Why I'm in Awe of the Spiral

When, in the science museum, I arrive at the overview
of our galaxy, with its tiny arrow pointing to You are here
(which really ought to be We are here), and see
that the two to four hundred billion stars of our local cluster
are drifting or chasing or dreaming after each other
in circles within milky circles, I can’t help but think
 
of those ancient paintings and rock engravings,
discovered all over our celestial body,
of that one line which begins at whatever point
it can, then curls outward, or inward, toward nothing
anyone can define—the oldest shape revered
by Aborigine and Celt, by mathematician
 
and engineer and Burning Man reveler alike,
and even accorded a place of honor among the mess
of thoughts on my desk, as a nifty paper clip of copper.
But it’s already there in the florets of the sunflower
crisscrossing with the precision of a logarithm,
and in the pin-wheel shape of the Nautilus shell,
 
and in the coiling neurons of the cochlea
that let us tell Art Tatum from a three year old’s improvisation.
Call it what you will—“God's fingerprint,” “the soul
unfolding through time,” “the passageway into the Self”—
I can’t help but admire, even fear, something as mundane
as a flush of the toilet, when its swirling is a variation
 
on our sidereal drift, our existential pain.
And then there’s that famous falcon, “turning and turning
in a widening gyre,” a portentous symbol of our own
circling into some dread, some pernicious chaos
we thought we had just escaped, one town burning
a decade behind us, a millennium before that,
 
and into next week, next year, next whenever.
And when the two of us took that winding road
an infinity of others had wound down before us
and would wind down again, our spirits hushed
by the crosses and bouquets at each dead man’s curve
and just burning in the dry heat to touch each other,
 
wasn’t that a wondrous and terrible turning?

Thomas Centolella, "Why I’m in Awe of the Spiral" from Almost Human.  Copyright © 2017 by Thomas Centolella.  Reprinted by permission of Tupelo Press.
Source: Almost Human (Tupelo Press, 2017)
More Poems by Thomas Centolella