had been burned to death when she was trapped against a burning gas pump. She was five minutes away from home, just leaving for the mountains. A driver lost control and crashed into the 7-11.
The cameraman was sent to cover the story. He took his pictures, trying to avoid any close shots of the gas pump itself. He returned to the Gazette office and turned in his photos, one of which immediately ran with a story on the paper’s website. Later that day he and his colleagues looked at the photo again after digitally lightening it. They found a dark form hidden in the shadows around the pump. They pulled the photograph from the website, and managed to catch it before it went to press.
I’m not sure if I should’ve told this story.
I don’t know what the cameramen saw
in that digitally brightened murk
but when I look there I see
a smiling 19 year old woman
cradling a burned baby doll
cradling a camera man
cradling a camera
that tapes two white towers
paired like smokestacks
turning into smoke
as they implode.
A month later the story went to press and I watched the video online. It followed a commercial for the oil and natural gas lobby. My prefacing comments were shot in normal color, but when I started reading the video switched to a negative filter. A strange choice. A negative charge.
Hair and skin turned blue.
Poem luminescent in my hands.
Glowing veil across my face.
The martin drake coiled around my torso
mouth leeching on my liver.
I read the book so nothing can hurt them.
But something will still hurt them.
The power plant was hidden in the haze of night turned light, but when the negative switched off the building was still there, burning its bubs like eye-lobes.
700 Easter rabbits
skinned for pelts and burned.
I tried to write a long poem on the Passenger Pigeon. I called it “An American Georgic.”
Once when I was home from school I described my poem to my parents over the dinner table. I laid out every structure, every theme, lovingly. When I was finished my father only said
“When are you going to take a fiction class?”
Later I talked about this to my mother. She told me to forgive him, because he was on his third nightshift in a row. He was very tired.
I stopped writing about pigeons.
I started writing this poem.
“And if the burnt sacrifice for his offering to the LORD be of fowls, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves, or of young pigeons. And the priest shall bring it unto the altar, and wring off his head, and
burn it on the altar; and the blood thereof shall be wrung out at the side of the altar: And he shall pluck away his crop with his feathers, and cast it beside the altar on the east part, by the place of the ashes: And he shall cleave it with the wings thereof, but shall not divide it asunder: and the priest shall burn it upon the altar, upon the wood that is upon the fire: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.”
Before he became a Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins burned more than 100 poems he had written. In his journal he wrote
“Massacre of the Innocents”.
Later he became a poet again
I’m tired of squinting
in a room of bare light bulbs
because the only lampshades at the import store
are made of human skin.
I blink. The power plant looks like a death camp.
Only an illusion
a play of light on smoke stacks
and astigmatic lenses.
Although I admit I have exploited this illusion for poetic effect.
My father works at the Martin Drake power plant in Colorado Springs.
He is not Abraham. He never set a dagger
nor a hand on me.
He’s not a “panzer-man”. A “black shoe”. Or a “vampire”.
He didn’t even burn a doll in my second grade class.
It was another man doing a safety demonstration. Not career day.
I don’t even remember whether the doll really burned on the floor
or was instantly charred at the shock
But I do know it fell smoking.
The power plant is not Moloch. Despite what Fritz Lang says.
Despite what Allen Ginsberg says.
My father dislikes “Daddy”
by Sylvia Plath
because of her hyperbole.
I’ve argued with him
saying that poetry is spectacle
and spectacle need sacrifices.
Saying a poem must be doused in hairspray
so it will burn when a current passes through it.
But today I’m not sure of that. I think a sacrifice might be a dumb show
a sheer display of bloody power. Life expended
“And fire has proved for men a teacher in every art, their grand resource.”
Some people have jobs that aren’t their real jobs.
My father got his BA in English literature. He often said that he wished he’d gotten his teaching degree, and taught Shakespeare to high school kids.
When I was in fourth grade he came to my class and organized us in a abridged production of Henry V and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I didn’t play a role. Instead I introduced the two plays in the character of Shakespeare himself, doing a Rip van Winkle routine, waking up in an elementary school gym, speaking not his words, but my own speech.
My father wanted to be a writer and a teacher but instead he works in the power plant.
My father is the best teacher I’ve ever had because he taught me about electricity twice.
Once by going to work at the power plant for forty hours a week.
Twice by telling me that he was like Prometheus, because he gives the world a gift of electric light.
My father taught me how to use the simile, the metaphor, the symbol.
He taught me
how to use the power plant
the electric light
the switch on the wall
the drop cord on the bulb socket
But the most important lesson he taught me is
to build fire you need
I say to other children at school
My father stole a flashlight from God’s cabinet.
Then he taught everyone to build flashlights.
That’s how come we have flashlights.
They question me.
