Excerpts for Budget Travel Through Space And Time : Poems

Budget Travel through Space and Time

By Albert Goldbarth

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2005 Albert Goldbarth
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-55597-416-3

Chapter One

We can rig a supernova in a laptop jiffy. Ditto werewolf transformation: every feral hair is given its credible gumption and its little jacket of oil. As for aliens summoned from out of the holes in space itself ... we're crackerjack on aliens, a seven-story studio exists to make their travel to our planet a persuasive thing. And yet, today at a festival of silent film, I'm moved by what was possible in 1910: a city street is empty; then the camera rolls again. It could be a man from the moon has suddenly appeared on our world, without even the help of a pair of blunt-tip sewing-basket scissors. * * * "The fastest and the vastest"-some loud-trumpeted ad slogan a while ago, for yet another überglobal, multizillion -dollar telecyberfiber transport system: microchips and oil tankers in a great dance of delivery, eight-ton robot arm and transatlantic corridor and satellite bounce. But it can be more modest, and can still arrive on time and with adequate flash. "The fact is, shooting stars are between the size of a grain of rice and a grain of sand." And everybody's consequential journey through the fallopian tube. * * * The dreams came. She was looking at herself in the small mirror that hung above the washstand, and the face that gazed back from the glass was the wondering unmarked face of a child (Paula Volsky, The Grand Ellipse). Is innocence merely the absence of experience?-i.e., can it be passive? Or must it be willed? My friends and I discuss this sticking-point one night. The moon is pale, almost aqueous, and we're talking. Then it's adamantly solid, like a throne-room gong -we're talking. Then it's the ghost of a moon, already almost lost in the approaching pearlescence of dawn. It turns out we can travel assuredly through time by simply sitting in our chairs or on the floor and making lazy conversation. Just by having a metabolism, we can voyage into the future. Just by a pulse. By the immolation of calories. The moon is a baby's nail-paring; the moon is the huge, round resumé of the career of light; the moon is a curd of afterglow. By the lines of a poem. By the chain of our breaths. And Paula Volsky goes on to say:

But as she watched, the face altered and aged, shifting through the phases of adolescence, early and full maturity, middle age, and thence to shallow old age.

An odyssey, as surely as Ulysses' oceangoing is an odyssey: but not by oars. By the blinks of an eye. * * *

"In 1951, as Henrietta Lacks was dying of cancer in a Maryland hospital, one astute physician there removed a pea-sized sample of her tumor to see if its cells would grow in a test tube-something never achieved before-and these became the very first human cells to thrive and multiply outside the body. Now called HeLa cells, today there are so many that they outweigh what would have been Henrietta Lacks's living body 400 times, and have been used around the world in studies on polio, leukemia, protein synthesis, the effects of nuclear radiation, genetic control mechanisms, and more."

The sun has set, but the low and swollen belly of the moon won't let its ruddy light completely die out of the sky. So this will serve us as a symbol meaning: we could end, right now, with the life of Henrietta Lacks-and yet we can't, for Henrietta Lacks has no immediate end. In life, "her longest travel had been from her dirt-poor town in rural Virginia, into Baltimore." In after-life, "her cells were carried aboard the earliest space flights, for experiments on zero-gees and cosmic ray bombardment." Low and swollen moon-she's been there. Moon of the gnashing wolf, moon of the overtumulting tidewaters, moon of the itch of love, of the gnash of love, of the waters of love -we've all been there.

Upstairs, my wife is sleeping; dreaming-what? How far is the tether unraveled? If life is a stem, by definition its flowering grows outside of the stem. How short, how everyday is the step between two worlds?-the thickness of the skull? of the skin? My wife's friend Jane's young son announced, in case we didn't know it, "Men-have-penises. Women-have-vagendas." That's a good one, yes? And I've been pleased to have been issued passports into some of those "vagendas"-to have traveled there. And always, at that journey's end, I've been left breathless, changed for a moment and lost in myself and breathless, and beached on a foreign shore. * * * deer hoofprints, leading up to the river: there, of course, they disappear

as we do, into the currents of sleep, of REM, or dream: eight hours

and then continue on, as clear as ever on the farther side


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