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About this Poem 

“While writing ‘Combustion,’ I was thinking about certain theories in physics I’d recently encountered in popular science magazines—about the configuration and transformation of bodies in space-time, and matter’s interconnectivity and fluidity. In particular about quantum entanglement, which is what Einstein called ‘spooky action at a distance’: the power of particles to instantaneously know the states of other particles at vast distances, even across billions of light years. At the same time, I was thinking about the obliteration of bodies, and the safe distance from wartime violence that is afforded most Americans as our drone operations continue overseas. The poem eventually became a convergence of these forces.”
Sara Eliza Johnson


If a human body has two-hundred-and-six bones
and thirty trillion cells, and each cell
has one hundred trillion atoms, if the spine
has thirty-three vertebrae—
                   if each atom
has a shadow—then the lilacs across the yard
are nebulae beginning to star.
If the fruit flies that settle on the orange
on the table rise
like the photons
                     from a bomb fire miles away,
my thoughts at the moment of explosion
are nails suspended
in a jar of honey.
                              I peel the orange
for you, spread the honey on your toast.
When our skin touches
our atoms touch, their shadows
merging into a shadow galaxy.
And if echoes are shadows
of sounds, if each hexagonal cell in the body
is a dark pool of jelly,
if within each cell
drones another cell—
                        The moment the bomb explodes
the man’s spine bends like its shadow
across the road.
The moment he loses his hearing
I think you are calling me
from across the house
because my ears start to ring.
From the kitchen window
                     I see the lilacs crackling like static
as if erasing, teleporting,
thousands of bees rising from the blossoms:
tiny flames in the sun.
I lick the knife   
and the honey pierces my tongue:
                       a nail made of light.
My body is wrapped in honey. When I step outside
                                  I become fire.

Copyright © 2014 by Sara Eliza Johnson. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2014 by Sara Eliza Johnson. Used with permission of the author.

Sara Eliza Johnson

Sara Eliza Johnson

Sara Eliza Johnson is the author of Bone Map (Milkweed Editions, 2014). She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

by this poet


When it happens the rain
is not black but powder.

A noise bleeds from your ears
and everything quakes

alive inside you:
the circuits of the flowers

lighting up across a meadow,
the nanoglow

of a sea years from here
           —:And like the flash

across an