All the Time in the World
All the time in the world is a phrase that makes no sense. Like
all the ocean in water. Or, all the perpetual motion machines
in clouds. Like asking: Which do you envy, maple leaves caught red-
handed letting go, or antlers unlatched from the skittish heads that sprouted them?
To you who shake your head, saying, You’ve got it backward: there is no
backward. All of us crowded here in history’s sideshow tent are under
the same bald bulb the Germans call glühbirne, glow pear. All of us
are staring at the same barbed clock hands, hinged on the same fixed center,
spinning 360 degrees, in endless demonstration that pointing everywhere
is the same as pointing nowhere. A glow pear is a bottle of light,
while anything in a bottle is time—ball bearings, bittern feathers, quicksand.
Apocrypha: the same assistant who dropped Edison’s prototypical bulb was handed
its replacement in a show of forgiveness and second chances. But it’s the ground
glass underfoot, swept up and funneled into a bottle, we recognize
as time—the scaffolding over the shattering, calendar’s graph paper overlay
on chaos, Chekhov reading train timetables as he lay dying.
And it’s distance, not time, that’s measured in light-
years. Which is odd because at no time does time feel more like distance
than in that spooky lightless hour between night and dawn the Swedish call
vargtimmen, wolf hour—when wolves chase the moon across the sky
until halflight, when the half-life of your fears is the time it takes to reach up
and turn on the nearest glow pear, a distance that in daylight is a mere arm’s length,
but in the darkness if you reach half that distance, then half again, then again
another half, over and over, you’ll never touch that light bulb. Not even if you have
all the time in the world.
For the Time Being
For the time being is a phrase that makes no sense. Like
for all the sky scheming. Or, for all of gravity greening. Like
saying: On the back of rain, rivers ride. A physicist explained,
The difference between past and future exists
only where there is heat. The time being being, then, a shrug
of bridge over a burning canyon. Being being a finger pressed
on a violin string humming. Tremolo. Time being in the middle
of the word sentimental is just happenstance. Or, is it the parallax
of past and present? Consider the geometry of echoes, time travel
for the ear. If you clap in front of paintings of horses
in the caves at Font-de-Gaume or at Lascaux, the echoes sound
like hoofbeats. But applause for an ancient cave rendering of cats
earns no reverberation—there, the friction between fingers meets
with nothing but time. So, is time a by-product of the friction factory,
or is it center ring in the friction freak show? The difference stays hidden
in the rhythm of algorithm, like an echo of Chekhov: The past…
is linked with the present by an unbroken chain of events flowing
one out of another. And it seemed to him…that when he touched one end
the other quivered. Tremolo. A shiver, a shudder—someone walks
over your grave, and the future’s a mirage in the now, or vice versa.
In the mélange of vibration and heat we call time being, the remedy
for wounds torn by the fish hook of physics is wishing. On a star,
on a bone, on a dandelion’s fluff, the wishy-washy stuff of wishing
may not offer much succor, but it’s all the antidote we’ve got
for the time being.
Note: Physicist Carlo Rovelli, when interviewed by Krista Tippett, on “On Being with Krista Tippett” podcast, aired on 4/27/18, produced the quote above. He also said, “The direction of time has to do with the presence of heat,” another beautiful way of saying the same thing, a bonus you get for reading this note. The Chekhov quote comes from his short story “The Student,” said to have been his favorite piece from among all his own works.
Jessica Goodfellow's books are Whiteout (University of Alaska Press, 2017), Mendeleev’s Mandala (2015) and The Insomniac’s Weather Report (2014). Her work has appeared in Verse Daily, Motionpoems, and The Writer’s Almanac. She was awarded the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from the Beloit Poetry Journal, and has been a writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. Recently her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Threepenny Review, The Awl, The Southern Review, and Best American Poetry 2018. Jessica lives in Japan.