One day back in January we drove
down from the craggy Fenouillèdes
to the Roussillon plain looking for what
we could only scope out on this one day
out in this one moment.
Down from St. Paul to Maury
and on into Estagel which we found
enveloped by a silent peace:
smoke clouds, carignan-scented,
heaving like a whispered tide
from the languid fires of the vignerons,
busy with secateurs, burning trimmed vines,
the smoke sluicing down the water courses,
an eye-stinging haze rolling down
through the valleys announcing: January.
One man stood alone in Estagel
at the bus stop in front of the bar-tabac
waiting for the autobus to Perpignan.
He stared up into the bronze face
of François Arago, local legend of Napoleonic times,
scientist, geographer, patriot,
atop a plinth, caped and flinging ecstasy.
The traveler wept for the loss
of all he had seen,
of all he could no longer see,
on account of the vapors of trimmings
the vine cuttings aflame, the smoke
billowing into town from the côtes Catalan,
smoke of a fire that now
would never sear escargot cargolade
smoke rising wine sweet on the wind
to be inhaled
into the nostrils
of river gods
alive among us.
Sometimes it’s the pace of events
that gets in the way of peace.
Interrupted from his teary reverie,
the traveler turns from Arago
and boards the bus.
I‘m thinking of the sudden appearance lately
of earths by the billions right here
in our galactic neighborhood, new to us,
exoplanets close by,
spinning their way around suns
just as we are,
comet- and asteroid-hounded,
awash in deadly radiation
unless our fellow planets
are protected as we are
by a magnetic shield—
which is a cause for concern in itself,
the magnetic field being so erratic,
unfathomable in its changing polarities
feckless, even clownish,
imagined by artists to resemble
a Slinky being eaten by a gyroscope.
Slinky and gyroscope
two of my favorite toys as a child—
favorites still, I suppose,
though I haven’t touched either one in years.
I have missed their blunt capacities
the one to slink,
the other to balance on a finger-
tip, but the rush of life’s events make
such a strong centrifugal force that my Slinky
and my gyroscope long ago vanished
into the dust of the galaxy
and sparks of memory faded to a trace.
But now the memory emerges
to remind me that
erratic as they are, feckless even,
the magnetic fields and cosmic tides
well, chances are we will wake up
one morning de-magnitized entire
spinning in the cycle
and at long last free
to face the galaxy’s rays, deadly for us, who
naked and witless but at peace at last
with the revolving of events.
Who among us will announce the silence,
call us to see it for what it is,
break it in order to admit
what is obvious to all?
What minister or president
subaltern or aide
will do us a favor and
speak to us—no bullshit—
patiently holding his breath or hers
We know the harrowing must be done,
the old dried vines must be trimmed
and burned, cycled
where words are waiting to be heard.
We have to replace old silent habits,
the first among them being:
to lick our bitter fear
as if it were a lover’s thumb,
the locus where we can only imagine
a consolation undelivered.
Once up in the air, our collective
fear of fear,
who knows what will happen.
I’ll be reading verses again and
counting the obvious cadences,
delighting in arcane allusions,
but weeping also
and marveling at the smoke-teary visions
of slinky hitches and gyroscopic balances
when a child.