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 the 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. Black hair covered him. 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By morning my careful lines had been replaced by a panicked dance of footprints.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.
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. We had no wall outlets.”
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.
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 a man the power plant is named for.
I didn’t make up the name.
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.
When my cousin was a boy he thought the power plant was a cloud factory.
I thought the clouds it made were ashes from the coal fires.
My father made Vesuvius.
While I was writing this, Craig Arnold, a poet I’d seen read a year earlier, went missing on the 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.
A factory of 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 wispy clouds.
It doesn’t care for its floating hair.
Floating on air.
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.
When my father worked swing shifts I imagined a line of grown men on a swing set.
When my father worked graveyards I imagined bleached skeletons darting between headstones, trying not to be seen.
Today my is a Shift Supervisor. He leads a regular crew or Control Room Operators, Boiler Turbine Operators, Utility Operators, as well as working with the Maintenance, Engineering, Site Security and Management divisions of the Martin Drake Power Plant itself and the larger Colorado Springs Utilities Organization. He has worked with all races and genders.
The word crew makes me think of the Pequod
and of my father as an Ahab
for the right to burn its fuel
Martin Drake Power Plant at
700 Conejos street.
Located like a crossroads inscribed on a circle.
700 Easter rabbits in a cage.
While my father was at work he did one of two things.
He laid down in the burners while the Martin Drake tore him to pieces
made him spinning steam then sparks
shot him into every line cable wire
bulb battery capacitor transistor
diode tube and screen
all of him burned away
nothing made back into coal
and somehow he returned to us
to eat dinner again.
The other thing he did was stare
into a burning bush
that had not yet been consumed.
I’m not sure which one of these two things he did at work.
Once my father dislocated his shoulder climbing a ladder in the power plant. He reached for a rung and his arm leaped free of its cuff.
We met him in a white, sunlit hospital hallway. Wind through open windows lifted curtains toward us. He embraced me with one arm, the other in a sling.
The power plant is an arm that gets out from its shoulder.
Our city’s eccentric center.
But I cannot 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.
My father decided to hike Barr Trail up Pikes Peak. He made it up 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 him. After he finished speaking he covered himself in a veil to obscure this aura. He would only lift it when he went into 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?
“The individual who brought back a captive had just as much of a share in the sacred office as the priest. 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.”
A statue. Marble.
Two sexless human forms. One is named Love and the other named Labor. Both of the bodies wear Greek masks with the words “Love” and “Labor” imprinted on the foreheads. It is not clear whether the masks are correctly assigned to the names.
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 other’s liver.
It is not clear whether or not the masks are assigned to their proper forms. Or if the forms are even human.
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.
The power plant cares for its children like Medea.
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.
Andrea Brown at the Colorado Springs Gazette interviewed me for a story on this poem. The paper also sent a cameraman, Christian Murdock, to tape me reading in front of the power plant at night. He set up his gear like robots in front of me. I read from my copy of the poem and wondered if I should look up more. I only glanced into the lens once. By the park there was a stucco church with a cross on its roof.
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 girl had been burned to death when she was trapped against a burning gas pump by her own van. A driver had lost control and crashed into the 7-11.
The cameraman arrived on the scene and took pictures trying to avoid any close shots of the gas pump itself. He returned to the office and turned in his photos, one of which immediately ran with a story on the paper’s website. When the cameraman and his colleagues looked the photo later they digitally lightened some of the shadows around the pump and found a darkened form. They immediately pulled the photo from the story package.
Two bodies caught
by the same man’s camera
holocaust in the same “glowing furnace of witness”.
Or is it three bodies
and could it be my camera?
Did I not soak this poem in gasoline
so my father’s currents would burn it?
A month later I watched the video. 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 negative charge.
Hair and skin turned blue.
Poem luminescent in my hands.
Glowing shadow veil across my face.
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.
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 didn’t even burn a doll in my second grade class.
It was another man doing a safety demonstration. Not career day.
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.
But today I’m not sure of that. I think a sacrifice might be a dumb show
a sheer display of bloody power.
Look at the power plant.
Flue stacks are concrete tree trunks.
If you squint they look like Auschwitz.
But why would you squint?
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.
His well-lit city at night
shines with more light
than my poem’s pages could ever reflect back.
Sacrifice is all my father’s labor that my poem cannot not justify.
Sacrifice is the fossil fuels, flesh, fruit and dollar bills burned to make me
and this poem.
My inheritance is my father’s burned offerings.
“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 often said that he wished he’d gotten his teaching degree, and taught Shakespeare to high school kids.
When I was in fourth grade came into 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 introduced the two plays in the character of Shakespeare himself, doing a Rip van Winkle routine, waking up in an elementary school gym.
Once I said to the 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.
From my father’s lectures I have produced these notes, which I will now set alight for him. Because the most important lesson he ever taught me was
to make fire you need
and a fuel.
My father’s favorite singer is Johnny Cash
who sang “Love
is a burning thing
and it makes
a fiery ring.”
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.”
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 lightbulb.”
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.
Without my father Lil Wayne is just a wheezy kid on a street corner
in New Orleans with no mic
and no record deal.
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.”
In Frankenstein or: A Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley omits any detail of the chemical process by which the creature is brought 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, shredded flesh hanging itself on a palsied frame. At 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 up 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.
The creature could not speak. In the first full sound cinema production.
Wires run 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.
“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 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
is death’s own tone.
I make the coal trains run backwards.
They demonstrate their history
pulled back to their origin like fishing lures.
“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.”
In 1899, still riding his fame from lighting the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, the Croatian born scientist Nikola Tesla opened a lab in Colorado Springs.
Two discharges array in the shape of butterfly wings thirty feet across.
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.
Nikola 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.
A schoolboy in Croatia, Tesla was stricken with a series of illnesses. The doctors all but gave up on him. To pass the time he was given a few volumes of 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 can still be hurt.
“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.”
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.
Streetlights let us observe
each other as we pass at night.
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.
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.
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.
The heart has powers of which power knows nothing.
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 like 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.
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.
Punished for keeping a fire my father stole.
Although I suppose he didn’t really take it either.
There is no heaven or hell
nor purgatory, Dante.
Only a power outage that has lasted forever.
The lights haven’t come back on yet
My words have no power to light this cavern.
But neither does my father’s lightning.
My words. These 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?
The work of poetry/The work of power………………………….(9)
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.
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 can’t 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
Nor do I know what these twins mean for this poem
which is also called the power plant.
Once I asked a woman 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.
My father took a wife
and gave her a well-lit city as dowry.
This is my work of poetry
to pay for
bulbs and color
that make working possible.
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.
Epilogue: Three Visions………………………..(10)
I climb to the top of Pikes Peak.
I find my father’s chained body
leaking bile out his pecked side.
I plunge my sparking fingers
into his lacerated liver.
He sits up and looks down the mountain.
See 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
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.
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”
But as soon as we enter the tent
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 to guide her ship
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 might stop running.
But she hasn’t yet.
Will she ever stop running?