Shann Ray

atomic theory 5—poems to my wife and God

in late light
it’s not hard to see you
moving the bodies of the sky
or walking in plain clothing to where we sleep

you kiss our eyelids
and the skin below our wrists
where the gashes are for out of the deep well we call unto you
so many of us the rope at our neck the knife
the gun pressed to our temple where stars approximate blackbody radiance
the heat of the blackbody increasing the sum of light emitted per second
she and I have loved this heat these stars and through them you are sent forth
to everyone o give us the will (i saw a blue heron standing in the shallows of pine creek)
to die for friends and strangers for enemies
because of you

                                        –for Nâzım Hikmet

we don’t need to act like we don’t see you
we see
the light in her hair the sky so lovely in autumn

an oblong bruise the century just began and with it more killings and greater
tenderness these two divides showing the medallion flare
of aspen leaves the coat we wear in the new fall not unlike the old silence
dread and awe of negative theology of the humiliated Christ
infinitely more than the material positivism so fatal to science

like science when calcified all fixed system theologies are too ugly
too certain and counter to God beauty and the wind
the sickle is the sower when critical mass and chain reaction have
resulted in a fireball five miles in diameter over russia
the first thermonuclear pulse loosens the joints the second
obliterates all thereby vaporizing matter the city the body

                                        -for Tomáš Halík

she and i are too intimate
and not intimate enough
we think of this too as a bruise
the way a blow by rod or stick produces two parallel linear hemorrhages
and the verdict: God said light has come into the world
but men loved darkness more than light because their deeds were evil

the intimacy of wickedness
is not intimacy but abandonment
enlarged and irregular

and still we think of this as an eagle thinks of her wings
over the great divide her delight in the long flight

the body is meant for great things her eyes to the horizon
where sun breaks the world and warms her back
turning her flight feathers gold


my wife whispers to me just before sleep
saying holiness is her son the one we
miscarried the two
we miscarried and i don’t disagree

holiness is her daughter
too i believe our daughters are holy
thank you for speaking
to me directly through them

i still hear your voice on their lips o God
saying I love you saying
the most sublime things are often the least comprehended
just as music makes the broken whole
your hands are their hands unafraid to
touch my face when i’m old

                                        -for John Rutter

sorrow of the great sorrow
by the acts of colonialism and imperialism
we put the category of human under the severest pressure
and below the great sorrow
we encounter despair and further below gladness

if you comprehend God it’s not God she says
with augustine o God help her and me
see through your eyes you are often drawing us
close saying something quietly
profound the blessed uncertainty being we don’t know what being means

we hear you saying to us you are meant to bear
each other’s sorrow the beloved community even caught in the curved jaws
and steel foot plate of the human trap your love is like sunlight over the earth marked by men
like sunlight bears life o bear us darkly on

                                        -for Fred Moten

wing me to where
you want me
I was born in the city of industry
but my window looked out on
four mountain ranges

mornings women and men walked the earth
oil and dust on their feet
and men gave women a lock of their hair and women gave men
the sun seven times brighter

i was raised on scientific understanding but found a light in her
like the light of seven days and found science one with you God
for when you bind the bruises of all people and heal our wounds
the dust is not dust o how the eyes conduct light from us to others
our bodies made of dawn but sightless and at last when we go to bed
she and i sleep peacefully and hold hands like young lovers before we die


two things dostoyevski’s said:
beauty will save the world
and nothing is more beautiful than Christ

tell us of your stark trees Christ
standing cold with their limbs to the sky

place our hands into the coarse black coat of winter wolves

we cannot un-name you God
what does Christ even mean
she and i cannot un-remember you

tell me of your sky a red field behind the trees
and how you drink water through rock

Lord of wonder Lord of night
where dark smudges the world rim
blast us with wind and light


o make us
aware of our infinite
and atomic obligation
to each other she and i face to face with you
remind us to kiss you with the kisses of our mouth
she asks me to be more devoted to her than to myself
more devoted to us than to her and more devoted to you than us

police shootings chokings deaths from a white on high
make me aware of the worlds circling
the blood of the sow who has eaten her young and the cities we live in
american male white male dark white break us God kiss us until we breathe
with atomic breath the substantial air of atonement
our beautiful lips not ours but yours their beautiful face your face

                                        -for Carolyn Forché, Emmanuel Levinas, and Martin Buber

we too like schwarzchild’s dark stars frozen celestial ravenous
body marks from straps belts chairs chains
make a darker imprint blows from whips
are elongated o help us know
each of us being the vault of the Divine
we are often unlucky disenfranchised
struggling to pay the bills make the rent hold on
to a job we detest
our hold slipping from our fingers as we frantically move our feet
to keep from drowning o help us know this is not uncommon
but simply what it means when we bombard the nucleus
of the adam for two to become one
solace safe haven harbor the eve
the evening star good hesperus and the applewine of your kiss


she and i walked with you God and into your kitchen
it was not a gleaming tower but a place warm with laughter
and delicious food

energy is the body times the velocity of light squared
for subatomic theory
is resurrection theory

we didn’t circle high and far from you God
because you were not far
you were near and we heard you singing
and touched the fine wrinkles
around your eyes smiling
as you spoke thoughtfully to us saying
we are the wildest storms and the songs you sing

the firethorn the falcon o God flourish on the mountain

                                        -for Toni Morrison

as a boy our hunting dog ran through the woods to lay at our feet
tiny spears the color of wild things had pierced the wall of her cheek
she whimpered as my father plied the porcupine quills from her mouth

we are a landscape
on the back of our hands a flock of starlings
a dark light rising from a small tree light is energy sent through time and space
at a velocity of 1080 million km (671 million miles) an hour

light circles the earth seven times in one second
travels from the sun to our skin in eight minutes
crosses the milky way in 100,000 years
emanates from the andromeda galaxy to us
in 2.5 million years and from us
to the edge of the observable universe in 46.5 billion years

the universe is still expanding and we are minute solitaries but in love



Shann Ray's work has appeared in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Northwest Review, Esquire, Narrative, Poetry International, McSweeney’s, and Salon.  He has served as a National Endowment for the Arts literature fellow and won an American Book Award. Shann is the author of American Masculine (Graywolf), Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity (Rowman & Littlefield), American Copper (Unbridled), Balefire (Lost Horse), and the forthcoming Dark Horse Bright Field (Lost Horse). Because of his wife and three daughters he believes in love.