Sunday, February 19, 2012

Poem for Sunday and Great Falls

By Night with Torch and Spear
By Timothy Donnelly

That fire at the mouth of the flare stack rising
    more than three-hundred feet above the refinery
contorts as it feeds on the invisible current
    of methane produced by the oil's distillation

process like a monster, the nonstop spasm of it
    lumbering upwards into the dark Newark
night like a sack made of orange parachute fabric
    an awkward number of gorillas get it on in.

I would worship it. The motion, the heat, the unapologetic
    knack of the element to yank the appliance
plug from its outlet, filling the big blue business-
    suite of my head with nothing but its own

wordlessness and light. Not now, not knowing
    what I can't unknow, but back on the grasslands
before we ever came to harness it I would bow
    down among the seething life of that primitive

interior and worship the fire taking one bright
    liberty after another. Done listening to fellow
passengers tweaking the fine points. Done rubbing
    the dead end of thinking like a spent torch

against the cave's painted walls to make it burn
    better. As the train slows down as the track
curves around the body of water the fire reflects in,
    it is a form of worship. What is it in me that

hasn't yet been killed with reason, habit, through
    long atrophy or copied so beyond its master
it parses like the last will and testament of a moth-
    eaten cardigan? It dumps its nice adrenaline

into my system nights I hear the crisp steps of deer
    on fallen leaves and stop or when looking up
beneath baroque snow or when I lean over the
    banister along the border of a strong waterfall.

All good and well. But the endless hyperactive
    plumage exploding from this toxic aviary, this sun
of industry descended from the lightning strike,
    obscures its diabolism with a Vegas brightness

so that what there is to fear in it instead excites
    me up a biochemical peak from the far side of which
my own voice, grizzled with a wisdom unknown
    to me in waking life, reminds me of the conjuror

who grew distraught because he sensed the forces
    he had stirred up with his art would not be
mastered by it. It rattles tomorrow's paperwork
    where it hangs from the branches of the ancient

timber trees. It messes with my reception, whereas
    I do not wish my reception to be messed with.    
It tells me to be careful with my worship—that if this,
    too, is a resource, then they have ways to tap it.


We are supposed to get a bit of snow on Sunday, which may be the first honest to goodness winter in the DC area in 2012. We certainly didn't get it on Saturday, when the temperature nearly hit 60 degrees and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. We went to visit my Aunt Shirley at the senior community where she lives -- she is in her 90s and amazing, she was encouraging us to read The Shipping News which she'd been reading (or rereading, as she has well-thumbed copies of Pride and Prejudice and Silas Marner in her pile too). We waxed nostalgic over her photos and Adam showed her some of the photos he's taken and the things Maddy has knitted for him.

Then we left her to finish her milkshake and went to pick up Maddy, whom we took with us to Great Falls. They went off to take photos and we walked out the the island and along the towpath, then circled around and did it all again to catch up with them. As I said, the weather was gorgeous and we saw Canada geese, herons, turkey vultures, and crows flying around as well as a lot of people out enjoying the afternoon. Because we'd been visiting Aunt Shirley, Paul asked me whether I was going to want to watch Pride and Prejudice, and I could not refuse an opportunity like that, so we watched the first part of the miniseries, and Adam even deigned to sit in the same room while he posted photos!

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