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“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.

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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