Under the Weight of Nothing
The playground under the water disappears like a shadow into darkness. Too slow to be perceived. But, like all losses, measurable. Plot on a graph the smell of burnt toast against the sudden numbness in your left arm & the buckling of your knees. Pressure released into oxygen-thin air, but the hemorrhage remains, presses down on the floor you use to determine maximum depth. Far beneath the reach of light, the instruments get it wrong. The descending doorframe notches say turn back & recalibrate. But the dive goes on too long & now you’re not sure you can resurface in time. Not sure even where the surface falls.
The Nothing as Tinnitus
The faint generator humming you can’t tell if you’re actually hearing is real. Real as your peach-fuzzed ears. It’s the alarm of extinction, the death of a frequency your imagination will never vibrate at again, pressed to a flat quiet as it approaches.
Once the bass sinks out of range, you assume a monotone shape, become a blip, an underscore interrupting the flat line of your electrocardiogram. Not enough string theory or lines of code to rethread your coding. Not enough earthquakes left in your heart to unblock the widowmaker artery, to un-rupture your eardrums with a flood of music.
The Nothing as Bromelain
I sleep when I’m dead tired, which is to say as much as possible. So not so much. More tired than sleep, more dead than possible. I never need a blindfold or wave machine to dream—the engine hum of the plains enough music to carry me out to pasture, make enough sheep to count me. Pretty as I need be & I dare any man to tell me to my teeth I ought to “smile more.” What any man thinks he needs, or likes & how, not so much my concern, not the apples he thinks me to be & besides. I’m more pineapple than prairie spy, more the fruit that bites back.
Little Pink Houses Burning to the Ground
Winners & losers—you & yours & most everyone you know don’t make the first bracket. The long story tells of a ladder the latter may climb with rough hands. The rungs above blown to splinters. Like unrung bells. The newspapers mound & drift. The honey sours. How many thousand years from now until your ancestors might rally & stumble upon the stones who once held your name. What peel or rind, fiber or filament won’t be worn smooth. Vanished. Fallen for the old “winners & losers” dodge. You send home letters, filled with lies about strangers’ fortunes, stolen claims, opportunity & promise. So far no response.
The Dawn of Man
It was a rock, then mud, then bone, then ash, then a feather, then a pencil, then a pen cap or click, then a keystroke, then a cloud. It has taken all of human history up to this exact moment to realize we can write our names on the air with our index fingers. The problem is permanence, audience, erasers, invisible ink, lemon juice, boot black, cloud polish, hangers filled with words & numbers & hieroglyphs & wax cylinders & light years of magnetic tape & iridescent discs & golden records. All broadcasting on all frequencies, speeding away from earth with all its squid ink & red clay & pulverized leaves.
Ryan Collins is the author of A New American Field Guide & Song Book. Recent poems have appeared in The Pinch, Poor Claudia, sidereal magazine, and Zócalo Public Square. He lives in Rock Island, IL.