a thought on a poem by Deborah Poe


When things* are broken, I turn to poetry. Suffice it to say, this is a broken week in the world. But it is a week in which I am still trying to impose order on at least my world, and part of that ordering is preparation for teaching some literature and writing in Romania in less than a month.
This morning, as part of the class preparation, I was considering Deborah Poe’s extraordinary collection Elements, which is a book inspired by and arranged according to the Periodic Table of the Elements. The poems are scientifically acute and lyrically imagistic by turns, and this morning, “Manganese (Mn)” caught me.
The poem opens with the lines,
this is not the chemistry of hibiscus blossoms
or the color of lithium steam coming off spring
and continues, a few lines later, saying,
these shivery nodules, like ancestors,
are immortalized–i mean in ways
loneliness is related to time
Loneliness, indeed, must be related to time. There are equations in my head: velocity & time & distance, and so many people think of loneliness as it pertains to distance—to be so far from x—and that distance is only time that’s been thrown, fast and away. And by this math of words, then, where there is no time, where time is suspended and held, there can be no loneliness because time and distance never meet and nothing speeds past.
I read this poem, and the morning—how much waiting we are doing and have done and how we are watching seconds tick while someone bleeds out in a street or a building collapses or the ashes won’t stop their hot glowing and we wait longer and watch the hours and tragedy spin us further and further from that which weaves together home and here—the morning stopped. Time paused in washes of color and mist and everything was whole and connected, just for a moment.
In less than a month, I will be in Romania, which is the farthest from home, as Samwise Gamgee says, I’ve ever been. I will spend twenty-two hours flinging myself fast and away in the bodies of airplanes, walking fast through doors and gates that permit no reverse, but I will be taking this poem with me, and I will never be lonely.
*productivity, sentences, peace, silence, noise
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