A Secretary of the Invisible Thing
Lance Larsen | Poetry
This the exact phrase Milosz uses to describe
himself and other poets, not one
who dictates but one who takes dictation,
who eavesdrops on seraphs or crooked
weather or the Zeitgeist and holds it
inside for later. If you dance with
the invisible thing, some call it the Tarantella.
If you rub the bumps of the invisible thing
found on someone’s head, phrenology.
Some go bowling on Taco Tuesday
to knock down invisible things everywhere,
pins glowing green like squirrels after Chernobyl.
In fifth grade I received a chain letter.
If I broke it, the invisible thing threatened
to hurt my family, especially my little sister,
but if I did as instructed, I would receive
77 postcards from Tahiti. My sister
caught the mumps, and I’m still waiting
for a flood of hula girls and exotic stamps.
Was I deceived by the invisible thing?
Maybe, but when the invisible thing gets loose,
anything can happen, maybe group meditation
in an aspen grove at Burning Man,
maybe a restraining order in a trailer park
on the edge of Fresno. I knew a busboy
who ate cold fries off a girl’s plate to get close
to her spit. I knew a woman who left open
bibles around her bed to scare off ghosts.
Both of them, I swear, were secretaries
in training. Once in the Rothko Chapel,
I dozed off, waking not to black panels
but the invisible thing inside me: a kaleidoscopic
pulsing that won’t stop, not even when
my body stops. I’m haunted by so many
things. By bossa nova and black holes,
by the older brother my mother miscarried,
by ragged beauty everywhere. By my daughter’s
toddler, Jojo, in my kitchen sink waving
goodbye to draining bathwater, whirlpool
as elegy. But how to define the invisible
thing¾a magnetic north we’re hardwired
to follow, a vector, a voice without a mouth?
William Blake used to wander his garden
naked. The question isn’t, Did Blake really see
angels in his apple tree? but Why can’t we?
My face is flushed, I’m a house on fire,
a burning no thermometer can read.
Whatever you are, whoever I’m taking
dictation from, hurry up and put me out.
Lance Larsen’s most recent poetry collection is What the Body Knows (Tampa 2018). His poems have appeared in Southern Review, APR, River Styx, Ploughshares, Poetry, New York Review of Books, Best American Poetry 2009, and elsewhere. His awards include a Pushcart Prize and an NEA fellowship. He teaches at BYU and fools around with aphorisms: “Gesundheit!-as close as I’ve come to Nietzsche and Heidegger in months.” In 2017 he completed a five-year appointment as Utah’s poet laureate.