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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

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Shake

A shiver is a rip in time. He puts his ear to the ground where the deep magma sings. History is a version of the future, a sweep of pterodactyl wings in rising light… The pavement quivers like jelly but doesn’t split as the hot steam

vents… The future is underground: the city beneath the city. It has to be endured while the crippled buildings sway, molded when still hot, sculpted in the thrill of the wind… She watches from a distance, waiting for the ink to dry,

hand raised high in the air as if trying to escape the pull of the page… She wants a new sheet clear as an alien sky, blue-white and tight right to the edges. And Boom! It was like someone had dropped a piano on the floor above me—

more a thud than a shake—except I lived on the top floor, no one above. Then a groan as though something trapped below wanted to get out/get in… The house shivered and shook. If I say “open” is hot lava my evil twin?

With his night-vision goggles—green eyes—he looks for every crack in time, every seam about to slip, every hollow and hole—to let the old city roar in and wake the sleeping walking un-looking pixel-bound dead…

Where is the sky now? Does it pulse like an organism, does it breathe in silver waves and tremble like morning dew? The sky beneath the sky! And you with your long hair like strands of fire—I think we burned up that bed—

I think we live in those flames, still burn—I think our kisses are comets in the shivering sky… And in the hot silence of the blank streets he walks as if in a trance, with time stretched and stacked like plates, and my mother’s eyes

squinting to keep the plates conflated—invisible gravity—while the temblors rock his footsteps and the wooden houses squeal in their beautiful joints and the violins of the tall cedars wail their ache and awe… up the steep hill

behind his house where the downtown towers seem already pitched forward, ready to fall, and the far-out Pacific racing in—green eyes of the deep water where the bones of the buildings lay… the city quivers… now, but before

the great shiver… He buries his face in his cupped hands as if submerged in deep water, holding his breath to stop time and lock in the memories—her raised arm aching but desperate to live the pause, to hold back the footnotes

on tent cities, tossed syringes, immune deficiencies—and release the city from its litany of litanies… He spins in place to keep his balance and ride out the shake—history is a whirlpool from which only the spinners wake—

in common purpose out of a hole in the sea—I remember—hot lava made me . . . What did they see? What did they know? How did they work? How did they work together? Who did they want to be? Who did they become?

How many had green eyes? How many loved history? Whose mother’s heart blew apart its sutures in a last attempt to keep the ways in play…? Once I fell to the floor in my little house in a skylight beam of almost solid sun

and lay my cheek on the bamboo planks in a pose of surrender and a shiver of thanks… Once we climbed the distant mountain in the eastern county after big rain with the thick mud congealing around our shoes like bear traps,

locking our steps… Still we trudged on, mud-bound, not for the summit per se but just to see from the top the city across the bay shining in its sheath of western light, with the glamorous fog like a sequined cape on its shoulders


From “Shiver” in The Blue Absolute (Nightboat, 2020), reprinted with permission.

Contributor

Aaron Shurin

Aaron Shurin is Professor Emeritus in the University of San Francisco’s MFA Writing Program, and the author of 14 books of poetry and prose.

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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

All Issues