What we knew of the world in 1974
'When God calculates and thinks things through, the world is made.'
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Martin goes out each morning
to the cloud chamber
to hunt for quarks.
No one has seen one yet
but they are there in thought
dancing in beautiful calculations.
In the afternoon sun
Martin is in the garden
meditating by the cabbages
where patient caterpillars
have stripped away the green
to reveal filigree loops of skeletons
like white cosmic flowers,
and Martin, cross legged and rooted
in denim flares, lists in the warmth
his eyes closed in concentration,
silent in the sun. His lips are moving:
he is holding a conversation.
Armistice Day in the kitchen
The solemn voice of the radio broadcasts
another ceremony from the Cenotaph
black coats felting in the wet, red poppies
in wreaths, the paper curling inwards.
I fetch bread from the old enamel bin
scrape of iron on iron as the heavy lid rattles.
In a wartime kitchen, then, it made the same retort
answering the crackle of the coal fire.
How full my empty kitchen has become.
The young soldiers with slicked hair
and Woodbines tapped from the packet.
A reunion from the hurtling days of the war.
They stand silent and do not depart
while children, searching for lost parents
wind in and out among them, hands trailing
on my grandfather’s greatcoat, still wet
from the drowning, hanging in black water,
caught beneath the flank of a ship.
We have the photo from his pocket
of small daughters, brushed hair and ribbons
its surface cracked and brown like varnish
an effect of being longtime in the water.
They searched all Christmas, raised him for New Year
the water pouring off like wings. Always
in the child’s mind: my mother’s mind.
Her mother went missing after that;
certainly her back was turned. My mother
saw her flickering in front of the bread bin.
Our parents come to us full of holes.
Their surfaces dissolve and leach on contact.
And sometimes entire parents are missing
but they do not go away.
My cupboards are full of the empty clothes
of the dead. I clear them away, but
the drawers fill up again with old garments.
At night their soft musky smell fills the house.
Armistice Day is my coming of age.
Today I say, no more. Today I sign
treaties with missing parents, and declare
cease fire, on the phantom limbs that pain me.