I point to florescent lights
He made those too. They taught you to read
and do math.
Then I tutor my classmates
in a miscellany of his eclectic pedagogy.
His electric pedagogy.
My friend David works in the library at Colorado State. One day he brought home an empty folder that once held a series of pamphlets on products from the Edison Lamp Works in Harrison, New Jersey.
All that’s left is an index on the inside of the front cover, listing my father’s daily labors.
“no. 103. Lighting of show windows and show cases”
“no. 104. Artificial daylight for merchandising and industry”
“no. 106. Illumination and production”
“no. 108. Lighting office buildings and drafting rooms”
“no. 110. Lighting of textile mills”
“no. 111. Lighting of piers and warehouses”
“no. 125. Lighting of printing plants”
“no. 127. Lighting of Ship Lighting”
“no. 131. Electric sign, poster panel, and bulletin lighting”
“no. 132. Lighting of large dry good and department stores”
“no. 133. Lighting of the clothing and shoe industries”
“no. 139. Lighting of small stores”
“no. 142. Lighting of woodworking plants”
“no. 150. Lighting of steel mills and foundries”
“no. 151. Lighting for hotels and resturaunts”
“no. 154. Adequate and efficient motor bus lighting”
Filaments teach letters
for hands to inscribe
and filaments teach the eyes
Light glows on the page where I read.
Light is the computer screen where I wrote this line.
Once my father wrote poems made of single words called
“lighght” and “eyeye”.
And now I’ve written them again.
But he’s the one who lights these words
like rooms or fires.
I light. You light. He lights. She lights. It lights. We light. You all light. They light.
I light. I, light. Eyelight.
My father plugged in his Telecaster
at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964.
He sang “I don’t wanna work on Maggie’s farm no more.”
He taught us to dance electrically.
Pete Seeger tried to cut the power cable with an axe.
In D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back
my father lands on England
carrying a light bulb big as a grapefruit.
When a reporter asks my father who gave him the light bulb
he says “A very affectionate friend.”
When a reporter asks my father what his “real message” is
he says “Keep a good head
and always carry a light bulb.”
My father is both of the robot men from Daft Punk.
He played at Red Rocks on the eve of Colorado Day in 2007.
Both of his silver heads bobbed beneath a light show pyramid
thirty feet tall. It was the power plant in discothèque and our city danced to it.
It was Melville’s birthday.
My father dedicated the set to him.
The Opera Garnier in Paris is covered with images of salamanders, who, according to the Talmud and Pliny, could pass through fire without being hurt. The architect included them because the large halls of the Opera were originally lit with gas, causing the fear that the whole building might burn.
The Opera also holds four statues representing the history of lighting. The first is a woman with candles in her hair, with her eyes closed. Then a woman with a garland of olives around her neck and an oil lamp in her hair, with her eyes are closed as well. The third is crowned in a gas lamp and adorned with gas lines and closed eyes. The final figure has light bulbs in her hair, a necklace of wires and wide opened eyes.
I write this description from the account of Hannah, who traveled to Paris to study art. I write from her words because the batteries in her camera ran out before she could take a picture for me.
400 stainless steel javelins stab into New Mexico
My father arraigned them in a 1 mile
by 1 kilometer grid
and called his work Lightning Field.
Despite the name
lightning strikes on the rods are rare.
The installation’s artistry
comes from the play of light on and shadow from
the poles over the course of the day.
Christopher D. Campbell wrote an essay arguing that the epilogue to Blood Meridian is a depiction of the construction of Lightning Field.
“In the dawn there is a man progressing over the plain by means of holes which he is making in the ground. He uses an implement with two handles and he chucks it into the hole and the enkindles the stone in the hole with his steel hole by hole striking the fire out of the rock which God has put there.”
My father ran the wires
from the power plant to a movie theatre
lighting a marquee reading
FRITZ LANG’S METROPOLIS.
A charge runs into the projector
illuminating steel hallucination
onto a canvas sheet.
Three pistons. The outer pair thrust down
when the inner piston thrusts up.
An eccentric disc.
Eros in cogs and whirr.
The machine dance becomes a clock
then becomes a dance of workers.
Two lines of men pass in opposite directions through a pair of gates.
The men going out move twice as a slow as the men going in.
The lines are each six abreast and extend across the shot.
After a screening of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of A Nation at the White House, Woodrow Wilson was said to have described it as “like writing history with lightning.” However, the quote was probably made up as part of the publicity campaign for the film.
Although he co-wrote the script for Metropolis with Thea von Harbou, Lang later insisted that more than fifty percent of it was his. As though they were the script’s divorcing parents, arguing over custody, having given consciousness to inanimate matter, like two Frankensteins.
A crazed inventor named Rotwang fashions a machine to look like his dead lover, Hel. The machine woman is identical to Maria, the Madonna of the workers and the film’s heroine.
