a literary review
The Man with X-ray Eyes
Albert Brennus Ulrey was the first to describe the X-ray tetra—
a tiny, fish whose bones show
through its diaphanous scales. He saw
a hundred species of tetras swimming the long Amazon.
Some speculate he knew how much voltage was required
to increase the speed of electrons
so he could see internal structures and diagnose medical maladies,
so he could see the innerworkings of the Helix Nebula.
With his extraordinary sight,
he didn’t need the tide to go out to see
who was swimming naked. He didn’t need the Bible’s advice
to turn his eyes from nakedness, or to fish out his eye
if it tempted him to sin—better, scripture says,
to live like a cyclops
than for two eyes to drive him into hell’s fire.
I wonder, dear Albert, how much voltage it would take,
to teach those of us without x-ray sight
to forgive us our own sins,
to reveal, through our armature,
the ponderous beasts swimming like stones in our chests?
There is a barn
in this poem, built by men
a century ago—no one alive
remembers exactly, but someone
cut the oaks and sawed the planks,
nailed tin sheets to shape the roof.
This barn sits by a creek. Some springs,
the creek overflows and the barn floods.
There is a hay loft in this barn
and many poles between the rafters
where tobacco once hung to cure.
Gaps between the boards let fresh air enter.
Below the loft, the barn is divided into stables.
Horse tack still hangs in some of the stalls,
though no one alive remembers those horses.
Out of hard labor, calves have been born here
and died. So, too, womb-locked mothers.
In the last stall, a man I knew
stacked square hay bales as tight as mice,
though the hay was thick with thistles.
The following fall, the cattle were sold,
the pastures left fallow. The man died
and the hay moldered. Did I mention
this barn is painted black? Its roof too.
The man who packed the hay picked the paint,
though there were red barns in his history.
Perhaps the barn’s color doesn’t matter,
except to me because that man was my father.
God alone knows if it makes any difference
the hay was wasted by all but the mice,
always burrowing through the past.
Denton Loving is the author of the poetry collection Crimes Against Birds (Main Street Rag) and editor of Seeking Its Own Level, an anthology of writings about water (MotesBooks). His writing has recently appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review, Gulf Stream Literary Magazine, The Chattahoochee Review and The Threepenny Review. Follow him on twitter @DentonLoving.