Leslie Ullman

Issue #
September 6, 2013

Against Diffuse Awareness

Do not speculate on the destination of
the plastic bag blowing across the parking lot
or how the queen-sized mattress ended up on the freeway.

Do not let your mind stray, midway
between freezer and microwave, to
contemplate how every gadget in your
kitchen, every digital number
and bleep, has been extracted from rock
or water. Vanished fire. Wind.

Do not dwell on random motion, wave-particle
duality, thermodynamics, or any other
commotion going on in the air you breathe,
the water that runs over your hands,
transformations ubiquitous and fleeting as the glint
of a shod hoof disappearing in the sun.

Do not stare into vacant lots in the middle of cities
like Chicago, with their bald spots and empty cartons
and weeds gone out of control, each detail
a whole genealogy of neglect—or try to
imagine the vast roots that once reigned there
as branches held their poise, like the arms
of flamenco dancers, in hard rain.

Do not pause at the sound of someone
weeping quietly—say, behind a newspaper
on the train, in a phone booth or a restroom stall—
as each exhalation, having gathered itself
from a rare moment of communion
with the soul (which for that moment is not
an abstraction) suspends itself.

Forget this story—just one of many that crowd
the dumping grounds of what you insist
you don’t have time for—about a peasant
who helped build the great cathedral at Chartres,
who sluiced dirt from his tired body one evening
and stood before his hut, letting his mind
roam with the crickets and sheep. As the stars
faded, his thoughts lifted him
from himself and set him down
as rough quarried stone, as gold
in the priest’s coffers, as prayer on the lips
of a new widow, as the play of light beyond
a tunnel etched behind the eyes of his newborn son
who in his own lifetime would not see the cathedral finished.

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