The film’s hero is Freder, son of the patriarch of the city, Joh Fredersen. The son unites the dualities that permeate Metropolis. Between Maria and the machine woman, both of whom look like his mother. He unites technology and humanity, his father and the leader of the workers. He joins the hands of labor and the head of capital, himself be the heart of love.
But were I given the role of Freder
I’m not sure I would take it.
“Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a mediator
and this must be the heart.”
But the heart is a thoughtless fist. A dumb pump.
A burning gas pump.
The heart is more like the power plant than it is like love.
The head must let its mirrors fall
to see through the fingertips.
The hands must reach inside the skull
and fill their palms with sparks. Besides.
I have a head and hands both. So does my father.
The power plant burns allegory into ash
that collects on rails and corrodes paint.
A man in the theatre has a heart attack and is rushed to the nearest hospital. Defibrillators try to teach his heart to beat again.
A modern hospital needs good wiring to keep its patients alive. This is why “pulling the plug” has become a euphemism for euthanasia and why the squeal of a flatlined electrocardiogram or electroencephalogram is death’s own tone.
Ringing next to the man’s eardrum, which vibrates without hearing.
In another room, a woman notices a light bulb just before the anesthesia takes her under.
In the lobby her husband calls their daughter on a cell phone, to teach her about liver surgery.
I can call the multitudes
and tutor them one by one
if they will listen.
I’ll tell them
it was my father who hung the wires
between the telegraph lines
the phone cables
and the millions of tin cans
that I’m calling you with.
I can read the words of a teacher
on a page made of electromagnetically excited particles
and it was my father who delivered the document.
It was not Al Gore
but rather my father
that invented the internet.
And without him all this point and click
toward a future uncertain and unevenly distrubuted
would go to meaningless static
and the screens turn “the color of television, tuned to a dead channel”.
My father is the true mayor of his city.
He is the reason why the city moves
and can see itself at night.
My father is the President of the western grid.
My father is a king
with a garland of lightning
as his crown.
“I have found strength where one does not look for it: in simple, mild, and pleasant people, without the least desire to rule—and, conversely, the desire to rule has often appeared to me a sign of inward weakness: they fear their own slave soul and shroud it in a royal cloak (in the end, they still become the slaves of their followers, their fame, etc.) The powerful natures dominate, it is a necessity, they need not lift one finger. Even if, during their lifetime, they bury themselves in a garden house”
If ever anyone enjoyed electric lights on their Christmas tree, or drove around town to see the lights on the houses, they have my father to thank.
But then I did those things too. So do I deserve the guiding star
my father lifted up and lit
only because I am his son? Do I deserve the gift
of the power plant unwrappable
and too big to fit under any tree?
My father wanted to be a teacher
and wanted to write westerns.
My father wanted to live on the clatter
of typewriter keys.
Instead he worked in the power plant
living on the deafening roar
of heavy machinery
so that I could sit in this silent room
and write this silent power plant.
The child sits on the floor, eyes on the television. His father quit the house long ago, given to drink. In another state, he has become a teacher.
The child sits and gets up to change the channel like he’s stoking a fire and he sits back down and he looks at the television.
One night, watching The Hellfighters for the second time. John Wayne as Chance Buckman stops mid-line, walks forward, crouches and passes through the screen.
Wayne stands upright before the child, flickering, a body made of electric color. He gives the child a baby boy in swaddling and a picture of the baby’s mother. John Wayne tells the child to find the baby’s mother and marry her and then go to work for them both in the power plant and never leave either of them ever.
The set flicks off leaving the child singing to a burned baby doll in a black room.
My father says that John Wayne taught him to be a man.
“And pray when I’m dead and my ages shall roll/That my body would blacken and turn into coal/Then I’ll look from the door of my heavenly home/ and pity the miner digging my bones.”
My father sang “Dark as a Dungeon”, from Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison album, as a lullaby. The song is about coal miners, lamenting the perils of the profession. He sang softly and off key.
The coal for the Martin Drake power plant comes from two different mines.
In the Twetnymile mine outside of Steamboat Springs a longwall shearer mows a 60 foot slice of coal from a 2 mile long panel every shift, producing a total of 7.9 million tons of coal per year. The shearer spins like a serrated turbine, cutting a path through the detritus of the Cretaceous, a path unmistakably human in its relentless straightness.
The Powder River basin is a
I strike the coal seam
with my pickaxe. I strike at history
compressed by geology.
I break off a morsel of stone.
I throw it in my cart
with thousands of others.
When the cart is full
I’ll drag it to the surface.
An ox in the mine.
