In night when colors all to black are cast,
Distinction lost, or gone down with the light;
The eye a watch to inward senses placed,
Not seeing, yet still having powers of sight,
Gives vain alarums to the inward sense,
Where fear stirred up with witty tyranny,
Confounds all powers, and thorough self-offense,
Doth forge and raise impossibility:
Such as in thick depriving darknesses,
Proper reflections of the error be,
And images of self-confusednesses,
Which hurt imaginations only see;
And from this nothing seen, tells news of devils,
Which but expressions be of inward evils.
As it has been proven in the laboratory,
An empty pair of dance shoes
Will sit on the floor like a wart
Until it is given a reason to move.
Those of us who study inertia
(Those of us covered with wild hair and sleep)
Can state this without fear:
The energy in a pair of shoes at rest
Is about the same as that of a clown
Knocked flat by a sandbag.
This you can tell your friends with certainty:
A clown, flat on his back,
Is a lot like an empty pair of
An empty pair of dancing shoes
Is also a lot like a leaf
Pressed in a book.
And now you know a simple truth:
A leaf pressed in, say, The Colossus
by Sylvia Plath,
Is no different from an empty pair of dance shoes
Even if those shoes are in the middle of the Stardust Ballroom
With all the lights on, and hot music shakes the windows
up and down the block.
This is the secret of inertia:
The shoes run on their own sense of the world.
They are in sympathy with the rock the kid skips
over the lake
After it settles to the mud.
Not with the ripples,
But with the rock.
A practical and personal application of inertia
Can be found in the question:
Whose Turn Is It
To Take Out The Garbage?
An empty pair of dance shoes
Is a lot like the answer to this question,
As well as book-length poems
Set in the Midwest.
To sum up:
An empty pair of dance shoes
Is a lot like the sand the 98-pound weakling
brushes from his cheeks
As the bully tows away his girlfriend.
When he spies the coupon at the back of the comic book,
He is about to act upon a different set of scientific principles.
He is ready to dance.
Once you saw a drove of young pigs
crossing the highway. One of them
pulling his body by the front feet,
the hind legs dragging flat.
you called the Humane Society.
They came with a net and went for him.
They were matter of fact, uniformed;
there were two of them,
their truck ominous, with a cage.
He was hiding in the weeds. It was then
you saw his eyes. He understood.
He was trembling.
After they took him, you began to suffer regret.
Years later, you remember his misfit body
scrambling to reach the others.
Even at this moment, your heart
is going too fast; your hands sweat.
for matthew z and matthew r
I remember telling the joke
about child molestation and seeing
the face of the young man
I didn’t know well enough
turn from something with light
inside of it into something like
an animal that’s had its brain
bashed in, something like that, some
sky inside him breaking
all over the table and the beers.
It’s amazing, finding out
my thoughtlessness has no bounds,
is no match for any barbarian,
that it runs wild and hard
like the Mississippi. No, the Rio Grande.
No, the Columbia. A great river
of thorns and when this stranger
stood up and muttered
something about a cigarette,
the Hazmat team
in my chest begins to cordon
off my heart, glowing
a toxic yellow,
and all I could think about
was the punch line “sexy kids,”
that was it, “sexy kids,” and all the children
I’ve cared for, wiping
their noses, rocking them to sleep,
all the nieces and nephews I love,
and how no one ever
opened me up like a can of soup
in the second grade, the man
now standing on the sidewalk, smoke smothering
his body, a ghost unable
to hold his wrists down
or make a sound like a large knee in between
two small knees, but terrifying and horrible all the same.
The sky wears black serge pants while
hemming up another pair for tomorrow
night. A bit shorter, but you won’t notice.
Some nights the blue pill brings a dream
where a young girl is trying not to cry
in the sheep pasture, stuck where her brothers
eyed the watery gap and mossy stones and sailed
to the other side. We didn’t know about E. coli
then, how our waders must have buzzed with it.
By the time I was ten, I’d pared my list of things
I was scared of down to four: the high board,
hoods and kidnappers, blue racers, and shaking
hands with Uncle John who’d lost four fingers
in the cornpicker. I pushed the scared parts of me
away, like the two finches my mother watched
nudge a dead fledgling off the edge of her deck.
But it’s really fear you want to talk about
and cannot find the words
so you jeer at yourself
you call yourself a coward
you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure,
fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep
buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows
and a quilt, they call them comforters,
which implies that comfort can be bought
and paid for, to help with the fear, the failure
your two walnut chests of drawers snicker, the bookshelves mourn
the art on the walls pities you, the man himself beside you
asleep smelling like mushrooms and moss is a comfort
but never enough, never, the ceiling fixture lightless
velvet drapes hiding the window
traffic noise like a vicious animal
on the loose somewhere out there—
you brag to friends you won’t mind death only dying
what a liar you are—
all the other fears, of rejection, of physical pain,
of losing your mind, of losing your eyes,
they are all part of this!
Pawprints of this! Hair snarls in your comb
this glowing clock the single light in the room
A fair witch crept to a young man’s side,
And he kiss’d her and took her for his bride.
But a Shape came in at the dead of night,
And fill’d the room with snowy light.
And he saw how in his arms there lay
A thing more frightful than mouth may say.
And he rose in haste, and follow’d the Shape
Till morning crown’d an eastern cape.
And he girded himself, and follow’d still
When sunset sainted the western hill.
But, mocking and thwarting, clung to his side,
Weary day!—the foul Witch-Bride.