Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Rebecca Elson

A selection of poems by the late Canadian astronomer and poet Rebecca Elson from "A Responsibility to Awe" (2001).

Dark Matter

Above a pond,
An unseen filament
Of spider's floss

Suspends a slowly
Spinning leaf.

Inventing Zero

First it was lines in the sand,

The tangents, intersections,
Things that never met,
And you with your big stick,
Calling it geometry.

Then numbers, counting
One and two, until
A wind blew up
And everything was gone,
Blank to the horizon.

Less than two for me
But cunning you,
You found a whole new
Starting point:

Let it have properties,
And power
To make things infinite
Or nothing,
Or simply hold a space.

Carnal Knowledge

Having picked the final datum
From the universe
And fixed it in its column,
Named the causes of infinity,
Performed the calculus
Of the imaginary i, it seems

The body aches
To come too,
To the light,
Transmit the grace of gravity,
Express in its own algebra
The symmetries of awe and fear,
The shudder up the spine,
The knowing passing like a cool wind
That leaves the nape hairs leaping.

Frattura Vecchia

Breaking bread beside the spring,
Yourself mute
And the village going to the mountain
Stone by stone,

A snake moves towards the water,
Mythical, precise, remote,
And you are taken by a sudden temporality,
Like water from a dry hill --

Each bit of landscape
A piece from somewhere else

Till, lying on your back
There is no mountain,
Only sky,
Only a cloud

In Opposition

One moon between us,

Two seasons,

What else?
A few stars,
No wind.

In these moments
When we both walk,
How odd,
How we stand
The soles of our feet

Only the planet's breadth.


We are there, on the hillside

Evening coming down.

And you begin to lean
Against some longing
Till it shifts,
The whole stone weight of it
Begins to roll,
To thunder.

And I cannot move,
I cannot make my body
Step aside.
I cannot.

And after, when the night grows still again,
I settle on my back
Saying only, "How sweet,
That fresh crushed meadow scent."

Not saying how my heart leapt
Like the small frogs
In the tall grass
In its darkening, rushing path.

Chess Game in a Garden

Under the breath of roses
We lie
In a summer of white words
Knotted like clouds,
I on my back
Watch a bee crawl up
Into the bonnet of a blossom,
Back my queen into a corner,
Feel the power you command
Hold me in the cup of your hand.

The flowers lean in on us,
Touch us.
I turn
On my stomach,
Watch the grass blades twitch,
Watch your knight leap up
Tap down
Felted base on a bare board
Champing for space.

We move at angles
Guarding our strategies,
Our pawns,
Our pain,
Our claim
To a blue streak of wisdom
On a windy day.

Flying a Kite

It seems to me the kite
Has all the fun,
The view,
The weightlessness
The wind,
Ecstatic shudders,
Tail streaming out,
The urging higher,
The exhilarating dives,
And me down here,
Left holding the string.

The Ballad of Just and While

Although I am about to drop,
I'll just do this before I stop.

I'll dust the stairs, put out the bin,
I'll bring the still wet washing in.

A woman's work is never done:
I'll finish something I've begun.

But one thing's not enough for me.
With 'while' I could be doing three.

And 'just's' a wedge to squeeze in more.
(Excuse me, I'll just sweep the floor.)

It's just the same at work as home.
I calculate, I write, I phone ...

But things cannot go on this way.
I think I've done enough today.

Let while be something outside me:
The turning earth, the waving sea.

Let just be me upon some beach,
Just sorting pebbles within reach.

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