There are systems in the power plant to catch the ash before it pollutes the air, and to filter toxins from the smoke. But my father says that “clean coal” is an oxymoron. He says to look at his hands at the end of a work day, or the lungs of a miner at the end of his life, to see exactly how clean coal is. He has always cautioned me against people who lie with words.
I propose death by electric chair
for the rapists
and the enslavers of language.
2010 mine disaster
“The day when we shall know exactly what ‘electricity’ is, will chronicle an event probably greater, more important, than any other recorded in the history of the human race. The time will come when the comfort, the very existence, perhaps, of man will depend upon that wonderful agent.”
A schoolboy in Croatia, Nikola Tesla was struck with a series of illnesses. The doctors all but gave up on him. To pass the time he was given a few volumes of Mark Twain’s work. The books absorbed him. Tesla’s spirits were bolstered and he made a sudden recovery.
Some scholars have questioned whether any of Twain’s books could’ve been available in Croatia at the time.
He reads the book
but he will still have to die.
In 1899, still riding his fame from lighting the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, Tesla opened a lab in Colorado Springs.
AC v. DC
Two discharges array in the shape of butterfly wings thirty feet across.
Tesla coil’s invisible roots
manifest as light.
The white hair of a mad scientist.
Between the discharges a man
sits in a folding chair.
He is reading a book. A bolt strikes inches away. He doesn’t move.
The man is a lightning rod no lightning touches.
He reads the book. Nothing can hurt him.
Because the man won’t be there when the bolt strikes.
The photograph is a double exposure.
I can unite station to station without the aid of wires.
I can make a charge flow through air.
But still I don’t have a power plant.
“My project was retarded by laws of nature. The world was not prepared for it. It was too far ahead of time. But the same laws will prevail in the end and make it a triumphal success.”
Which is to say
I can’t make it cohere either
but I’ve kept the blueprints
and when I die you may order them.
Tesla spent the last years of his life destitute, living in a suite in the Hotel New Yorker at the charity of the Westinghouse company. He was reclusive and he was probably lonely, and seemed to draw a little companionship from feeding pigeons in the park.
But there was one pigeon, a white female with grey tips on her wings, that Tesla loved more than any other.
“No matter where I was that pigeon would find me; when I wanted her I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. She understood me and I understood her. Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. When she was ill I knew, and understood; she came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a purpose in my life.”
But one night the white female came to Tesla’s room, flying in an open window and landing on his desk.
“I knew she wanted me; she wanted to tell me something important so I got up and went to her. As I looked at her I knew she wanted to tell me — she was dying. And then, as I got her message, there came a light from her eyes — powerful beams of light. Yes, it was a real light, a powerful, dazzling, blinding light, a light more intense than I had ever produced by the most powerful lamps in my laboratory.”
“When that pigeon died, something went out of my life. Up to that time I knew with a certainty that I would complete my work, no matter how ambitious my program, but when that something went out of my life I knew my life’s work was finished.”
Tesla was close to death. He was delirious, and tried to dispatch a messenger with a letter for Mark Twain. It was January 1943. Twain had died in 1910.
When the messenger returned saying that Twain was dead, Tesla reportedly replied
“Don’t you dare tell me Mark Twain is dead. He was in my room, here last night. He sat in that chair and talked to me for an hour. He is having financial difficulties and needs my help. So you go right back and deliver that envelope—and don’t come back until you have done so.”
By January 7th Tesla was dead.
“Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.”
Where has the power been planted?
I mean to dig it up and show you the roots.
Turn up fields thick with buried light bulbs.
Michel Foucault was a man who knew about power.
“Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately
protected. Visibility is a trap.”
Without the power plant
the panopticon is a dark room
an unlit Lascaux chamber.
I hear turbines howl
when security cameras focus on my skin.
Eyes keeping safe from hands.
Whose hands hold the other ends of the streetlight wires?
Power is not a force, a practice or a technology.
It is a Proteus of usages.
My father served in the United States Navy between 1973 and 1977. He sailed around the Pacific to San Diego to Hawaii to Japan to Taiwan to Vietnam to Thailand to Indonesia to Colorado Springs. His ship was a destroyer escort called the Meyerkord, USS.
A modern destroyer is run on turbines little different than those in the power plant. My father was a machinist’s mate, working on these turbines and the systems that powered the destroyer. He burned a diesel fuel called JP-5 to fire the boilers.
Certain people work one job their whole lives.
A naval vessel is a mobile power generator.
As NVA troops advanced into South Vietnam, my father’s ship was ordered to assist with the evacuation.
It takes power to deliver a charge
to a prisoner’s body.
To excite particles in a mouth
into answering every question.
It takes power
to illuminate and measure
the locked rooms
where the pain was inflicted.
Measure the space hollowed by torture.
Illuminate the space. The pain can be light. Yet
with these lines
I’ve powered another panopticon.
