ON THE ORIGINS OF MODERN ATOMISM:
A Love Poem
Out of Los Angeles, the press release went largely
the Pixies had split up. "I don't see any of us
wanting to get back together again," Black Francis had said,
pained then, I guess, to get on with whatever
it is one does after a break-up. I heard it on the radio,
tasting the acrid air the band members would rush through
into new songs, giant projects, trying to touch a new muse.
Abstract and heady, feeling summer on my fingers,
the low hum of theory spread over me
like a song the Pixies might've done had there been one more year.
I moved so far from my ground state.
Nights I would peer into the electron microscope,
trying to remember what it was the Greeks had said about the atom,
trying to nose around in the basement of the universe,
where my heart was. I'd turn the radio all the way up to 11,
sing along with whatever new college band,
and squint, heavy transcendence. There were flowers
on the windowsill wanting water, wilted in florescence,
and I looked past them, through them, trying to latch
on to inspiration, thinking of a girl who threatened me once
with a pocket knife because I would not write her.
She had slipped me a note in the hall, several pages
crumpled quickly and tucked in the crook of my elbow—
I watched it fall. Glowing flush with blood,
she picked it up and said, "There. You have to write me again."
I wish I could say the note burned with nebulas of desire.
I wish I could say discrete meetings were proposed in darkness
when we would rush together like galaxies
annihilating one another sweetly, but I read the innocent
dailiness she gave. She wrote of her favorite song
called "Gigantic," telling me I'd probably love it
because the chorus had my name in it, several times sung over,
because the Pixies were her favorite band, and she knew
it could be mine too. In a haze, I let six weeks pass in silence,
reciprocating nothing. A carnation came on Valentine's Day
and I thought then to buy her a flower, apologize.
We met outside that afternoon and she wore a shirt that read:
In her youth, the Dairy Queen wasn't a punk rock grrl.
Pulling the little knife from her pocket, she asked why
I couldn't just write her, why I was blind to what was unhidden.
I said nothing. I said it was time for me to leave.
I said, and this is unforgivable, "I wanted to say, I'm sorry."
This is all I can remember. It's the essence that I can't forget.
What I once thought I couldn't reduce more, I have:
the pollen smeared across the window where my face has been,
the chorus of a song that dissolves around my name,
the t-shirt I imagine she wore like explanation—
yes, the Greeks desired to account for the possibility
of change in nature, that all phenomena had to be understood
in terms of motion through empty space. I cannot understand.
I cannot understand the space I pass through.
It's only now that I want to say I can't account for what I see.
I know the atom has been split, broken,
I've burned in its heat, burned like an over-driven guitar
that no one plays any longer—
this theory is half wilted already, a false expiation:
in some galaxy I know the Pixies play together again, we are there.
Paul Guest is the winner of the 2002 New Issues Poetry
Prize for his book,
The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the
World. His poems appear in Slate, Verse, The Iowa Review,
Pleiades, Greensboro Review and elsewhere.