The lake is one page in the book of moonlight. But only one. The moon, like water, requires distance to do its intended work. Tonight, when the air is cold enough to ice the lake’s fringe and little stars burn echoes into the still face of water, I could be forgiven for letting cold beauty convince me of a world without sin. So it was when the earth’s crust steamed and the first scruffs of green crept outward. Sin requires motion. The boy outside the store with a gun under his sweatshirt still needs to walk inside and ask for what he thinks he needs to stop his mind’s whirling. But salvation requires motion as well. Fortunately for believers, we live within a universe whose sole constant is motion. Even now a capital burns. A militia debates which target will bring the most attention. A sentry is staring into distance gone watery in stillness and heat, wishing for the clarity of night, the easy assurance of the moon, a beacon whispering there are places other than this. The life now distant from his has hidden on another of moonlight’s pages, where the birds of the woods where he used to walk and smoke make wide turns over the lake. One day he’ll walk into a store to buy beer or a bag of chips for a friend’s party, then go his way, but not before seeing, like heat-vision or a flutter of moon-shadow, the cold watchful moon on the night he stood outside a store like this one, deciding whether to pull his father’s gun and walk inside or turn around and walk home.
A Fiction for Newton
I don’t see a planet or eviction from Eden
or even props for a still life when I hold an apple,
only the rude breaking of your country nap when
the tree released the fruit and it hammered into
your afternoon dreams. I know the story
is legend; Stukely claimed the two of you were sitting
in a garden sipping tea when an apple dropped
and you wondered why down and not sideways or
hovering level with the tree branch, but always down.
And that question begat an order never articulated
by the universe before. An order reducing
or expanding all things into the hard frame
of mathematics, the tool scientists use to explore
and explain the link between all things, each
of us a cipher inside one endless equation
or the next although there is no round number
for the logic of my student who said
she was thinking of getting a job in a strip club
because they would finance a boob job, her chance
to beat gravity in exchange for a few nights of bump
and grind. I’ve hammered torn chords on my guitar
all night, counting the pulse of my foot on the floor
into an equation whose root and solution
escapes me. We wish mysteries unraveled
to their bare elements, one reason I watch videos
of guitar players breaking their toughest licks down
to a string and a note at a time, letting me
repeat the motions until they are barely music,
only facts that provide a place where theories
of melody and counterpoint have their say. I can’t parse
the letters and sign of your shorthand, Newton,
for gravity and time any more than I can
read music. According to predictions,
in a million decades, give or take a millennium,
your formulas, the ink that fixed them to the page,
the dots that guide musicians through the valleys
and ridges of the score will all come undone.
Rosin will rise from strings in small whirlwinds. Ink
will resign from already-floating pages,
themselves about to fall into dust and then
the nothingness that makes room for dust to be born.
Hands will curl into soft claws. Aimless,
we will be undone, bodies no longer at rest
in the wide zero that all our math
and music has always aimed at forgetting in favor
of the present and the endless work
designed to lift us out of the falling
rhythms of time into something like beauty.
The Moon, Like the Songs About the Moon, Continues
Near midnight. I’m listening to Chet Baker, his trumpet low and warm, offsetting the icy distances he sings from, beckoning us to join him out where he is lost. Tonight, I wanted a clear view of the stars, something to excuse missing last night’s full moon, its mirror of sun-work frosting the grass and trees. It might be better not to admit love for nature or music when it’s clear the only mission of existence is change, when the light-dome that fogs city skies blocks any clear view of the sky until it’s too late to walk outside and see. The developer who plans condos on the moon and the kid who sells envelopes of heroin, each one stamped with a tiny drawing of the moon, both know loving anything extracts a price. And too many subtractions turns the moon to a toothless zero, a lip-lorn kiss left on the wrong side of the ledger, the hidden margin where Chet Baker put down his horn to search the ravaged midnight of his arm for a vein. Someday, someone reading this might rest in a cushioned recliner on one of the moon’s bubbled resorts and listen to Chet Baker while the slow blue stone of earth turns in the night-colored distance. But tonight, someone will decide not to commit suicide and she will walk outside to find the moon as it first appeared, luminous and capable of handling any hope that lands there.
Al Maginnes has published six full-length collections of poetry and four chapbooks, most recently Music From Small Towns, winner of the Jacar Press Award for 2014, and Inventing Constellations (Cherry Grove Editions, 2012). He lives in Raleigh, N.C. and teaches at Wake Technical Community College.