Gravity and Grace

Alan Shapiro

Gravity is odorless as God, and like God is everywhere, invisibleand weightless, inside and between what in its absence could haveno inside or between, no mass or form to get free or give in to itwith.In a vacuum there is no falling, or if there is, because everything bigand small is falling at the same speed, at the same time, you can’t tellfalling from floating.In hospice, my father cried like a baby in a wet crib, eyes shut,inconsolable, because I couldn’t be his mother, or, if I could, couldonly be the sleep-deprived postpartum mother who can’t lifther massive body from the quicksand of exhaustion, too sunk inheaviness to do anything about what by then she only wanted to berid of, whispering shhh, shhh, shhh to his runaway accelerating OO Os as if to slow them to a canter, a trot, a standstill,and when his heart stopped and the busily communicating cellsinside the hand that held mine forgot what they were saying, orthat they were even cells, or that the hand had ever been a hand,unballing its viselike fist from around my fingers, gravitywas all that held body to bed, bed to hospice, hospice to earth.Its micro-grip tightened on every subatomic bit of every particlethere was, on everything I had pretended right up to then it wasn’tpulling down.When I stood up my father was the force I stood up against.Invisible and weightless as the piss stink rising from the bed, whichlike a baby he had wet, the inside of his thighs were rash red, hisgrizzled ball sack even redder between the scorched white pubichairs.Only once the odor had spread everywhere and covered everythingcould you not smell it. Not smelling it was grace, which is theopposite of gravity, from which there’s no escape.

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alan shapiro

Alan Shapiro, has published 14 poetry collections (most recently, Proceed to Check Out, Against Translation, Reel to Reel, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and Night of the Republic, finalist for both the National Book Award and the International Griffin Prize), 4 books of prose, including The Last Happy Occasion, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award, LA Times Book Prize, an award in literature from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, and The William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, he is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is professor emeritus from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"There are few poets right now capable of capturing the ever-extending, doubling back, reaching, twisting, self-contradictory, fluttering flux of consciousness with as much conviction, poignancy, aching humor, and formal excitement as Alan Shapiro—what happens in his sentences are a marvel of this ancient living technology we call poetry. Whether in crafty prose or tighter verse, mind and language are always in dynamic play in his new book, as he grapples with the most immediate and difficult binding forces of love, hope, vulnerability, intimacy, and the darker ones of shame, regret, anger, ignorance, and desire."
—Joshua Weiner

"No contemporary poet offers greater largesse of intelligence, emotion, and invention than Shapiro. Every sentence and every line of Proceed to Check Out sparkles—with formal precision and imaginative openness, social conscience and psychological savvy, hilarity and fatalism, unsparing skepticism and unstinting sympathy. Few movies or novels render contemporary life with the high-res vivacity of these poems, and yet Shapiro stays true to his lyric gift, his skill for carving art from the twists and turns of the individual voice confronting mortality. Shapiro is a genius."
—Peter Campion

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