Thermodynamics/Sumer


Heave-and-buckle, the furnace warbles its heat up
out the naked living-room window. The new house
shrinks and its occupants shiver; we need drapes.
Not now, this isn't time for anything
thinking accomplishes. You say you saw your sister
leave her grave that way–a wavery and elemental rising

up the dug shaft, and then skyward, as if heaven
and our long approach were a matter of schoolbook
thermodynamics. Maybe. What I know is, your face,
pale at the graveside, turned to clear glass you
half left through–following her out of love,
I imagine–and all week you haven't completely

returned. In this–in death, that is–as in so much
of life, the ancient peoples did it to a literal completion
our subconscious dramas symbolize. Beneath two quilts
and a blanket, I'm reading about the Sumerian
burial pits that Woolley discovered: always,
the royal personage in a stone room, then

the sloping ramp leading down to it, filled
with the bodies of men of the royal guard
and ladies-in-waiting–sixty-seven, in one case–each
with the small metal cup for the poison alongside,
all of them having ritually lain themselves in ordered rows
while the harpist provided theophany music

until her nimble fingers also woozied, cooled, and fell.
It's something I would share with you tonight but you're
all shell; and if part of you isn't, it's somewhere
beyond our describable planet of physical objects
and simple needs. For the length of the stay, for some while at least,
I'll be losing your warmth to that other world.


Albert Goldbarth, The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems 1972-2007, Graywolf Press, 2007.