Illustrations from 'The Starry Messenger' by Galileo, 1610 (Wikimedia Commons)


I wanted a creature—a bird, perhaps,
or an animal that glides even if it cannot fly,
an ocelot, or a seal, but I got a planet,
maybe because I checked a box beside Creation,
not Creature, and found myself possessing a world.
But not a world, really, or an actual planet,
it turns out, only a moon, and a moon
that has been eaten by a spider, or sawed
in two and left to languish, a closed eye,
a mouth stitched shut, a fossil sand-dollar.

Not a coin I can spend, but a penny worn dark,
a star collapsed. Black ice, a snake’s hideout,
a thought erased, not even a hole that I
could dig deeper for water, or wider
for the planting of a tree—a vaccination mark,
an ear hole without an ear,
a pill you’d put on your tongue only
if you had to fight malaria or a plague,
a pebble you would never notice in the river.
But not a world, not a solar system or

a galaxy: a missing button. And yet this charcoal
is what I slip into my pocket, and this is
what I carry with me as my shadow trails
across the golden afternoon.
And I give it a look often, groping for my keys,
and almost leave it in the tip jar in the crowded deli,
until I begin to see how inadequate it is even
as a metal slug, a drop of licorice,

a flake of iron. Because those days come
when I stop carrying it,
and it forgets to sleep and opens
its stone window. It lets forth a light
that does not suit it, the dark margin
hanging back in sullen shyness, easy to make out
beside the increasing scimitar of
dazzling white. Like a porcelain smile,
the foxed illumination waxes
until there’s nothing left of my whisper,
my almost-world, but a pregnant completeness,
huge over the lake, dazzling over the city,

a soprano who won’t shut up, a glare that
the prism multiplies into every color in the universe,
except the color of the field where fire
has lived, which is the black of first dawn.

Michael Cadnum has published nearly forty books. His new collection of poems, The Promised Rain, is in private circulation. He lives in Albany, California.

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Published in the May 17, 2019 issue: View Contents
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