By John Philip Johnson
My friend is telling me a story.
As he talks, I’m thinking about string theory.
I have gone over to his desk.
He wants to loan me a movie, an old VHS.
He is telling me a different story.
He is telling me now the story behind the story.
We’re with a correspondent in World War II.
We’re in the Vatican archives.
The court of Tiberius, who has just died.
As he talks I’m thinking about the story
of a life being pulled across the moment now.
There is one word, one sound,
of, he says, or said, or is saying,
I’m looking at his fleshy lips say of,
nothing else is moving,
but he has already said of course,
already gone on and is saying something else;
and I suddenly see this instant we live in
as the curl of time scraping across his lips,
the fourth dimension bent over us like an edge
moving through the house of three dimensions.
If I try to hold on to one word, one moment,
it splinters into shards
and what is real makes no sense.
I could have said the meat of three dimensions,
I did before. Here, or later, I’m thinking
about aboriginals drawing curlicues in sand.
I’m thinking about the white clouds
of what could have been, farther away, much softer
and more intricate than the thing touching his lips.
I am thinking of Francis of Assisi, bi-locating because
he believed so much. I’m thinking our understanding
is drawn down to a single point of indeterminate size,
condensed and then uttered as a short word,
and then we are washed over the falls.
No one, my friend is saying, about a document
that may or may not have existed,
no one really knows for sure, but,
he says, and of course he says again
and he has gone on and is saying something else now
and I’m thinking how things are stretched out
as far as the east is from the west,
how what he has said or might have said
or said in some other way or couldn’t say
is clustered around him, intersecting discretely on his lips,
six or seven dimensions kissing him –
I’m thinking how all the dimensions and worlds
are clustered here, from their myriad beginnings
banging to their various apocalypses, present,
including the ones that are nothing but bulk
or the ones that are dream chambers or the ones
that are like the spider plant on his desk,
how they become a single thought of indeterminate size
which we don’t have a word for but is the husk
for all these things; I’m thinking how my friend and I
are like musical strings, vibrating in this fascinating place,
how we are like everything else, how it is all
like a single word, poised half-said, a word resting,
a word identical to its self-pronouncing lips,
and I’m thinking of the worlds and the possible worlds,
more worlds still, including the ill-conceived ones,
including the ones that are nothing but bulk,
including the ones that are dream chambers,
that render all the other worlds into dreaming,
dreams drawn to the utmost point of indeterminate size,
and I’m thinking the thought of myriad beginnings
banging into various apocalypses and changes of heart,
like the words inflating from my friend’s mouth,
being said and then disappearing; and I’m thinking
of the myriad worlds that stretch from other worlds,
the possible worlds and the ill-conceived ones, including the ones
that are only the slightest of rims around nothing,
and I’m thinking of how my friend and I are like musical strings,
vibrating in this fascinating and seemingly endless symphony,
I’m thinking how we are like everything else, how it is all drawn
to a single point, a word, resting, half-said, like the word of,
poised on self-pronouncing lips, poised in the half-listening
dream chambers, the ones that render all the other worlds
into dreams, dreaming drawn down to the utmost point,
rendered like music, like the vibrations of a single word.