Another circular cavern lit only for observation.
Al Qur’an, Surah 2.20, my translation.
First lightning almost blinds me.
Only when it flashes can I see
and then I move.
In dark I am blind.
I stand still.
If the lightning had pleased
it would’ve taken my hearing
and my sight.
It has power over anything.
Please forgive my sin of metonymy.
My friend J. traveled to the Trinity Site in New Mexico with his father. They took pieces of the green glass residue that cakes the blast area. The substance is called Trinitite, and is present only on this one place, a unique formulation of human power and geology.
Ralph Pray was a soldier at Fort Bliss, Texas. He decided to remove the Trinitite, and bury it at Los Alamos, its “birthplace”.
“While living in the remote desert of northern New Mexico I had seen an aerial photograph of the radioactive site in a popular magazine. It looked like a giant scab. It was an impurity waiting to be taken away. Writers wrote about it. I was determined to remove it without a trace of publicity. My self-appointed task was to gain entry to the government glass and haul it off for burial, to repair the desert, clean away this radioactive afterbirth.”
So Pray bought a red pickup and snuck onto the White Sands Missile Base in the darkness. He shoveled hundreds of pounds of the glass into his truck and then drove it to Santa Fe, for later burial. He returned to the site four times, before someone tipped him off that the Government was on to his operation.
During Holy Week I traveled with J. and several others to the Trinity site. He emptied his plastic bag of Trinitite back onto the blast site, returning this atomic progeny to its place of simultaneous conception and birth, where its father exploded his power over the world.
VIII. Punishment/Power outage
“We will always wonder what, in this archive fever, he may have burned. We will always wonder what, sharing with compassion in this archive fever, what may have burned of his secret passions, of his correspondences, or of his ‘life’. Burned without him, without remains and without knowledge. With no possible response, be it spectral or not, short of or beyond a suppression, on the other edge of repression, originary or secondary, without the least symptom, and without even an ash.”
One night my father’s boss told him to burn all the coal in the world.
My father went into the forest and wrung the necks of a million cardinals, plucking their bodies clean, and filling two pillowcases with feathers. He took one bag to the power plant. He pasted the feathers onto the coals so they looked like they were burning.
He took the other bag of feathers to the people of our city. My father gave the feathers to the people, but they didn’t know it. He crept down their chimneys, and put the feathers in their fire places. The people were tricked, and warmed themselves and read books by the color all night. They went to bed and had to set their second blankets aside.
The sun rose on heaps of unburned coal covered in red feathers. My father’s boss was angry and filed a complaint with Human Relations.
So they wire him to the side of Pikes Peak.
Graft cables to his arteries.
Solder the cables to rocks.
Trapped in a circuit.
Every day the martin drake descends
with coal and blood on its steel scaled feathers
to eat his liver.
And every day a kilowatt surge
brings his liver back to life.
On the streets of Detroit, in the midst of a blizzard, a little girl tries to sell part used batteries to passers by. She says, its Christmas and your children will need batteries for their new toys. They ignore her. They knock her with their legs. They refuse her electric gift. But she can’t go home, because her father sent her out in the snow to get money for his habit. He is shaky, and angry, and will beat her if she comes home without enough money. She has made nothing tonight.
The storm gets worse and the girl gets colder and she goes into an alley to hide. Next to a dumpster she finds a flashlight that someone had tossed away. She tries battery after battery, but all but four are dead, and they last two are dim at that.
She shines the light against a wall, and in the contracting, dimming circle she sees a christmas tree, electric star blinking on top, and an ample feast of turkey, rolls, ham, green beans, and cranberry sauce. She is hungry and cold, but feels warmer and fuller the more she looks. But then the batteries go dead, and the vision fades.
The little girl looks up and sees a shooting star. It fills her with joy and she puts her last two batteries into the flashlight. She shines it against another wall and sees the face of her grandmother, who smiles and cries with joy. The little girl feels warmer still as she watches her grandmother beckon her forward into the small light.
The Detroit police find the body of a small girl the next morning in an alley. Her cheeks are unnaturally red and her body unusually warm. She has a smile on her face, and her hand around a cheap plastic flashlight.
Because my father told people to burn the bones and fat instead of the meat.
Because my father stole the fire that was taken away.
Zeus cursed us twice
with Pandora’s strewn keepsakes.
Disease, snakes, darkness and apples.
And then with flood waters
Water cascading into the lower depths of the city
to massacre the children.
The power plant vents chemicals
that unfurl in the atmosphere
a thermal bed sheet
In producing this cloud
my father stands as
both flooder and flooded
punisher and punished
killer and killed.
The power plant as both cause of light and the darkness from the box that snuffs it.
You forget to notice the power is on
until it goes out.
In inheriting light
my boon is eventual darkness
sunrise and sunset given at once.
