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A Little about Not Knowing Very Much

When I was 5 and first in school,
I refused, after lunch each day,
to take a nap, fearing
there was nothing
on the other side
of sleep.
              It was something
I arrived with on the planet,
worrying that my mother—
in her one red cloth coat and
father in his camel hair blazer
and green knit tie—would be beyond
any cry I'd raise there below
the courtyard and classrooms
and the monkey puzzle trees
twisting dark as seaweed
far into the air.
I climbed the avocado trees,
hung by my knees from a bough,
pennies falling from the pockets
of my jeans, confirming that
my place was on earth.
Coastal clouds strung out
like a Sumerian alphabet
and a crow was a riddle
of pitch and feathers against
the blue—I made no sense
of his clattering sound-bytes,
about how he saw it
all from there.
                      I came up
with no translation for the grey,
sky wide open for interpretation,
a polished page of longing
for which, I had faith,
there was resolution and
           Despite the blanks
I drew for the next 20 years,
I think nothing out of the ordinary
transpired—Assyrians continued
to descend upon the plain,
one fundamentalist after the next
ascended an orange crate
in the street to tell us
his God was God and what
all of us should do.
                             Oxcarts, barges,
horses, the refined blood of reptiles
from the Mesozoic era—we circle back
on ourselves with improved apparatus,
thinking we are going somewhere
this time alright, the fine print
about flesh and bones, barely
legible in the old provisos
the stars have always held
over our heads ....
                            What are the odds
there's someone behind the cosmic curtain
who reads our thoughts—a face peering out
bald and burnished as Ghiberti's
from his golden Gates of Paradise?
And I ask myself, Do I have time
to read about the Renaissance
again—what perspective is there
beyond the vanishing point
of the earth, the matchstick anarchy
of light?
             Is anyone home
on Alpha Centauri, our nearest neighbor,
as our early TV waves arrive
with Howdy Doody and Flash Gordon
in his galvanized ship sparking away
in empty space as our first representatives,
with Groucho and his eyebrows,
the duck dropping from the ceiling
with the secret word?
                                 How long
can we hold our breath as they check
100 million starry channels
at a time on the SETI dial?
Lucky, I guess, the NBC Nightly News
will be another 60 years
getting there, though our stealth
black-winged bombers are not all
that different from those in the '40s,
and the boys on all sides are always
blown to bits, their bones scattered
along the side of the road while
men in Savile Row suits step
into the bank.
                    Diogenes made his
homeless home in the streets of Athens,
ate his onions with contempt
for human achievement, and may have been
onto something, making a virtue
of extreme poverty. His only "challenge"
as administrators like to say,
was looking for an honest man,
holding that lantern for years in vain—
no grants, no pension fund—
you'd think he'd have caught on
at some point?
                       The blood-faced buzzards
spin up and glide beneath the strings
of evening without a mission statement,
but know what they are looking for,
feel it's fine to float there for nothing
more than the bequest of air.
                                          Down here,
our hummers are used to us
sitting beneath the extended arm
of our pine, the feeder suspended there,
as they lace their wire-like feet
confidently around the little perches
outside the flowery ports to glug
the red sweet water, but pause
to eye us up, still cautious
about creatures as statuesque
as we.
          Our cats learned long ago
not to bother about these birds
who burst through the air like particle waves
with feathers, and so they stretch out
for their siestas on the chaise lounge
awaiting their can of salmon
in fancy sauce served up promptly
at 5:00.
             What's coming next
is anybody's guess, outside, of course,
the reliable collapse of our cells,
and how dispirited even the best
among us are about this one piece
of evidence we have, absolutely,
in hand. Nevertheless, I wouldn't
want to know right now, what
will become of me. Knowing that
you don't know is the best choice,
if, that is, you think you have a choice,
given whatever it is we are granted
a country mile short of illumination—
the limited-time gift of our ignorance
rising like spindrift, a savor of light
above the waves....
                             At the end
of August, I'd be happy to know
we're finally going to get
some rain, happy with even
a small glass of local pinot
in the shade with which to salute
the incredible furnaces of the stars
that burn almost forever before
collapsing, exploding, and
gathering together again—atoms
whirling with their undisclosed
purpose toward the dark.

Christopher Buckley

White Shirt
University of Tampa Press

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