Laws of the Universe

By Albert Goldbarth b. 1948 Albert Goldbarth
The renewal project is doomed: because
its funding board’s vice-president resigned: because   
the acids of divorce were eating day-long   
at her stomach, at her thoughts: because
her husband was neglecting her, in favor of his daughter,
who was dying: because her husband,
bi and edgy, bore an AIDS sore that was ripe   
enough with fear and woe to throw this whole   
thick network of connections off its balance
and down a hole of human misery. Haven’t we seen it happen?   
—when a crowded room at a party was tilted   
perilously askew by the weight of two   
wept tears that weren’t as large as a housefly’s wings,   
that couldn’t have filled a pistachio shell.


It’s like this: because because because,
Sawyer was drunk when he delivered his opening remarks   
onstage at Stardome Planetarium. He
stood below a slide show of “The Emptiness of Outer Space”   
—stars and planets, scattered like the scantest
motes of dust in unimaginable void—and was about   
to make the leap to what percent of us,
our dearly thumping bodies, is a corresponding emptiness . . .   
when one foot met a wire that had strayed
outside the curtain, and a wild arc of hand undid
the podium, which canted off its casters sidelong
into the 3-D galaxy props, and you could say whatever   
thimble or pustule or hackle of grief was his,
it had toppled the whole damn universe.


Was she a ghost? Sometimes she thought she was
a ghost, transparent, stealing through the lives of people   
untouched and untouching. And so she carried a bucket   
of burning coals (we’ll call it that for now) against   
her breasts; and then she knew she was alive. And   
he. . . ?—was just the rusty foxing that an antique book   
exhales into dim air, wasn’t that what he was,   
oh it was, yes it was, and so one afternoon he strapped   
a meteorite to his back, and now he walks the streets   
like anybody else. An ageless tribal saying:   
If you aren’t given a burden, you must carve own.   
An eye will do, if it’s ill. One word, if it’s cruel.   
And don’t be fooled by breath: the throat holds up   
some old-time blues the way a hod holds bricks.


But she didn’t die of full-blown AIDS
—Sawyer’s daughter. Even so, her twisted legs and limp   
are enough to sometimes send him a little
over the blotto line. Tonight, though, after show time,   
he’s just soused enough to wander through the mock-up   
stage-set milky ways agog with child-wonder:
all those luminescent islands! all that vacuum!
Look: a planet floats, there’s that much cosmos   
all around it. A planet! While we . . . we couldn’t   
squint and levitate a half inch, not the guru-most
among us. Well, we could: if the laws of the universe changed.   
It’s only the Earth that makes us so heavy.
It’s only our lives that keep our lives
from floating off into the nothing.

Albert Goldbarth, “Laws of the Universe” from Combinations of the Universe. Copyright © 2003 by Albert Goldbarth. Reprinted with the permission of The Ohio State University Press,

Source: Combinations of the Universe (Ohio University Press, 2003)

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Poet Albert Goldbarth b. 1948

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Relationships, Nature, Stars, Planets, Heavens

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Albert  Goldbarth


Acclaimed for its dense, expansive form and linguistic energy, Albert Goldbarth’s poetry covers everything from historical and scientific concerns to private and ordinary matters. His numerous, highly-regarded collections are often filled with long poems which range in style from playful and conversational to serious and philosophical. Goldbarth’s unique style is a mix of complex ideas and detailed descriptions woven together . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Nature, Stars, Planets, Heavens

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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