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poetry

A country that acquired TV in 1999

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The Natural History Society, funding diminished,

Relocated its archives from the limestone library

In the capital, to a series of cabins on stilts

Just offshore of the city. Former fishermen’s barracks,

 

Their built-in bunks are beds of treasures

Somehow become negligible.  Butterscotch bronze

With turquoise corrosion is this specimen’s skin;

Its gear teeth—lash-fine—are torqued.

 

Like arpeggio notes once they climbed over

Each other—ascending, terrestrial—in a sequence

For a purpose vital to someone for something.

Weigh it in your palm. Its heaviness is an index

 

Of its uselessness. The instruments of our time

Are feather-light, a puff of breath. The lone

Cataloger’s laptop, snapped tight, idle,

Could be raised in a pinch. Lift it up: four doughnuts

 

Of mildew where its pads pressed the drenched

Rubber mat where it sleeps. Each morning

His rowboat pushes off from the dock; he oars on

To his “office,” though he might have walked:

 

It’s low tide, and the swung dash of a sandbar

Is inches below the surface.  He departs

At night; the harbor’s higher and hooked waves

Scratch and disintegrate at the cabin pilings. Saltwater

 

Precipitates inside binding in an explorer’s

Diary, and in the pages all the periods burst

Into branching, varicose spiders.

This antique camera’s punctured bellows

 

A child might squash and with arms

In how-much-I-love-you pose, sway

To its gargle as to an accordion. It’s a kind of star:

The empty, toothed circumference of the tear,

 

What makes sibilant the air he forces

Forward; a black hole pressures all

Matter into vanishing. It collects dust now

And a number in the white bars of the cataloger’s

 

Data entry. A glowing typology, from the word

Shade of a pull-down menu, assigns it to a society

Of the inert.  It assumes a life based on likenesses,

Like living in a city in which you know

 

Everyone’s name. It trades identity for history.

Artifacts purged from the collection,

The Society decimates its galleries. Paneling

And cabinetry, dismantled boards and planks,

 

Stack like inhabitants of a mortuary. Flat panel TVs,

Installed on titanium wire,

Float like islands. The workers, passing

In front, eye their negatives in the screens,

 

And see their doubles in black parallel

Tableaux as actors waiting to materialize

Pixel by pixel. The belly of a thumb presses down

On a remote. And with a sound like birds fleeing

 

To the canopy as the forest registers

Predation—what swerves a herd of antelope

Right—the monitors dazzle the glass panes

Of the windows with pastel shadows

 

Of bodies that are not there. They show a simulcast

Of the wedding of the Prince of Bhutan, a country that acquired

TV in 1999, an hours-long ceremony

Unchanged since writing was consigned

 

To scrolled cloth and stored in ceramics,

Marked with bibliographies that were also talismans

Of fertility. Blazing saffron, azure, cool pine,

Are the fabrics. The Princess’s face is blank.

 

Baby elephants line the path to the temple,

Heads tossing to disengage embroidered,

Tasseled dressings from behind cloud-shaped ears.

The couple passes through steles with invocations

 

Of patience and courage to strike the enemy

When the peoples’ lives are endangered. They step to the altar;

Incense and flame hold séance, and their spirits bind

And rise. Before they scent it, the priest has been

 

Chanting verse. They enter a lettered air, laden

Not so much with meanings as omens, prayers.

In it, they almost feel weightless,

The way swimmers do as they fall asleep after

 

Hours in water, tugged and turned, wooed by tide.

A long-handled wooden ladle is dropped in an urn

And rises. The priest offers them a drink

Of ambrosia. Their shared sip has about it an erotic choreography

 

As eyelids shut, lips part, and heads bow, at the same time.

Three Dots