A Pocket Introduction to Our Universe

By Claire Bateman

Featured Image: The Throne of Saturn by Elihu Vedder 1883-1884

What does our universe most like to do?

To contort without any warning into nothing but corners,

an awkward though not unbeautiful configuration.

Of what elements is our universe composed?

The first is distance,

of which there are innumerable varieties, such as the chromatic stutter between forethought and aftertaste,

and the measureless span between

the transparent and the merely translucent.

The second is otherness, that of the other

and that of the self,

reciprocal and ever-escalating glories.

What holds things together and apart?

The strong and weak gravitational forces. Scar tissue.

The Great Universal Loneliness,

from which not even the material realm has been excluded.

What are some of the forces that pass through flesh and bone?

Neutrinos.

X-rays.

Invisibility itself passes through the body in immense, inarticulate storms.

What are some of the anomalies of our universe?

Holes may be filled but never undug,

and may perish by suffocation or drowning,

but never suicide.

A small sadness may easily

dislodge a larger one.

We have fireproof gloves,

but not gloves of flame,

which surely could be of use.

What in our universe can be trusted?

The perpetual transformation

of inside into outside,

and vice versa.

Anything so damaged

it can suffer

no further harm.

Anything so far fallen

it has nowhere deeper

to go.

What is the primary mode of light and matter?

Unappeasable deference and displacement:

“After you!”

“No, no, I insist; after you!”

What was time contemplating as it sprang into existence?

Thirst and the water of drinking fountains,

their common surge—

ever too much

before it becomes enough.


Claire Bateman is the author of WONDERS OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD forthcoming from 42 Miles Books, and eight other poetry books. She has been awarded Fellowships from the NEA, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and has received the New Millennium Writing Award (twice) and two Pushcart Prizes. She has taught at the Greenville Fine Arts Center, Clemson University and various conferences, including Bread Loaf and the Bloch Island Poetry Festival. She is also a visual artist.

Originally published in NOR Spring 2010

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