“The Asymmetry of Time” by Gerry LaFemina

The following is a new poem by Gerry LaFemina; he was kind enough to let us […]

Mockingbird / 7.5.17

The following is a new poem by Gerry LaFemina; he was kind enough to let us post it here. His most recent collection, Little Hereticis available now; look for his forthcoming collection, The Story of Ash, in early 2018.

The Asymmetry of Time

Down the hill from the schoolyard where seventh grade boys
squander each recess imagining their first kiss—a vision
that scares & excites them equally, they can even point out

the classmate who co-stars in these fantasies, & how they look
askance, embarrassed, when they’re caught almost staring—&
further, beyond the closed mills & the blue-collar bar

where the old timers rerun familiar stories, replaying
heroic roles standing up to foremen or fathers or
foreign fighters in Korea & Vietnam, the train yards remain,

long strands of flat cars like beaded necklaces, laid out.
Diesel engines pull some slowly form one siding to another,
setting them out for cargo containers, for consumerism’s heavy loads.

Watchmen with flashlights slice up the yard.
Boxcars laden with night’s vaporous ink—a darkness that isn’t
dark matter, which itself hasn’t been proven to exist

though science suggests 27% of the universe is composed of it.
The math doesn’t lie. The white boards of physicists
scrawled with numbers & variables. Their belief

a near theology, so much so I visited once a university
where the physics building had stained glass windows featuring
St. Einstein, St. Newton with his apple, St. Galileo, &

St. Copernicus, a communion of scientists—key players
in middle school lesson plans.  We learned the periodic table,
a model of the atom, & learned, too, Oppenheimer’s sin—

the possibility of a neutron bomb obliterating our city.
At mass we prayed for peace, & silently for desire’s fulfillment,
our wish lists of lost parents & records & Rangers victories.

So many lusts in our little worlds. Never once
did our teachers talk with any sort of excitement about the big bang,
about the formal beauty of the Milky Way, the black hole

at its center. What was inside the church bell that went
unused in the tower if not god, which might well be
another name for dark matter. I stayed awake

too late the day before my science final, trying to memorize
each element’s symbol & weight. Other nights my body was
a copper wire charged with a thousand watts of desire.

That wanting became a religion. My belief in sex then
its own kind of dark matter—it was all around &
I’d discover it, not soon enough. Sometimes, abashed,

I’d long to vanish, to decrescendo into my desk, to hop
a freight train out of town, the way a protagonist did
in a novel I read that year, taking on a new identity &

so left his nerdy self behind. It was only a fiction.
There was no escape other than time itself,
which physicists have a theory of as well, one

I never fully understood.  These are the key mysteries
of a mysterious cosmos, an enigmatic god, & no one—
not my father or the nuns or the lab coats or the priests

with their catechism & confessionals, not the first girl I kissed
(a kiss that only led to more longing, more unrest), & not
the long decades since have taught me anything. Day or night

in certain towns, trains blow their solitary notes
as they approach a crossing, the sound of that howling
wind-like, heard as an echo in the most distant neighborhoods,

the sound nearly tangible, heavy as a name only thought about.
Is it hope for some fulfillment or only nostalgia?
Does it matter? Come morning the local deacon will unlock

the parish sanctuary & stare into the unlit nothingness among the pews,
while astronomy grad students begin leaving the observatory
to tally data later in the afternoon. Equations prove the universe,

like possibility, is ever expanding, yet contraction remains a possibility.
We exist in the middle of it, unable to dream, the constellations
a spread of toy jacks as on schoolyard asphalt, the moon a ball. Imagine

a young girl wondering how she’s going to pick them all up.