The punishment for taking the fire
for being given the fire
and the light that comes with it
is suffering the fire’s removal.
There is no heaven or hell
nor purgatory, Dante.
Only a power outage that has never ended
not even for Lazarus or Chist himself.
My mere words have no power to light this cavern.
But neither does my father’s lightning.
So what happens words when they are unread.
What work is lurking there? Here?
What chance of light for this cat in a box?
For a cat in this box?
I read the book
because someday I wont be able to.
At my moment of death I am one of two things.
I am a cormorant, stuck fast in the oil of the Exxon Valdez. I beat my wings to fly out, but they will be too sodden with crude to lift me. I dive beneath, but the black will go too deep for me to swim though. I drown then, the viscous fluid filling my lungs until my feathered chest falls still, and I float, my body held up by oil denser than water.
Or I am the body of Shams ol-Ma’ali Qabus ibn Wushmgir, suspended in a crystal coffin inside a tower 236 feet tall. In the roof of the tower there is an opening. When the sun reaches its apex over this aperture, the light falls straight down the shaft to illuminate my body. I am swallowed up in light, and I disappear from the earth. Until the sun moves away, and once again I lay suspended in a crystal coffin.
At my moment of death I will be both of two things.
In the Moment of Greatest Light: The Trinitite and the Bees
The first time I went back inside the power plant since I began this poem was on Easter sunday. My friends, my girlfriend and I stopped there after visiting the Trinity site. My father gave us a tour.
The thing I remember best, and will always remember, is when he opened a hatch on the side of the burner, giving us a view on the day and night explosion that could blast us apart no matter how tightly we held each other. Giving an exit to the resurrecting light that swarms there alike to and louder than a swarm of bees.
“How, from this consuming descruction without limit, can there remain something that primes the dialectical process and opens history? Conversely, if the process begins, how would it reduce this pure differential consuming, this pure destruction that can proceed only from fire? How would the solar outlay produce a remain(s)—something that stays or that overdraws itself? How would the purest pure, the worst worst, the panic blaze of the all burning, put forth some monument, even where it a crematory? Some stable, geometric, solid form, for example, a pyramis that guards the trace of death.”
remains like trinitite
to mark the mass graves
Aristeus, who taught people the art of apiculture, had lost all his bees. He went to his mother asking for help. His mother told him to go to Proteus, a seer who could change forms at will. Aristeus captured him and forced the answer from him. Aristeus was cursed because he had attempted to ravage Euridyce. She fled and was bitten by a snake. She died and was taken to the underworld. In revenge for her loss, and her second loss, her lover Orpheus cursed the bees of Aristeus. To have them returned, Aristeus had to make a sacrifice to Orpheus.
Take your four best bulls
and four heifers too.
Raise four consecrated altars
in a dark grove.
Before these drain the cattle’s blood.
Nine mornings later
make a funeral gift of poppies to Orpheus.
Kill a black ewe. Return to the dark grove
kill a calf for Euridyce.
Aristeus does as Proteus advises.
Like bullets emerging from within
the bees blasting forth from the carcases.
Like the killing light emerging back
from the antelope killed at Trinity.
Emerging back from death into life.
Resurrected bees hanging like fruit
from the branches overhead.
The tour at Easter will be the last time I will set foot in the power plant. My father plans to retire the following June.
IX. The heart has powers of which power knows nothing.
“The class struggle, which always remains in view for a historian schooled in Marx, is a struggle for the rough and material things, without which there is nothing fine and spiritual. Nevertheless these latter are present in the class struggle as something other than mere booty, which falls to the victor. They are present as confidence, as courage, as humor, as cunning, as steadfastness in this struggle, and they reach far back into the mists of time. They will, ever and anon, call every victory which has ever been won by the rulers into question. Just as flowers turn their heads towards the sun, so too does that which has been turn, by virtue of a secret kind of heliotropism, towards the sun which is dawning in the sky of history. To this most inconspicuous of all transformations the historical materialist must pay heed.”
Deucalion was the son of Prometheus. Zeus determined to flood the world and it was Prometheus who warned his son to build a boat and take his wife on board and ride out the floodwaters.
My father taught me about solar power.
The power plant runs backward.
Steam sucked away from turbine
cooled into water
while ashes become coal
back down the loaders
piled up to wait
until the trains arrive
I make the coal trains run backward.
They demonstrate their history
pulled back to their origin like fishing lures.
Trains unload the coal
onto trucks that drive in reverse
to elevators and conveyor belts
that carry the coal back underground
where a man runs a longwall machine
slathering on a layer of reformed coal
like icing on a black cake.
Day and night he closes up the mine
until he can’t work there anymore.
In 1616 Ben Jonson became the first English writer to publish a collection under the title Works.
