Monday, June 18, 2012

#38: Three Poems by Kim Roberts


~This poem previously appeared in Gargoyle (2011)

NOT-SO-SUPER HEROES
for Michael Gushue

Edema Man can make others swell at will
so their rings no longer fit.
Dustball Man distracts foes
with repetitive domestic chores.
Each Spring thaw, Ice Damage Man
reveals new potholes along your daily commute.
Papercut Man leaves his enemies with cruel,
nearly invisible hand wounds.
Digital Signal Man can jam
all high-speed internet connections.
Existential Man paralyzes enemies
with a desire to read Heidegger.


*****

~This poem previously appeared in (Re)Verb (2006)


RADIOLARIA

Ernst Haeckel, I can picture you
leaning over your microscope,
left eye closed, the right
open to one-celled worlds
where the quick and the still
yield their secrets.

The miraculous ocean
has entered the scope,
surged through your soul
and is now radiating out
the tips of your fingers,
which grasp a pencil

as you try to capture nature’s
art, your Kunstformen.
The marine protozoa
called radiolaria convinced you
Darwin was right,
and your drawings persuaded

all of Europe. 
There you are leaning late
with your amazing radiolaria
shaped like snowflakes and spiked crowns,
chandeliers and lobed planets.
This one branches like a crystal.

This one is a net of round holes
so dense it is as much absence
as physical shape.  Note the symmetry
of the outstretched arms.
Miniature sunflower, butterfly,
apron, grid, I cannot

get enough of them.  Look
at this elaborate helmet
with its quills and its spire.
Ernst Haeckel,
you turned out to be
a racist, an anti-Semite,

to believe in eugenics;
you created your own religion,
the Monist League,
and proclaimed a “crystal soul.”
With all your rigor and your beauty,
your fine precision—I see you,

drawing that surprising jewel box
whose inner sanctum,
held in perfect equipoise
by its myriad winding tendrils,
contains nothing but darkness
and the infinite realms of cruelty.


*****

~This poem previously appeared in Barrelhouse (2011)


NIKOLA TESLA

Memorized entire books as a teenager in Serbia.
Arrived in the US with a letter of introduction to Edison,
dug ditches until he could open his own lab.

Developed the first motor for alternating current,
and lit the World's Fair in Chicago.
Believed chastity helped build a scientific mind.

Held the first radio patent and made early discoveries
in robotics.  Heard radio chatter
from Venus and Mars. Fluent in eight languages.

Ate only boiled vegetables
whose cubic footage he could estimate
at a glance.  Hated fat people.

Needed three napkins when eating;
walked around buildings three times before entering;
stayed in hotel rooms with numbers

divisible by three. Built a "death ray"
no government would buy.
Physically revolted by jewelry, especially pearl earrings.

Afraid to touch anything round.
Afraid to touch human hair other than his own.
Afraid of squares of paper dropped into bowls of water.

Harnessed Niagara Falls for electrical power.
Adored pigeons and nursed injured ones
in his hotel room.

Lived his last ten years in Room 3327
of the Hotel New Yorker. 
Died in debt.


*****

THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS

I guess what these three poems have in common (other than the fact that they came from me) is that they all started from a moment of surprise.  I love being surprised.

Two of these poems, “Radiolaria” and “Nikola Tesla,” are part of a new(ish) series of poems I’ve been working on that address the fascinating lives of scientists.  I’ve always been interested in the stories behind science—not in actual science, mind you, which I’m no good at, and have always had trouble understanding fully, and usually involves some kind of (gulp) advanced math—but in the narratives behind the science.  Some of these stories are supremely weird. 

“Not-So-Super Heroes” was inspired by something my friend Michael Gushue told me.  One of his daughters was learning about the concept of anti-heroes in a literature class.  The conversation went from there.

*****

ABOUT KIM ROBERTS

Kim Roberts is the author of five books, most recently Animal Magnetism, winner of the Pearl Poetry Prize (Pearl Editions, 2011), and the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC (Plan B Press, 2010).  She edits the journal Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and co-edits the web exhibit DC Writers' Homes with Dan Vera.  Her poems have appeared in journals beginning with every letter of the alphabet, and located in 47 of the 50 states.  For more information: www.kimroberts.org

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