Louis Slotin and the White Lie

Original Text: 

Michael Lista. Bloom. Toronto, Ontario: House of Anansi Press, 2010.

1I have never forgotten a day of my life,
2belittled a loved one, made love to my wife
3or sat in this chair in my office right here.
4This isn’t even my voice in your ear.
5I couldn’t put a face to my own name.
6All the things assumed to be the same
7hue they were yesterday change wavelength
8as the sun ages, illuming us with less strength
9than it did our fathers, our blood less red,
10names of the living names of the dead.
11When I stand between the light and the lightened
12I draw a human black over the brightened.
13The night the Little Boy fell on Japan, a
14brighter me looked down to see Johanna
15beaming up with such transparent wonder
16she saw through me to worlds I’d set asunder,
17all I had broken, a human city
18named into amnesia. The opacity
19we wore as marriage masks cast off,
20the light between us dropped into a trough
21as she turned away and there it stayed.
22But consider this: things we’ve betrayed,
23forgone, or loved too deeply to desire
24are reenlightened in divorce’s fire
25just as if I parroted bird, bird, bird
26at that starling in the tree, the word
27would slough its subject like its subject’s doom
28and fall from meaning into meaning’s tomb;
29then, subjects ourselves, it would illustrate
30we are the source, not what the source illuminates.
31See your shadow flee a garden patch
32as your namesake and your name detach
33and you turn to glass. In that transparency
34the Love That Lights would show no clemency
35to such a solipsistic soul so isolated
36and would explode in it a flash ignited
37like detonated dawn which humbles lamps
38still staving darkness off their human camps.
39(And how unlikely and how right it is that night
40must both dissolve and rhyme with light.)
41But like a peerless, stationary God
42without a face, adorning each façade,
43no one at one with all the living realm
44can love one thing whose death will underwhelm.
45Only by this (goodbye sweetheart, goodbye)—
46the opaque, plastic facts and the white lie—
47do we keep the world, as we might beach
48that interrupting dawn to keep its bleach
49off all the stars there hanging on their hooks,
50that everything could keep the tinted look
51of life, our gods high up enough above
52and our beloved far away enough to love.
after Don Paterson
RPO poem Editors: 
Jim Johnstone
RPO Edition: 
Special Copyright: 

Poem used with permission of the author.