This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons by Acre Books in 2020.
Deep Space Crown
Out of the oval, we read darkness. Stars
glint like lost sequins or scales
numbering a knife’s black edge.
Libra tips, its precarious justice
just beyond our reach.
This outer world wafts a summer: hot metal, diesel,
barbeque. But the moon, matte as wax paper,
smells more like gunpowder than egg or bread.
We flip through white-ink novels
typed on endless—negative—space, our bodies
diminished or augmented, never quite to actual scale.
This is how a meter grows
into a mile. The mile spins itself into a stone,
whooshing out and on and on.
Whooshing on and on, our bodies
are live cultures trapped
in this white capsule. We name ourselves
after flora, epiphytes drifting
in a realm of cold gas. What we sweat
or breathe out will circle, eventually,
back into the drinking glass.
Any ship is a hermetic
world: an arrow tightened,
blunt head swallowing the nock.
So forget that blue-and-cloud earth
fading in the porthole. Whatever roots
we have will dissolve. Mostly air and dust,
we wheel within a wheel. A body sure gets around.
Within the ship’s sure body, a star wheel
replaces the wall calendar:
time’s squares redrawn
with spidery legs, framed in concentric circles.
I hear the ratchet click, the only real noise
between the worlds’ terrible blanks.
Tucked in my hollow space suit, I wanted
to be a rivet: my head brassy
and fixed, the analog in chaos.
But every human body
is a disaster, the fallout from old stars.
My brain is just a tangle of wire,
electricity clusters. My hair is recessive
rubble, all redshift and helium.
Imagine the sun as a red balloon, helium
colliding at its core. There, they say
a human’s mongrel of atoms
will weigh twenty-eight times more.
I would never trust any hand of god
over gravity’s colossal pull. How heavy
our limbs grow when faced with that
stove eye coming closer and closer.
Plasma smells like burning sugar.
On Earth, you dream of appliances
you forgot to turn off, children you abandoned,
and, if you’re lucky, the power to fly.
In space, you dream only of feet
touching down on warm sand or wood.
Just sand and warm stone: the universe
is a Zen garden, or her third cousin
once removed. Mechanical arms
rake the surface, meditating on grooves
and swirls. Occasionally, we hallucinate
water inside a gravel’s white spill.
Like the theater, space can render us
stiller than rock. When we do move, it is behind layers,
white scrim over cloak over skin. These costumes
keep us away from radiation,
the hot and cold knobs of other worlds.
What I would give now for a beach, the sand
white or red or basalt. My feet want
a real lip of water, not just a backdrop of blue.
Long ago, against a blue water backdrop,
we turned and turned, and mostly felt
nothing. We held ourselves up like trees
without wind. Whatever substance our spoon held
flowed straight from silver and into our mouths.
But now is not then. Now is not even
now. Clock hands, craving sleep,
sloth toward the next white number.
To think I once imagined space
as the smooth texture of coins
or zeros, and never as that deep sap
that traps and always keeps. Never
as our own atoms, suspended in this colloid:
inside the dark, these stars we circle and misread.
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