As If We Were Solid and Did Not Go On Forever

by Maria Maggi

(for Michael Wilson (1985–) and Jacob Windsor (1975–1992)

Michael, heaven’s minion, pillar of light,

my child of iron will, golden enthusiasm,

and more iron will, it isn’t fair

the parts are always smaller, more cramped,

directions more complicated

than the picture on the box flirting

with you to open it, and finger

the miraculous magic rocks

that grow under water in minutes

exclamation point included—

the poisonous stuff that can burn holes

in hands, eyes, and face has to sit in

the shrivelled plastic tank for hours

and then be poured out, and poured in again,

that they lied on the box, it’s much harder

and more dangerous than it says (that today

I can’t or won’t risk him to these

possibilities waiting to pluck

each breath like an unsuspecting blossom—)

“—you mean it’s like acid,” he said,

and his eyes got wide and respectful,

boy scientist resigned to facts.

For now, he’d let his wish be a nautilus

curled in on itself, sleeping, furled into

the dewy, fleeting seed of what we dream.

When the downstairs phone jack

in our new apartment was dead,

the GTE man was all sparkles

as he worked, he was diamonds and rubies

against the iron grey sky pressing us

into the land. His arms and chest were

studded with jewels no one else could see:

all his unseen kindnesses decorated him

like treasure. He stood shining in the door

on my landing in this place so empty

of ocean, northern Idaho,

strange river of wheat, and tossed me

a Kirlian beam bright as a blood orange,

a deep flame red desire to see Elk River Falls.

The next Sunday I cried when the forest

sprung up around us I was so glad

to see these trees, have a picnic waiting

somewhere ahead of us. Michael scrunched up

his nose and said, “Mom, you’re weird,” but buried

a smile in his sweatshirt. I tickled him softly,

and he laughed bright bells and honey. Our tires popped

the gravel like corn when we were stopped.

“The Falls are closed,” said the ranger,

saddened and boy-like himself, blond like

Michael, Michael twenty years from now,

hands stuck on his belt like an extra pair.

They were searching the lower pool

for a teenager who slipped on the rocks.

They had been diving a long time,

long enough to send his mother home.

Michael’s questions and my answer would spiral

through sunlight and dust in our afternoon

crawling up gravel roads, and rest

with us in the shade of ancient cedars

where he poked open bright red mulch

with a stick, where all around us life was

falling away and beginning again.

He lay on his stomach, pushed

chips of cedar into the tiny rivulet of creek,

said it was sad the boy died. In this sanctuary

I reached back to where I had been,

saw things without my eyes again,

cities like scars sewn into the earth,

the stitches of fields, threads of smoke

dangling from fires. Beyond that the ocean,

sultry waves, like mermaids lapping at rocks,

blue lips parted to take everything

into gestation or potential, erase

what is separate. I felt the wet sand

under my feet back home, traces of black silt

fanning out under me and returning.

I was alive, I was alive, so for

an instant I didn’t care about death,

I could see myself leap up over the pattern

of waves and watch my body be taken back.

I would be pink, without desire, or longing,

looking back on the factory of Earth

at a carefree and wistful distance.

On that same ledge in my mind I saw

the boy Jacob whose name I didn’t yet

know, asking me what happened,

asking me to help him see.

A full moon was there under the lid

of noonday sun, trolling the sign of two fish,

one fighting upstream, one drifting down,

away from distinction and the nuisance of form,

their dance, for an instant, pulling open

the difference between my life and his death.

Sometimes my hands and fingers

fan out in dark air so much like water,

twist and display as if they were tail feathers.

I can’t stop them, and don’t want to.

They bring me something or someone

I can’t see who helps me weave

the new shape of my thoughts

with courage to live each minute.

The soft velvet saving old silver is theirs.

Once the lights passing through the car window

from the other side of the bay

fell away like glitter or sparks off diamonds,

emerging and receding back into a mountain

of black coal. It was very early morning,

the incipient time, no fog yet

to mask why everything is so vast and quiet

and beautiful, distilled to the dark

back of the land and its two familiars, black night

and black ocean. Even the stars

seemed to be ornaments, afterthoughts,

or perhaps accessories to this power

I drove over and through and toward.

Underneath the black water that

deep, cold pool was still. I could see

the colors of Jacob’s life fly out and seem solid,

plumes of green, red and violet from his body

hitting against the dark

like the northern lights bounce against the sky

as if it were solid and did not go on forever.

When anything out there moves toward

the pull of Earth, it wants to do something,

go faster than light, but it can’t

so it becomes the edge of what’s allowed,

a reminder of something that doesn’t know

how to slow down and still be itself,

which is what we are, too, light held in a body,

anxious, full of desire we don’t understand

to burst through this snarled tangle of elements

and time, shine, and disappear without regret.

Yet we are not the only shaking clay;

an earthquake can throttle groundwater

at a fault line into a froth of tiny, frantic bubbles

imploding themselves, cracking open

each molecule’s core to loot beams of light.

For a brief, eerie interval,

infinitesimal Earth is her unbounded

opposite, sky, insisting she was lit,

then forged from the fire of a star.

Did his body come open like a magic rock?

Did the Falls rush into him as he gave

his breathing to their watery tendrils,

passing through the exhilaration of

his last step, his willingness

to crest the top of his life?

Did he pour through the gap,

and there it was, nothing we can usually see,

holding him in fiery arms,

taking up the space that was his,

wrenching from the clumsiness

of his body a brilliant grace?

Jacob, we found your name in the paper.

I saw the funeral. I saw who loved you,

watched them lean above the ground opened up.

Your brother, your father, your mother, each friend.

They honor you. Your memory is the anvil

on which each future is forged separately,

made common by the black surface of

your absence shaping the rest of their days,

the ping of hammer against it a pain bending iron

that must be bent if all horses of human desire

are to gallop on without you. Let them ride.

Trust me when I say you’ve gone

from the density of one against the other.

Go to that brightness wrenched out of you

under water, climb its shimmering ladder,

don’t look back, don’t wait.