About this Poem 

“Bertrand Russell said, ‘Electricity is not a thing like St. Paul's Cathedral; it is a way in which things behave.’ And it's not ‘they’ who say, but Walter Benjamin who said, ‘Things are only mannequins and even the great world-historical events are only costumes beneath which they exchange glances with nothingness, with the base and the banal.’ In September, 1940, Benjamin died under ambiguous circumstances in the French-Spanish border town of Portbou, while attempting to flee the Nazis.”
—Mary Jo Bang

Costumes Exchanging Glances

Mary Jo Bang, 1946

             The rhinestone lights blink off and on.
Pretend stars. 
I’m sick of explanations. A life is like Russell said 
of electricity, not a thing but the way things behave. 
A science of motion toward some flat surface, 
some heat, some cold. Some light
can leave some after-image but it doesn’t last. 
Isn’t that what they say? That and that
historical events exchange glances with nothingness. 

Copyright © 2014 by Mary Jo Bang. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 26, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2014 by Mary Jo Bang. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 26, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Mary Jo Bang

Mary Jo Bang

Mary Jo Bang's work has been chosen three times for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series

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                She slept through the earthquake in Spain. 
The day after was full of dead things. Well, not full but a few.
Coming in the front door, she felt the crunch of a carapace

under her foot. In the bathroom, a large cockroach 
rested on its back at the edge of the marble surround; the dead 
antennae
poem
We were going toward nothing
all along. Honing the acoustics,
heralding the instant
shifts, horizontal to vertical, particle

to plexus, morning to late,
lunch to later yet, instant to over. Done
to overdone. And all against
a pet-shop cacophony, the roof withstanding

its heavy snow load. So, winter. And still