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Origins of the Universe: An Aria

ISSUE:  Autumn 2003
Here’s a story: before we were bodies,
the gods took their bourbon at the corner cabaret.
Their Queen rasped the standards near a shining piano: she,
the saddest kind of regular. Out of sequins, cigarettes,
and fat mascara, she created pathos, and from this

October was made. In waning light, we long to be held
because of the crooning that haunts our flesh.
The bar is a nebula. Trails of smoke
make our shapes luminous. The imagination is backlit.

And in those days, a wail rose from the cabaret bar
where abandoned forms lit up their musings—it was a clear sound,
like essence, or joy, or light, and this wail
became the color of the universe. Listen: at its core,

the unplayed clarinet is only a column of air. Hollow. The presence
of vacancy; the not-yet of sound. Like my own voice
in the stillness before I told my parents—the truth of it
changed as I blurted it out—I am going to need that bassinet.
Then the unformed, terrifying wait for vibration

to travel across the room to them—
Here’s another story:

last century, the cows in rural Central America became spooked.
They cried like men and stamped the earth, and the townspeople
crowded around. Out of the ground, came a low,
solemn hum. The scientists could not record the vibrations:
what we are hearing, they concluded, is the sound
of all things moving in the cosmos. Air

in the voice, breathing, out of which. No particular
note.Glissando, water falling
along the throat of a cliff, to land that has formed
from the gaseous wafting of a barroom torchsong.

In the bar’s back rooms, the scientists listen
to television static, the excitement of random particles,
songs of the universe expanding. The scientists
can’t sing along; five-or-so whiskey shots
and serious measures have left them, all empiricism:
their glasses begin to sweat planetary halos on each
floating coaster: the cows are restless: before us

was the possibility of us. Inhalation; anthems
of abstraction; idea. Too late when afterwards, the scientists
go home and try to tell the story before
the story. Already, when they open their mouths
to speak: clarity, quickening,
new life writhing on the shore. A glorious resonance
stinging their eyes. Hands to their faces, they are gasping with joy.


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