A Deep Dark Wood
All the raccoon thinks are raccoon thoughts,
and all the chicken thinks are chicken thoughts.
When they think of the thoughts of the other
all they imagine is hunger.
When they think of the thoughts of human beings
all they imagine is hunger.
Raccoons and chickens are very wise, much wiser
than teachers who make nets
from ideas they’ve stolen from history.
All we eat is grace, and the only way to feel better
about the death of a tomato
is that one day a tomato will feast upon our bones.
For a long time these notions will seem like ideas.
They will be trivia suitable for a game show
or a night in the parlor with your in-laws.
The truth is, it is up to you to love who you are.
When this and all stumbling in the gray forest
become more than ideas, then you are ready.
Knowing the amount of seconds in a lifetime makes little difference to that lifetime. But it does make a difference.
An estimate: if you are thirty years old you have been alive for 946,080,000 seconds. Think about what you’ve done or could have done with each and every one of them as they receded like vespers from your present.
Or, it’s been 15,768,000 minutes, or 262,800 hours, or 10,950 days, and all of these seem like a lot. Or, it has been 30 years, or 3 decades, or 1.5 score, each of these being much more reasonable.
To be modest you could say you’ve been alive 0.3 centuries, or 0.03 millennia.
If we wanted to get truly serious we could say a thirty year old has been alive for anywhere between 0.00012 and 0.000075 percent of the entire time homo sapiens have been on this earth, depending on your preferred estimate, or roughly 0.00001304 percent of the time the homo genus has walked this planet, or 0.0000005 percent of the time primates have been hanging out, or 0.00000015 percent of the time mammals have wandered the forests and plains and elsewheres of the world.
That all makes you seem pretty small right? And we’ve hardly begun.
Funny this individual could be under the impression that he or she can understand earth, seeming as this individual has only been alive for 0.00000000659 percent of the time the earth has been around, and even funnier to assume comprehension of this fine universe, having been here for only 0.00000000205 percent of the temporal experience available since the theoretical big bang.
Even under such dire and indicting circumstances we have a tendency to believe ourselves capable of knowing things.
And that would be rather ridiculous, except for the fact that we have indeed been alive for 9,460,800,000,000,000,000, 000 nanoseconds (that’s nine sextillion, four hundred sixty quintillion, eight hundred quadrillion, to be clear), since one nanosecond is to one second as one second is to 31.7 years.
And 9,460,800,000,000,000,000,000 seems like an awful lot.
In fact, it’s just about exactly how many meters are in 100 light years, and that, of all things, cannot be a coincidence.
All the imagination you’ve exhausted on the thought
that those in heaven are not ghosts
has brought you no closer to understanding.
Ghosts are only here,
on earth, as heaven
is for those who have wandered
around their suffering
and have seen through it, like those who left earth
excommunicated or saved
but blessed either way.
That’s what they say. The earth is for seeds and trees
and Heaven is
for those who believe
I’m leaving, I’m leaving
the freedom that comes from confinement,
and what that means
for the soul—
that thing or no-thing which may or may not
now, or ever.
Soul may be the most damaged word,
to watch the tree bloom
and return to earth…
a sense of humor, the scent of ash
and the sobbing of wolves…
stand on end and seem to gallop in the wind.
They cross the sidewalk, they cross
the long grasses and fallow plains, they fold into the evening
to smell the carbon
from which we all are made.
I’m sorry if my hands are a little cold.
I’m sorry if this is the way of the world.
You have very shiny eyes, it’s true, they are
like two dimes under the sun.
Carbon, we can tell the ages of fossils and moons by it,
and of our hands,
but not of our thoughts.
We did not need water, we did not need water,
we were water, and though
fate is a star you cannot place
on your astronomical charts, it burns brightly, it has lived
billions of years
and has billions left to live. Eventually
you could learn its secrets, which of its chemicals
commingle at the ball
draped in fine fabrics and jewelry and all the propriety
And that learning will, like carbon, like water, become need.
Go on, go on ahead of me, let the sand go on
for miles. It’ll always be a beach, even one grain.
Go on complaining against the automobiles. We are each
taking care of its family. We are asphalt.
In the summer a child will wonder
why our surface appears
watery, though it is not. To think, a miracle in the real world:
the miracle is the time before and after the miracle.
So let’s not worry
that’s a long time from now.
A black fog,
a black fog you run through,
a black fog you run through, and run through,
past the church, past the post office, past convenience store and firehouse, past the cemetery, down the winding road, through the hairpin turn, past the pale trailers whose tire swings cradle boys yet to know girls, past the anonymous houses, brick houses and mobile homes and houses on stilts, until you see the schoolyard, you see the openness that is the way to the big river, you see the steel mill with its blood orange metal, you know you could enter the highway and continue running, past the burnt out hole of the city, past the paper factory now only an idea, removed like ambition save for its single smokestack and the stories about it, and the river, along the river, the original thoughts, from the very beginning, when shouting and listening were different only to those far away—
you can follow the route of all heroes to a new home—
you can smash a spider with a shoe, or make
the tender deadbolt align ecstatically—
you can do this and say there is no need for fear
in the purple of the night, when a man outside, nearby,
cocks a gun.
Nick Courtright is the author of Punchline, a National Poetry Series finalist published in 2012 by Gold Wake Press, and Let There Be Light, which is forthcoming from Gold Wake in early 2014. The poems above are from Let There Be Light. Nick’s work has appeared in The Southern Review, Boston Review, and Kenyon Review Online, among numerous others, and a chapbook, Elegy for the Builder’s Wife, is available from Blue Hour Press. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, Michelle, and son, William.