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Three Poems

THE KITE C. 1755

 

One doctor of lightning, floating

on his back down a river

held his kite high,

a sail in the sky of silk

(B. Franklin once

let a kite tow him across a sizeable lake.)

Sail of wind and

rain in diamond-shape

at the end of which a child

was, too, a kind of lightning

sitting on the sill of a window or

standing just inside a door

will emit

a luminous liquid, slightly

viscous, which flashed an instant

above the gathered crowd

honing down into a long string

that held a single hand well in place

forcing the connected person

to quickly learn the rigour

that rules over such childish things

once mixed with copper,

oiled paper, and an impending storm.

 

 

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

 

used books, people, wires, and wax – it was really quite simple –

 

Franklin wandering lost

between it all

could nonetheless

feel the tiniest sparkling parts

alive inside the glass,

 

and of something given off deep within

that somehow

let Isaac Newton live. Yet

Franklin never quite met him

and was left to make

a meticulous record of the weather,

the water, and the stars in the skies ajar

from the deck of the ship

heading home again, c. 1725.

It was he who first asserted

that all electricity is a single thing

and who solved the mystery

of the Leyden jar.

 

So, back to the books, the corks, and the wax,

while the fresh water from a tea kettle came as a shock

or maybe as a memory –

a librarian in Latin opening

the windows during thunderstorms so that all

could read by the lightning.

 

 

THE ELECTRIC FORTUNE-TELLER

 

made and marketed by Georg Heinrich Seiferheld, 1757-1818,

was just one

among a series of ghostly devices

made of lights, buttons,

boxes, and small Leyden jars

all hidden in a miniature temple

made of shook-foil shaken

and in the hand, a book

on which was written in sparks:

“This darkness is permissible”

So, off went all the children –

comprising whole arsenals holding hands in circuits.

And though these devices

were usually referred to as toys, there are within

the unseen forces

gaseous mixtures that used to be boys.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

is an American poet, translator, editor, copywriter, and professor. Swensen was awarded a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship and is the author of more than ten poetry collections and as many translations of works from the French.

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