Between the white of the sky
and the sheet
I turn in bed
the moonlight pulsing milk-red
through shut lids.
My skin is a creature
restless, trapped, rubbed raw
between the humid air
and the pulsing heat within—
the heart shaking my frame
and rocking itself
like an egg about to hatch
that cracks, heals,
and cracks again.
The mind prods at itself
heaping fears on hopes and hopes on fears
until, exhausted, in a drift toward sleep
a layer peels away
and up floats the embryo,
three days old,
that my daughter turned away from
at the Exploratorium that day:
the yolk and white
flattened under cellophane,
veins spreading out of a clear body
over the warm, lit plane.
The chick’s upturned eye looked nowhere,
the arteries hovered over it
like a thought—
filaments that threaded together
and trailed back to a tiny black heart
ticking like the central moon-curved gear
of an old clock
flicking in a half circle,
resting, flicking back.
And between each beat
the promise driven
as the creature’s blood-paths
range and feed
on the clear white fluid:
life, life, life
until (witness, I know, I know
what my daughter had sense
and heart to turn from)
the transparent skin of the albumen
will draw in
and end the life begun
under this spectral light,
this no shell of home,
this small creature’s fate
determined by a will
that might have grown
to seem its own.
A boy I spun the plastic vial across the desk,
split the stolen ball of mercury inside,
watched the clock break up time
and squirmed in the hard seat in the back of the room,
tapping, tapping at the poison silver—
Hg, atomic number eighty—
that twirled and fragmented, sphere after sphere.
Then I stilled them and gathered them
to shatter the ball again.
Empty time I tasted like metal on the tongue,
breathed it in like a faint burn inside nose and lungs
while the teacher read his grocery store novel
behind his desk dreaming of cigarettes,
enduring the half-hour-end-of-day class,
designed (it was written) to capture imagination
and nurture each child’s gifts: a gap
in the schedule shaped by middle school
teacher’s ennui and post-lunchroom fatigue.
In this solitude bound by indifference,
I grew braver or more careless.
I spilled the ball of mercury over the pen-scratched desk
and blew the particles away from their center.
Together, apart, together again, I gently puffed;
then, harder, I split and split the balls
until my eyes could barely see, or couldn’t,
the pinpricks of light—atomic weight
two zero zero point five nine—
that flew over the plane of desk
as if no friction dragged them down,
no law of matter meeting matter pertained to them,
as it was taught to me did to all matter
by the bearded, big-bellied, fact-dried science teacher
with the perpetual stains on his shirt
(from whose barometer I stole my treasure).
They looked like falling stars
that I spun and burned to nothing with my breath,
snagged, lost in the lips and depressions
of the fake wood grain and initials scratched in the desk.
The clock neared its hour. I gathered my losses,
scooping a sheet of paper across the desk
to join the sparks—specific gravity thirteen
point five four six—and blew the fragments
into my hand, swirled into wholeness the spheres of light.
I wondered if mercury, quicksilver—the word I learned
somewhere among the facts and whispered over and over
as I watched the ball spin: quicksilver, quicksilver,
like something between water and metal,
no, metal and air, or metal seas that boil
at three hundred fifty-six point five eight degrees Celsius,
or melt (into what?) at a mere thirty-eight point eight seven below.
Quicksilver: it sounded like grace,
something slicing effortless through life,
good to say, almost as good as rolling the ball on my tongue
would be—I wondered if quicksilver left traces of itself
in the ridges of my palm, subtle poison seeping in
(I’d read) as it drifts through skin and gills of fish
in polluted bays and seas. Quicksilver, mercury,
I longed for more names to call the perfect, mutable,
and unalterable thing: reflector, measurer, shatterer
named (I’d learn one day) for the god of poets and thieves.
All that remains is breath and space
Initially believed to be an almost static force
seated in Padmasana, Lotus Pose
breath and space held together, scattered,
held again in greater and lesser constructions
of particles, the in-breath and the out, the field of
bent light from nearby galaxies suggests dark matter,
the veiled overwhelming mass of the universe
the body’s brief accumulation of
atoms forming lungs and heart
a brain that extends itself to calculate
travels in enormous clumps faster than sound
the overwhelming mass of just
what’s seen—light of galaxies, stars,
the reflected spheres of cooling bodies
hurtling in subway cars
this fact has far-reaching implications
for the very structure of
others sitting still, breathing in space
veiled in a roaring wave of the unseen.
The Threepenny Review, Cerise Press, Sou’wester, Alsop Review, Bloodroot Literary Magazine, Mobius, The Caribbean Review, The Cortland Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Awards for his work include an American Academy of Poets prize, C. H. Jones National Poetry Prize, University of California Poet Laureate Award, and Richard Eberhart Poetry Prize. Mr. Glaser earned his Ph.D. in American poetry at the University of California, Berkeley and his B.A. from Dartmouth College. He teaches writing and literature at Santa Clara University, where he serves as faculty advisor to the Santa Clara Review. Contact author.
’s poetry has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has appeared in