In The Empire Of The Air

By Donald Britton

Scourging the sea with rods
To punish it for what it has engulfed,
Or running naked with your bronzed friend
Through yellow broom sage:
You can’t be sure which remedy will be
Fatal, or whether the density of the side-effects
Will prevent you from moving backwards
Across the threshold, to read
What the instructions might have said
If anyone had taken time to write them down,
So we could torture the words, make them
Confess their dirty little secret. It’s tiered,
As earth is, with faults perfectly expressing
A gravitational will that we should stumble
Over them. And all the hints
Get sponged up at night. Above the land fill—
Stars, glowing zircon strands of dump truck highbeams
Lined up, liquid and radiant, past the last
Open-all-night erotica boutique
Just over the state line of the last state.
Maybe they’re the sparks we ignite
Rubbing each other the wrong way, fiery notes
Unwary rhapsodists pluck from the strings
Of incendiary violins. Is that what you think, too?
In truth, I prefer your mistaken identity,
The upside down one I can see at the back of my eyes
Before they flip you into focus, projecting you
Across a space at once so vast and so small
As not to excite even scientific curiosity.
But the light you throw off, out there,
Is not enough to see you by. The tapered crimps
And ridges, scraped to the wall of the well,
Could be any number of people. Try
To communicate with the dying sometime
And you’ll know what I mean. Each one is perfect,
Of its kind. Also, all are alike. Not even they
Can tell you, though, where the similarities end,
Whether it will be any different
For you. All I know is that what you are
To the waxed, limpid air of freak May in December
Or to this room, piled high
With genial household archetypes,
Is a formal relationship only, as the shape
Of an airplane-shaped shrub is
To the living plant it’s made of. But to me,
And all I said and did, and all the time
It took me to get here, so much I forgot
The purpose of my visit, but kept in anyway; to me,
As I hold you, and the messy edges
Of our privacy overlap and then withdraw—
Think of me as three persons, and as one,
But always who I am, ever changing
and complete, in the empire of the air
Or on the street, or with white sails
Stiff against the wind,
Whistling far out over the water.

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