Nicholas Christopher Atomic Field  

1972, #3
A room illuminated by the rays of black crystals
arranged in a perfect circle on the lacquered table.
Beside them, a checkered cloth with talismans
we can move from square to square
while behind the curtain an invisible woman,
plucking a single note on a Japanese harp,
divines the future.
In the corner, the wick of a red candle flames to life.
A clock strikes six o'clock.
And none of us sitting around this table —
itself a revolving circle within the square room —
know if it's morning or evening.
To which someone remarks, Why should it matter?
And all the while the moon is rising full
between the thin buildings,
its mountains and seas icily clear,
easily mapped — unlike the landscapes
we're roaming in our heads,
the vast, inked-in expanses
where everything is possible and nothing changes.

1972, #43
Trucks are salting the streets.
The airports have closed.
In this long empty room the shadow
of a lemon tree flutters on the wall.
The last record played hours ago,
but the stereo's lights,
like rubies and emeralds,
continue to flicker.
The blanket on the bed is paper-thin,
the pillow is like stone.
I was dreaming of myself
in such a bed
drawing a map that encompassed
all the cities I just passed through —
Paris Trieste Athens Ravenna —
except that it resembled a map
of the Amazonian jungle,
vast forests and countless tributaries
off a serpentine river.
Until I wake up, I feel certain
this map could have guided me around Europe,
or anywhere else I chose to go.
Meanwhile, through the frozen window,
an ocean liner, white as an iceberg,
is sailing down the Hudson
for the open sea.

1972, #44
From my corner table beneath a blue light
the palms are swaying,
the drummer's steel brushes slide
across his ride cymbal like an ocean wave.
A woman wearing a black dress
imprinted with white roses
downs a tumbler of blue liquor,
closes her eyes, and finds herself
transported to a velodrome
banked like the rings of Saturn.
Closing my eyes, I travel more modestly,
to the recent memory of Saint Nicholas
eyeing me severely from the wall panel
of a chapel on the island of Poros,
where the streets are whitewashed daily.
Here on Manhattan Island it takes a blizzard
to whitewash the streets,
and the gods who reveal themselves to us
are famously pitiless, cold, and rife with knowledge.
Walled in by bricks of ice,
illuminated by a guttering candle,
you (or someone impersonating you)
begin explaining the mechanics of salvation
before preceding me into the snow,
the wind that rattles our bones like sticks,
the night like a vast tide that carries all things away.

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    Excerpted from Atomic Field: Two Poems by Nicholas Christopher. Copyright © 2000 by Nicholas Christopher. All rights reserved.