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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

             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 is the author of several books of poems, including A Doll for Throwing (Graywolf Press, 2017). Her poems have been chosen three times for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series.

by this poet

poem

I remove my heart from its marble casing and grind that shell into glass dust and force the dust and the occupational core into a box barely big enough to hold them and watch while the self-sealing lid sets itself. I then take the contraption to a place to which I doubt I will ever find

poem
The foot goes forward, yes.
Yet there are roots. And a giant orb
which focuses its cyclopic eye
on a moiré morning.
When the microcosm is dry—it's earth;
wet—it's water.

Water, reeds, electric eel: one possibility.
Sun, reeds, dust mote and mite: another.
Whatever the elements
(it's urban/it's pastoral,
it's
2
poem

Here we are, on top of the utopian arc. The water is shallow. An oil spill shimmers on the surface like a lens catches light and folds it in front of a mirror. If someone stands next to you, they are there, even when outside the picture. Which makes total obscurity relative to luck and

2