Poem

Globus Hystericus

Timothy Donnelly

1. 
A pity the selfsame vehicle that spirits me away from 
factories of tedium should likewise serve to drag 
me backwards into panic, or that panic should erect 

massive factories of its own, their virulent pollutants 
havocking loved waterways, frothing all the reed- 
fringed margins acid pink and gathering in the shell 

and soft tissues of the snails unknowingly in danger 
as they inch up stems. Through the bulkhead door 
I can hear their spirals plunk into the sluggish south- 

bound current and dissolve therein with such brutal 
regularity their dying has given rise to the custom 
of measuring time here in a unit known as the snailsdeath. 

The snailsdeath refers to the average length of time, 
about 43 seconds, elapsing between the loss of the first 
snail to toxic waters and the loss of the next, a value 

equivalent to the pause between swallows in a human 
throat, while the adverb “here” refers to my person 
and all its outskirts, beginning on the so-called cellular 

level extending more or less undaunted all the way down 
to the vale at the foot of the bed. I often fear I’ll wake 
to find you waiting there and won’t know how to speak 

on the subject of my production, or rather my woeful 
lack thereof, but in your absence, once again, I will begin 
drafting apologies in a language ineffectual as doves. 


2. 
Daybreak on my marshland: a single egret, blotched, 
trudges through the froth. I take its photograph 
from the rooftop observation deck from which I watch 

day’s delivery trucks advance. I take advantage of 
the quiet before their arrival to organize my thoughts 
on the paranormal thusly: 1. If the human psyche 

has proven spirited enough to produce such a range 
of material effects upon what we’ll call the closed 
system of its custodial body, indeed if it’s expected to, 

and 2. If such effects might be thought to constitute 
the physical expression of that psyche, an emanation 
willed into matter in a manner not unlike a brand- 

new car or cream-filled cake or disposable camera, 
and 3. If the system of the body can be swapped out 
for another, maybe an abandoned factory or a vale, 

then might it not also prove possible for the psyche 
by aptitude or lather or sheer circumstance to impress 
its thumbprint on some other system, a production 

in the basement, or in a video store, as when I find you 
inching up steps or down a shady aisle or pathway, 
dragging your long chains behind you most morosely 

if you ask me, the question is: Did you choose this, or was it 
imposed on you, but even as I ask your hands move 
wildly about your throat to indicate you cannot speak. 


3. 
After the memory of the trucks withdrawing heavy 
with their cargo fans out and fades into late-morning 
hunger, I relocate in time to the lit bank of vending 

machines still humming in the staffroom corner for a light 
meal of cheese curls, orange soda, and what history 
will come to mourn as the last two cream-filled cakes. 

Eating in silence, a breeze in the half-light, absently 
thinking of trying not to think, I imagine the Bethlehem 
steel smokestacks above me piping nonstop, the sky 

wide open without any question, steam and dioxides 
of carbon and sulfur, hands pressed to the wall as I walk 
down the corridor to stop myself from falling awake 

again on the floor in embarrassment. If there’s any use 
of imagination more productive or time less painful 
it hasn’t tried hard enough to push through to find me 

wandering the wings of a ghost-run factory as Earth 
approaches the dark vale cut in the heart of the galaxy. 
Taking shots of the sunbaked fields of putrefaction 

visible from the observation deck. Hoping to capture 
what I can point to as the way it feels. Sensing my hand 
in what I push away. Watching it dissolve into plumes 

rising like aerosols, or like ghosts of indigenous peoples, 
or the lump in the throat to keep me from saying that 
surviving almost everything has felt like having killed it. 


4. 
(Plunk) Up from the floor with the sun to the sound of 
dawn’s first sacrifice to the residues of commerce. 
On autofog, on disbelief: rejuvenation in a boxer brief 

crashed three miles wide in the waves off Madagascar, 
cause of great flooding in the Bible and in Gilgamesh
Massive sphere of rock and ice, of all events in history 

(Plunk) thought to be the lethalmost. A snailsdeath 
semiquavers from pang to ghost where the habit of ghosts 
of inhabiting timepieces, of conniving their phantom 

tendrils through parlor air and into the escapements 
of some inoperative heirloom clock on a mantle shows 
not the dead’s ongoing interest in their old adversary 

(Plunk) time so much as an urge to return to the hard 
mechanical kind of being. An erotic longing to reanimate 
the long-inert pendulum. As I have felt you banging 

nights in my machine, jostling the salt from a pretzel. 
This passion for the material realm after death however 
refuses to be reconciled with a willingness to destroy 

(Plunk) it while alive. When the last of the human voices 
told me what I had to do, they rattled off a shopping 
list of artifacts they wanted thrown down open throats. 

That left me feeling in on it, chosen, a real fun-time guy 
albeit somewhat sleep-deprived; detail-oriented, modern, 
yes, but also dubious, maudlin, bedridden, speechless. 