Andre Breton wrote in the Surrealist Manifesto
“They say that not long ago, just before he went to sleep, Saint-Pol-Roux placed a placard on the door of his manor at Camaret which read: THE POET WORKS.”
Which means nothing to me
but a bad joke.
Breton popularized automatic writing which saw conscious thought as the barrier to true poetry.
Automatic writing is like sitting
in a dark room
pen in hand on page
to wait for the writing to happen.
Both my father and I have reason to deplore this practice.
The muse is not dead
because she was never born.
Does that mean she will never die?
In Thebes there were two brothers named Amphion and Zethus. They raised an army and killed the king of Thebes, becoming kings themselves. Zethus learned about hunting and herding and cattle husbandry. Amphion got a golden lyre from Hermes and learned to sing.
The brothers decided to build a wall around the city’s citadel. Zethus dug out the heavy stones and struggled to carry and pile them. Amphion played his lyre and sang and the stones lifted out of the earth and arranged themselves in a neat circle.
This is how Amphion tells the story.
Zethus puts on a Marx mask and says it differently
“The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political, and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”
I’ve begun to work out what these twins mean for the power plant
which digs stones from the earth
to move the world
with an invisible charm of wires like
But what do these twins mean for this poem
which is also called the power plant?
My mother made a garden
out of beads.
Cored out morsels
embroidered on a cloth background
strung on thread to form flowers
coiled stems in artfully laid tangle
looking like wires that are not wires.
The smallest beads are called seed beads.
There are plants that are not power plants.
Some things are not because of the power plant.
When the water had subsided Deucalion and his wife
With the parent’s world washed away
what have we to do
but build a new house
a new family.
I agree with Richard St. Victor
and Ezra Pound
that it is not light
that guides the lover’s eye
My love murdered my materialism.
“Do you think that your love for me is just chemicals in your brain? That you and I are just atoms made of electrons colliding?”
And what could I say?
I said no, of course not.
My love opens her fulgin cloak, slapping both breasts with a square tipped sword. She steps up to the block, blots the sun with her rising blade, and then severs the heads of Marx and Newton at once.
I asked Hannah to decorate the dream house
in her mind. She filled nothing
with rust brown, hardwood floors
and three foggy curtains of different colors.
I filled this poem with coal.
A burner for her.
A power plant to light the buildings
in her mind. A well lit house on the hill
A lighthouse to bring her home from France
in time for Independence day.
My father took a wife
and gave her a well lit city
for her mahr.
This is my work of poetry
built to pay for
bulbs and color
that make working possible.
In laboring light
to put in his son’s eyes
my father had to turn
from irises widening
right at him.
His light was so intense
that I could not see through it
so I had to turn away
and weave a veil of words to cover it with.
His city at night
shines with more colors
than my poem’s pages could ever reflect back.
Offered is all my father’s labor
that my poem cannot justify. Cannot inherit.
Offered are the fossil fuels, fruit, flesh, grain and dollar bills burned to make me
and this poem.
My inheritance is my father’s burned offerings.
My poem keeps them burning without being consumed.
Diego Rivera. Man, Controller of the Universe.
On the left, a gas masked army marching, planes overhead in a burning sky, a flamethrower spraying across the frame. Rioting workers beaten by police. A bourgeois audience sitting on chairs and staring in bored interest. An x-ray machine with coils and antennae, where a man leans behind a screen showing his skull and spine. Charles Darwin pointing to a monkey that holds the hand of a crawling baby. A parrot. A snake. A sheep. A dog. A cat. An aquarium. A massive gold lens. And a marble statue of a bearded imperious god, rosary beads around its neck, and its hands broken off.
On the right, a proletarian chorus under hoisted red flags. Workers sitting on a pipe next to a lunch bx filled with a sandwich, an apple and a thermos of coffee. Trotsky, Marx and Engles splicing hands on a banner inscribed with words from the Communist Manifesto. A relay race of four women running. A massive gold lens. And a statue of a god holding a fasces stamped with a swastika, its head severed and serving as a seat for resting laborers.
In the center, a ritzy party, women playing cards and smoking, and a man dancing a woman with an open back dress. Lenin splicing hands with the people of the world. Wheat, pineapples, grapes, tubers and tomatoes emerging from an earth marked by geological strata and a layer of coal, or oil. Stars, galaxies, comets, moons and a telescope. Bacteria, viruses, parasites and a microscope. A massive turbine. A hand emerging from a concrete wall holding an atom. And a wide eyed worker, in yellow coveralls, each gloved hand on the controls.
Gustave Courbet. The Artist’s Studio: A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Artistic and Moral Life.
Frida Kahlo. Moses or Nucleus of Creation.
