Horatio Scott Carslaw: An early twentieth century
mathematician who worked on divergent series,
series of numbers that cannot be summed,
or that do not add up.
—Dictionary of Science and Scientists
This could be a poem about Carroll, the sweet
vacant boy from my school. His father had a dairy until
his brother fell from a milk truck’s open seat,
delivered to eternity, making Carroll more fragile
and precious in his milky skin. One saw too the love
of fathers could be a dangerous thing.
Like Mirror Lake where I grew up skating under pines
and ghosts of south-bound ducks. Or, above, the spire
of the church we climbed, lured by its converging lines
that got mixed with the trees and the skaters’ campfire
in the ungiving lake, deaf to the warnings of fathers
who thought of milk trucks, dire consequences, and loss.
I’ve heard of a town that found a new name on television:
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The truth is they wish
to live forever. They want fame, a worthy modern mission.
The consequence is they are famous, but also maybe foolish,
as I am lying here next to my lover, a cat buttoned between
themselves, each night put their lives in order, for display.
The cat uncoils and rolls on his back — an Odalisque.
A mountain also rumbles at the edges of our city.
My mind drifts to cats and volcanoes, those grotesques
with which we live. All night, my dreams break on unkempt
shores where sand crabs flip like bits of debris. Or
I spend the night in a repair shop where nothing seems
to get fixed: no light bulbs, homes, forms in triplicate.
I’m afraid another world falls away during such dreams
of trivia, a world of burning bushes unrelated to domestic
chores or fire regulations. It’s full of voices I can almost
taste. Which shows the difference between the seductions
of need and the consummations of sense—prosaic, hard won,
common as rock crystal. For instance, a young man surrounded
by loving aunts in the airport pretends to shoot down planes, for fun.
His body is twenty; his mind faltered somewhere and got grounded.
Aristotle says to live a good life a person must think. I think
the young man’s life’s not bad. We all live in a diminished world.
As planes bite the dust, the young man’s cheers fill the empty
air. I try hard not to imagine disaster. I am fond
of my life, though more and more I hear a quiet yes when I
think of not living forever. From Minnesota, and blond,
the pilot arrives early. We all sprint for the exit together.
Back home, flocks of birds sit in the maple tree. The cat crouches
below. The birds chorus: milk and honey, milk and honey. The cat
replies: milk trucks, laundry lists, truth and consequences.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher from Carslaw’s Sequences
by Lisa M. Steinman (University of Tampa Press, 2003).