Laws of Gravity
I toss an apple in the air to ensure gravity is still pulling,
ignoring that you told me apples are forbidden.
The roots of my garden’s trees grow toward Earth’s center.
Four times a day, tides ebb and swell.
The neighbors still groom their fine fescue lawns.
I continue to make grocery lists.
You greet me, soliloquizing,
as if breathing hadn’t become dangerous.
I consult Newton’s law of gravitation—
while you remind me how terrible I am at math—
and note he never explained the force’s agency.
The moon remains in orbit.
Radio plays the same songs as in my school uniform days,
but cashiers call me Ma’am. Numbers on calendars keep climbing—
and the news’s pandemic death toll.
You advise me to select a satellite FM channel,
dismiss wild weather threats to grasslands and crop yields.
You extoll water futures, private space travel,
as if planets were Black Friday specials,
as if you could privatize escape velocity.
When I was young,
an hour lasted much longer.
I stretched myself into infrasonic waves,
crashed into holes, and shared stories with talking fish.
I followed streams to the centers of spiral galaxies.
Now, here I am—vibrating in B flat—as you enumerate the fruits of your algorithm trees.
This photo of an extinct rhino is not a rhino.
Your bowler hat has begun to slip.
As you try to interrupt,
three apples fall
from the heavens
and land at my feet.
In 8 BC, August was renamed in honor of Augustus Caesar, born Gaius Octavius and designated leader after Julius Caesar was slain. Octavius is a patronymic surname, derived from the Latin root for 8, and sometimes given as a first name to an 8th daughter or son. 8 is the number of the month characterized by the dog days of summer and the beginning of the Mid-Atlantic hurricane season.
8 is the number assigned to gales on the Beaufort scale, winds with speeds of 34–40 knots, a term derived from counting the knots in a line unspooled from a ship’s reel.
My dad tried to teach me the figure‑8 knot and other marine knots whose names I’ve now forgotten.
As a child, I had a Magic 8 Ball, a black sphere in which an oracular die floated in blue liquid. I shook it and asked it to predict my future: Better not tell you now, it would advise. I decided it was a stupid game after I got that answer again and again.
On Sunday afternoons, I used to play Crazy 8s and other games with my grandma.
Geometry was never a friend of mine, though even I remember that an octagon is an 8‑sided figure. The Octagon was once an insane asylum on Roosevelt Island, but is now fancy condos with views of Manhattan and the East River.
All octopuses have 8 arms. They are masters of camouflage and can change both the color and texture of their skin. Marine biologists recently discovered a conclave of octopus dens off the eastern coast of Australia, disproving long-held notions that these creatures are loners.
Eight Arms to Hold You was the original title of The Beatles’ movie Help!. My family despised this film because, as a teenager, I often recited its dialogue to them. The antagonists are a parody version of the Thugee cult, a fraternity of bandits who terrorized India for several hundred years.
Many Hindu goddesses have 8 arms, including Kali, the devi of death and time. The Ogdoad were 8 Egyptian Old Kingdom deities worshipped in Hermopolis, the seat of ibis-headed Thoth whose Greek analog was Hermes, the divine herald and guide for the dead.
Some scholars think the shape of 8, looking like infinity upright, was derived from the Greek alphabet’s last letter, ω (omega). A Sunday school teacher I knew, preoccupied with the Book of Revelation, enjoyed quoting the 8th verse of its first chapter: I am the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end, she declared.
The Omega‑8 is a MIDI sound machine. MIDI was part of a wave of digital tech which displaced analog formats. Our living room cabinets are full of records and a few 8‑track tapes, along with brass candlesticks, framed photos of my brother and me as toddlers, and an old Kodak.
I used to make 8mm films. I cut and spliced images I held in my hands. Now most movies are digital: billions of bytes stored on whirring drives. A byte is 8 bits.
There are 88 constellations visible in the northern sky. On summer nights I used to stand in our yard and search for the shape of the Big Dipper beyond the trees.
Neptune is the 8th planet in our solar system, named for the Roman god of the sea, an ice giant marked by a great, dark spot. Neptune is also an avenue near Coney Island, a seaside amusement park in Brooklyn known for its roller coaster, The Cyclone.
The figure 8 is among the shapes I used to draw in the sand at Virginia Beach. On my little legs, I chased crashing waves up and down the strand, trying to prevent my murals and castles from collapsing into salt and foam.
8—the number of months you’ve been gone.
The Sea’s Due
At the shoreline, surf gushes through cordgrass.
Dragonflies flit. Sky swells
floccus clouds shifting shapes are
Breezes strum black needlerush into whispers, rising.
An egret stands watch atop a storm-stripped pine
over sands fit for neither footprints nor keel, yet
an empty skiff, the tide’s haul, litters the marsh.
clouds shapes shifting create
the sea’s storms
Beyond breaking waves ripples sequin a halo
encircling a man tugged and torn
above eelgrass. Crabs swim to feast.
shifting shapes clouds are sea
transformed waters whistling into a storm
He, possessed by urges to trespass, to hunt
was swallowed no human witness.
The land dare not claim him now
as the clouds murmur—
never bring a corpse ashore
do not deny the sea its due
—and, sun-baked and distended with forgetting, the man drifts further.
The Unburied Crow
This golding green. Sunlight splits through canopies
My brothers they guard this roost
from the bushy-tails who tear up
and down the thinning branches
from you and your heavy footfalls
carving hatches angles
in the browning grasses. You stumble homing
daughter. You pretend to be
distracted by the burrow the hoppers left climbing vines
while I beneath the prickle-leaf
my feathers dark as storms lie
caught-caught-caught and wrecked
by the season’s last tempest.
They and you refuse to look upon me.
My brothers in deep beats glide
from perch to perch to ground
with open mouths. And I see
though my black eyes have turned cloudy
your face is her sad face the one I once knew.
You hack the bushes into cubes how you humans like
your lines-lines-lines and fences thinking
you can constrain our cycles our peregrinations.
Beneath the waning crescent
beneath the dawn rising I lay
tail stripped disintegrating
into soil and straw my kin
unmourning while into cold blue you stare.
Her call-call-call no longer comes.
My shroud spreads transmuting
in darkness we
instead of air become earth.
Flight begins and ends with falling.
Catherine Fletcher is a poet and a playwright. Recent work has appeared in The Inflectionist Review, The Hopper, Kissing Dynamite, Hopkins Review, Burning House Press, and the concert series Concept Lab. She was a TWP Science and Religion Fellow at Arizona State University from 2016–18. She also served as Director of Poetry Programs at the New York-based organization, City Lore. She lives in Virginia, USA.