5. 
Graffiti on the stonework around the service entrance 
makes the doorway at night look like the mystagogic 
mouth of a big beast, amphibious, outfitted with fangs, 

snout, the suggestion of a tongue, throat, and alimentary 
canal leading to a complex of caves, tunnels, temples . . . 
There are rooms I won’t enter, at whose threshold I say 

this is as far as I go, no farther, almost as if I can sense 
there’s something in there I don’t want to see, or for which 
to see means having wanted already to forget, unless 

stepping into the mouth at last, pressed into its damp, 
the advantage of not knowing is swapped out for a loss 
of apartness from what you’d held unknown, meaning 

you don’t come to know it so much as become it, wholly 
warping into its absorbent fold. I can’t let that happen 
if it hasn’t already. What draws me on might be thought 

canine, keen-sighted, but it’s still incapable of divining why 
the constant hum around or inside me has to choose 
among being a nocturne of toxic manufacture, the call 

of what remains of the jungle, or else just another prank 
on my gullible anatomy. Am I not now beset in the utmost 
basement of industry? Is that basement itself not beset 

by the broad, black-green, waxy leaves of Mesoamerica? 
And haven’t I parted those selfsame leaves, discovering me 
asleep on my own weapon, threat to no one but myself? 


6. 
Asked again what I miss the most about my former life, 
I remember to pause this time, look left, a little off camera 
an entire snailsdeath, an air of sifting the possibilities, 

I eliminate certain objects and events from the running 
right off the bat, such as when their great displeasure 
brought the gods to turn to darkness all that had been 

light, submerging mountaintops in stormwater, the gods 
shocked by their own power, and heartsick to watch 
their once dear people stippling the surf like little fishes. 

Or when the flaming peccary of a comet struck the earth 
with much the same effect, waves as high as ziggurats 
crashing mathematically against our coastlines, scalding 

plumes of vapor and aerosols tossed into the atmosphere 
spawning storms to pummel the far side of the earth, 
approximately 80 percent of all life vanished in a week. 

Or when we squandered that very earth and shat on it 
with much the same effect, and more or less on purpose, 
emitting nonstop gases in the flow of our production, 

shoveling it in as ancient ice caps melted, what difference 
could another make now. And so I clear my throat, look 
directly into the camera, and even though it will make me 

come off bovine in their eyes, I say that what I miss the most 
has to be those cream-filled cakes I used to like, but then 
they prod me with their volts and lead me back to the barn. 


7. 
After the panic grew more or less customary, the pity 
dissolved into a mobile fogbank, dense, reducing visibility 
from the rooftop observation deck. Mobile in the sense 

that it possessed mobility, not in the sense that it actually 
moved. Because it didn’t. It just stayed there, reducing 
visibility but not in the sense that it simply diminished it 

or diminished it partly. Because it didn’t. It pretty much 
managed to do away with it altogether, as my photography 
will come to show: field after field of untouched white. 

After the possibility of change grew funny, threadbare, 
too embarrassing to be with, I eased into the knowledge 
that you’d never appear at the foot of the bed, the vale 

turned into a lifetime’s heap of laundry, and not the gentle 
tuffets and streambanks of an afterlife it seems we only 
imagined remembering, that watercolor done in greens 

and about which I predicted its monotony of fair weather 
over time might deaden one all over again, unless being 
changed with death means not only changing past change 

but past even the wish for it. I worried to aspire towards 
that condition might actually dull one’s aptitude for change. 
That I would grow to protect what I wished to keep from 

change at the cost of perpetuating much that required it. 
In this sense I had come to resemble the fogbank, at once 
given to motion but no less motionless than its photograph. 

The last time I saw myself alive, I drew the curtain back 
from the bed, stood by my sleeping body. I felt tenderness 
towards it. I knew how long it had waited, and how little 

time remained for it to prepare its bundle of grave goods. 
When I tried to speak, rather than my voice, my mouth 
released the tight, distinctive shriek of an aerophone of clay. 

I wanted to stop the shock of that from taking away from 
what I felt. I couldn’t quite manage it. Even at this late hour, 
even here, the purity of a feeling is ruined by the world. 


8. 
The noises from the basement were not auspicious noises. 
I wanted to live forever. I wanted to live forever and die 
right then and there. I had heard the tight, distinctive shriek. 

Here again and now. I no longer have legs. I am sleeping. 
Long tendrils of tobacco smoke, composed of carbon dioxide, 
water vapor, ammonia, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen cyanide, 

and 4000 other chemical compounds, penetrate the room 
through the gap beneath the door and through heating vents 
with confidence. They are the spectral forms of anaconda. 

The ruler of the underworld smokes cigars. A certain brand. 
Hand-rolled. He smiles as if there is much to smile about. 
And there is. He is hollow-eyed, toothless. His hat, infamous: 

broad-brimmed, embellished with feathers, a live macaw. 
His cape is depicted, often, as a length of fabric in distinctive 
black and white chevrons. Otherwise, as here, the full pelt 

of a jaguar. On a barge of plywood and empty milk cartons 
he trudges through the froth. He is the lord of black sorcery 
and lord of percussion. He is patron of commerce. He parts 

the leaves of Mesoamerica, traveling with a retinue of drunk 
ax wielders, collection agents. His scribe is a white rabbit. 
Daughter of moon and of night. Elsewhere, you are having 

your teeth taken out. There is no music left, but I still feel held 
captive by the cinema, and in its custom, I believe myself 
capable of protecting myself by hiding my face in my hands. 

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