© 2003 Quarterly West

The Advent of Zero
Paul Guest

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I know that someday you will tire of everything,
as I have already, heavy as the lidless eyes
of God, the father of insomnia, and yes,
I couldn't sleep again last night, tossing
like a coin some meager fate flips:
what will I eat tonight? Am I hungry?
And which direction will I find kindest
when at last the noise of my leaving blanches
all else out? No sounds, no music like cotton,
no birds in their boughs singing like angels
in January, because this is Alabama,
so warm here that snow is a kind of mad myth.
And I know the world cares not a whit,
if I may invoke the tongue of a corseted age,
for these few words that run out from me
as though I opened a wound on the blind edge
of something in the dark, impossible
to see, sucked up in the night as though
my heart, yes, my heart, were a black hole.
And maybe it is. Draw nearer, O thousand loves,
to see if you escape me, if from my ribs
a contraption worthy of science fiction
ticks like a bomb, if it is not meshed
with barbed wire and bits of glass from bottles.
With the omniscience of the broken heart,
I claim my future successes and disavow
all that I ever touch that crumples
in the gathering dust of closets and corners and heaps.
To anyone who will take it, I divest
myself of the bike hanging from a hook
that I never rode, given to me
so impossibly long ago that it was not me at all.
Not the me that cannot help
but haunt the mailbox giving back
most days more sadness than I sealed therein,
with a wish, a lock of smoke thin whimsy,
the wet touch of my tongue I know was made to kiss.
And to you, whom these words reach:
know that my apologies were true,
they rang like the bright peal of incredible bells.
Whole days I spent trying on your name
like new clothes-
no, like old, rumpled, patched, familiar, warm-
I was wrong to think of you new.
I have known you since the advent of zero,
since the rain first struck the earth
like a terror, and really, let us admit
we are being modest before the face of time.
To plumb those depths is loss, loss, loss,
to wait forever and in vain to hear
at the strained horizon of the day
for the splash or muffled clank of the pebble
you dropped to gain some notion
of the fall. Let us admit this and more
in our silken descent from the stars
back to separate pillows, the confusion of covers,
and though I cannot believe it,
I have come again to the bed, my own,
of course, for I cannot speak your world into mine.

Paul Guest is the winner of the 2002 New Issues Prize in Poetry for his book, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World. His poems appear in Prairie Schooner, Verse, Slate, The Iowa Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere.