The Face of Charles Darwin As Seen on a Nuclear Reactor Cooling Tower
As Seen by a Firefly As Seen by Cornelia Hesse-Honegger
Is it is true, Cornelia, when your son was born the doctor
came to you with a charcoal drawing of a baby, old as Galileo,
with an ashen club foot? And you traced, on the bedsheet
with your finger, that leaf bug you found in Sweden
with a foot you called deformed. If I were Galileo, once
or ever, startled by moonlight on a bug with one feeler
growing from an eye, one leg protruding from abdomen,
I would wash it in ink, over and over, until the sleeper
on a sidewalk in Portland could feel the Zurich rain.
I’m moving quickly now, spinning the world backwards,
before Chernobyl. Before a nuclear plant with red
leaves, yellow flowers, Darwin leaves, Charlie
flowers. Before iodine 131 in my mother’s milk.
She who holds me between her legs on a lounge
on the passenger deck, a woolen blanket withholding
our heat. I’m busy shaping my cloven tongue
into a grammar, an aura around Galileo as he washes
the moon with inky light in his bristles, the tender
bend of lunar shadow. Is it true he called his telescope
she, and other times he, and once shadowgraph?
Please, Cornelia, don’t say, even once, vulnerability.
Mortality. Even the lowest dose. Don’t remind us
of clover mutating into thyroid mutating into The Crook
of Crickets. Drawing us under as we secrete the smell
of sleep. If I were looking deep through the wrong end
of Galileo’s telescope, I’d say, Paint me, Cornelia, my every
dearest deformity. No, I’d say, An insect dreamed
every day of an eye without end. Beauty, you’d say,
found in disarray. No, you’d say, Exit through
your right eye, enter through your left.
John Bradley is the author of six books of poetry and prose, And Thereby Everything (Longhouse) his most recent. He teaches at Northern Illinois University.