Negotiating Eternity

A meeting—a story
that’s happened before, he says,
but no: she insists.

Their language changes almost as they speak it.
Stem cell, telomere: cloudy words
that mean nothing
and everything
at the same time.
A brilliance of lights,
constant motion dizzying
one generation before becoming
the everyday reality of theirs,
matter of fact, self-perpetuating illusion.

It envelopes.
It propels.

The tunnel narrows.
The singularity no longer has a label.
Every fear coalesces into one,
and it’s ancient,
and it’s perfect:
what’s more terrifying than change?
Death itself is only change,
life to non-life, being to non-being.

A glowing field of diodes
will be their fire in the night,
feeding pixel-seared retinas.
She recalls another story.

Two hard lives, and one made together
that could be called happy.
The wife’s tumour is sudden like a car crash.
The husband, himself a doctor, can do without
the drawn-out prognosis, a speech about chance—
chance in a game rigged from the start.
Both knew a bad hand when they saw one
and when cards should be laid out on the table.
In through the door of an old home, they share
a very particular feeling, to see a good thing
and fear its decay—and that aching, grasping
yearning to keep everything as it is.
The look exchanged is of caring, sadness.
Up in his quiet, quiet study is his doctor’s bag, brown leather
frayed at the edges, coarse, worn pockets holding
glass syringes, vials of morphine.
Autumn’s cusp lets them sit outside
to turn cold, white, still as that empty house,
four glassy eyes set
on something off in the distance that couldn’t be seen.

He asks if an ending has to mean defeat,
and had his own memory vivid like film on screen,
though from where, he couldn’t say.

Beneath the round sun, houses
back out onto dusty long grass
teased by the midday breeze.
A man watches idly as he passes by a girl
digging in the soil, only noticing
the ground begin to give way as she starts to slip
down the emerging hole—like Alice,
he thinks—before pulling her up.
A crowd gathers nervously,
wordlessly. The sun hanging overhead
won’t pierce the misty paleness
the hole looks down into.
Each person there remembers in their own way
that sense of some great dark space
and how so close beneath it seemed to lurk.

A living moment is sufficiently strange,
for some not enough,
for others plenty—or far, far too much.
Eternity would be the ultimate promise.
Perhaps he and she need time to adapt,
but time is just the problem.

From the ledge they perch on together
the city before them takes no shape,
expanding of its own accord.
The vastness that bore them becomes their suffering.
This story plays out in any number of ways
but its ending remains the same.

No diversion resolves such a negotiation.
This battle accepts surrender, but what escapes
understanding could be so kind.
No wrong answer in what follows, no outcome but the fall,
only in countless variations. What’s left is the way there,
to move or be moved, a meeting—
a story that’s happened before.