- Fourth State of Matter, and: Chrysalis, and: Sound of the Spinning Wheel, and: Storm Coming
- Fourth State of Matter
The day Big Tex burned, it began in the throat— an utterance that caught fire. That day at the fair, the other fathers
gorged lazily on turkey legs, graying beards littered with pink meat. I knew to find Big Tex, whose 75-gallon hat
mooned over the crowd, giant steel arm lurching up and down like an oil derrick. I tracked his cowboy drawl to the fairground’s center,
scanned the dune of faces for my father’s thick glasses and cumulous blond hair. Now, the photograph of that day (my father and I,
his blue T-shirt, my mustard-drenched corn dog) is an envoy for the memory— I remember myself then
only through the mediation of film: nebula of my child life strewn across the far reaches of some sky. Later, I saw that my father’s life wasn’t whole
but scattered, and didn’t really belong to me; as he unraveled in grief for his own parents, I didn’t relate, but suddenly, I could imagine
the absolute zero of loss—I wanted, too, to be done with being one person, the pixels of a single moment converging, bursting into flame. [End Page 9]
Butterfly rain-forest chrysalis webcam, Florida Museum of Natural History
I want to see, somewhere, the hot, cocooned unfolding of metamorphosis. The caterpillars are flown in from El Salvador, or New Guinea, and inside the dewed glass, shadows of men in white coats cloak the tic of emergent wings— What of the future do you hold inside yourself? See: if you take a scalpel and puncture the chrysalis, it will explode—yellow goo of cells, burst cells, amino acids, proteins, here a bit of gut, here a bit of brain.
A thing builds a shell around itself, dissolves, becomes another thing. The way, when you are wrecked with love, you take only what you need, you, liquid version of yourself, all heart cells and skin cells— here a trough of heart, here, gutter of liver, channel of hearing or touch. What remains, as with the caterpillar, is memory. See, we melt entirely.
I have been a child, a lake, a glacier, glacier pool, woman, river of woman, another woman, an older one. The oldest scientist asks, If we are all creatures of transformation, if we are never quite the same, [End Page 10] what are we when we arrive at the moment of death? It is easier to think in death that I am me, but dying. See: 1668. The Dutch naturalist Jan Swammerdam dissects a caterpillar for Cosimo de Medici. And though we now think everything ends, turns to soup, to river, to ash and what’s passed is past, he unfolds the white sides of the insect and reveals two wing-buds, tucked tight inside the skin.
Now, as I watch the knife pierce the chrysalis, a river of cells swelling through and out, I remember what my father once said, that what you see is only a fraction of what you refuse to believe, and against the edge of the chrysalis, embryonic half-wings twitch without a body, waiting for their slow decay, and then for the next body that opens itself to the risk of flight. [End Page 11]
- Sound of the Spinning Wheel
The devil has told you that! The devil has told you that!—The Brothers Grimm, “Rumpelstiltskin”
At night, in that threadbare space where the cry of a child should be,
a little man with hammered gems for teeth whispers his lines in my ear.
He riddles my heart. Turns the rest of me to cheesecloth.
Around my throat he spins a red scarf because I cannot say what cannot be said,
and I wear that scarf against the wind that blows through me.
Born out of loneliness, he comes only with death:
the smell of a child’s bloomy breath and the earth crushed under the weight...