I’m buttoned up in midnight’s jacket, star-glow
pinpricking the pitch black. Foam ribbons along the water’s edge.
Warped pilings splinter lightning rods. Walking into the ocean,
wavechurn belting my waist, I squint into the six inches
I can see around me and watch the chalky smudge
of the Milky Way loose itself against the flash of a coming storm
tucked up against the horizon. The sea flickers its offering back,
and a smack of jellyfish rises to the surface. A yawn of tentacles.
Umbrellas with no wires. Suddenly plugged-in, the soft bells twinkle on,
a riddle of light doubling as the sky’s reflection—bioluminescence.
And as I see them glimmer on like bulbs in streetlight globes,
it’s with the same awe as when Nikola Tesla stared at lampposts
erected like bookends on every New York City block
and watched Edison’s filaments ignite with his alternating current.
Eighty-six and skeletal, still a fine figure in a three-piece pinstripe,
he picked wads of bread crusts out of his pockets,
walked up 35th to 5th Avenue. He sowed dinner crumbs by the curbside
for pigeons. The neat split of his hair down the middle. His ears
perked to neon’s buzz and traffic din; energy chugging
through the city’s veins set him in a trance. The whole earth
struck him like a tuning fork. In that sounding tone, Tesla remembered
how electricity’s pulse felt coursing through his body:
the itch under his skin as he allowed jolting limbs from his coil
to crackle and hum for miles and kindle the flickering tongue
inside of him. The wound copper and pipe—a mushroom cap of metal
pinned over a stem of cords. On the opposite side
of his study, the distant thunder of his sparking machine lit beacons
in his hand, unattached to any gadget. Lifted power from the open air.
Swooping into room 3327 from the nest of leaves and twine
on the window ledge, Tesla’s pigeon—the one he said he loved
as a man loves a woman—perched at his feet. Gray wingtips.
Fluorescent white. He believed it spoke through its eyes, beams of light,
powerful, dazzling, greater than any lamp in his laboratory.
He stared into the burning ink-drop pupils and dreamed a whole flock
followed in and speckled his suite white, a glinting chorus. Their bulbs
like the stars, like the jellyfish circling around me, the lightning blazing
a midpoint in the stretching dark. All of the other details blur together:
constellations curving overhead and rolling out in front,
the gleaming blooms beneath, and the stars’ watery echo.
I reach into both heavens, my skin aware of itself,
waiting for the arc of electricity from that storm to pierce
my body and flip a switch, spark whatever it is inside of me to flash—
enamel and bone and hair, now phosphorescent. Did Tesla want light
to beam from his eye sockets? Maybe man is enamored
with the sweetness of mirroring the cosmic, and—despite how fragile
and broken we are—is able to glow. I hope there is a morsel
of cinder in all of us. And when every candlewick is snuffed out,
when every light goes cold, I’ll blink the only way I know,
the earth’s clamoring resonance, my crude refrain lost in the endless pitch.