On the left, Coatlicue, mother of the gods. Brama on a lotus with an umbilical chord leading to Krishna. An aztec Jaguar. A human skeleton. A massive black hand. D.H. Lawrence. Freud. Marx. Stalin. Gandhi. Buddha. A crowd swarming around a pyramid carrying Soviet, Confederate and Japanese flags. A dead stump with one leafy branch. A monkey holding a bone over his head next to a man holding a hammer over his head, about to strike a stone.
On the right, Hathor, Anubis and Horus. Zeus holding arrows and lightning bolts. Apollo. The Virgin, crowned by a moon, with her child. The Eye of Providence. The Venus de Milo. A horned devil with a smirking face. A tuatara skeleton with its third eye socket. A massive black hand. Christ. Zoroaster. Muhammad. Caesar. Luther. Napoleon. Hitler. A crowd seething around statues, lifting red flags and flags with swastikas. A dead stump with one leafy branch. A monkey holding her baby next to a woman holding her baby, her nipples spilling milk.
In the center, a massive burning sun with beams emerging, each with a hand at their ends, some hands pointing, some hands spurning. An unfertilized egg. An egg about to be fertilized by sperm. A womb wit fallopian tubes on either side, one fertile, one infertile. Inside the womb a baby, developed enough to be born. A rain of water and amniotic fluid falling on a basket where lies swaddled the baby moses, floating on a river, staring placidly with three eyes.
My teacher Chloe was traveling in Italy. While visiting friends in Trento, she passed a performance art theatre and gallery housed in a hydroelectric plant built a hundred years before. They entered and walked around the whole space without being told to leave. There were exhibits built into the machines, and tucked into the voids that machinery once occupied. The turbine room had been made into a theatre. The control room became a gallery.
Behind a black velvet curtain a singer was practicing. Her voice was mechanical in its range and avoidance of melody.
But it was yet a human voice
singing of the power plant
There is a myth that Hercules freed Prometheus from his bonds. There is another myth that it was Prometheus’s son, Deucalion, who set his father free.
This fragment is the only log of the son’s work.
X. Three Visions
I climb to the top of Pikes Peak.
I find my father’s chained body
leaking bile out his pecked side.
I plunge my fingers
static sparks jumping between their tips
into his lacerated liver.
He sits up and looks down the mountain.
Sees a plain fruited with electrons.
I built a new power plant for my father.
It’s made of neat wires and photovoltaic cells.
There are no pipes. No turbines.
No steam. No coal.
No fire but the sun’s.
I made these visions. In labor.
Silicon lakes washing over rooftops.
Aimed up from every sunward pointed surface.
Offering of sapphires.
Ripe harvest of blueberries.
My father strides in the sun’s true lamp.
Walking in the open as between tilled rows.
Reflections from solar panels cast panes on his jaw.
Windows through which I can almost see him
and that let in enough light to write by.
He reads the book. Nothing can hurt him.
My father and I walk the alabaster city
following the crowds
to a fairgrounds swelling with a dome of light.
Light bulbs in thick bunches
blooming on building sides.
A careful spider’s nest of wires.
We approach a red striped tent.
Long lines of hands clutching bibles
lead to an inside that flickers.
A signboard outside plastered with
“the World’s Columbian Exposition presents”
an astonishing gift from distant lands
a candle for our wonder cabinet
“the light not of the sun”
like a wick covered in Moby Dick’s wax
“the great acorn of light”
Dante’s vision crackling sparks inside
electricity, flame and light at once
“a lamp to lift beside our golden doors”
People take off their hats when they enter.
But as soon as we see it
we both know that though the power gives light
it is not light.
Does not burn
but the whole world burns to fuel it.
Has no charge
but attracts and repulses at once.
Power is not a name for the power.
The power isn’t even singular.
Leaving off mystery
we fill lanterns with this thing itself.
We quit the fair and take to the continent.
We build a city of lesser stars.
We spin turbines with our breath.
Filaments bristle on our arms.
Sparks drip from our fingernails. Seeds.
We plant power in this “hell of wide land”
true gleaming living power
that can even be turned off
the stars might themselves emerge again.
We find a boat in the shadows of white towers.
We row out to the woman in the harbor.
Arm in arm my father and I
climb the spiral stairs through her leg
her womb her stomach her breast
her arm into the hand and finally the torch.
A rack of shovels
a burner and a pile of coal.
We race first
old machine against new machine.
As we stagger and slump
our rhythms match.
We labor together to light this eastern sun
this lighthouse guiding
and her Olympic torch
back to Athens.
In the stadium
we watch the woman run
last bearer in a gold medal relay.
She passes the finish line
but she doesn’t stop running.
She passes the finish line.
She rounds the loop again.
She runs for centuries.
She might stop running.
She might collapse and die.
she hasn’t yet.