Jane Zwart: “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin”


We run the humidifier, and my sons run

up and down the stairs carrying its fog

in jars and in boxes, in anything with a lid

hinged and fitted to suit their purpose:

magic. We, their parents, ooh at the mist

that rises from a procession of containers

and we hold in our mouths the silk

of all the other sad syllables knotted in wait

like the torrents of scarves mimes vomit:

magic. We shut the voices inside the radio—

underlying conditions, shortness of breath—

and I run to a rise where the street tacks north.

The houses on this street’s far side sit, not flush

to the curb but square to an unseen windrose,

white boxes stacked in their lots, each set down

split-seconds of arc closer to the equator

than its neighbor to the east, and low in the west

the sun hits the houses’ blind sides, which look—

the five of them—like a hand of poker fanned

in the grip of a god, the cards blank.

Well, there are orders of revelation.

In movies those who hunt for treasure

sometimes find what they are looking for

when the sun tunnels through a series of lenses

that the hero’s fit into newels and cave windows

but that does not disqualify as writing on a wall

late sunlight slapped against aluminum siding.

Numbered, numbered, weighed, divided

and suddenly I know that I cannot pray for magic;

know I cannot say God, my sons carry dewdrops in caskets

and urns; let the air in their lungs last forever; know

the underlying condition: it’s shortness of breath.

Jane Zwart has had poems accepted by Poetry, TriQuarterlyRattleCincinnati Review, and Ploughshares, as well as other journals and magazines.

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