THe Laughing Monkeys of Gravity

Leonardo himself warns us of a certain loathing
or fear in the night hours of the company of corpses,
quartered and flayed and horrible to see. He adds
that skill in drawing is a requirement, a sense

of perspective, an understanding of geometry,
a knowledge of how to calculate forces; patience, also,
since one body does not last so long. He himself
examined ten bodies, proceeding by degrees,

to come, as he says, to his goal, which was nothing less
than true knowledge. He wanted, he said, to work
miracles, by which he meant those acts of knowing
that reach us through experience and become

possessions of the soul. He set out first to discard
authority, then to examine for himself rocks,
soil, air, mountains, water, the flight of birds,
the play of light and shadow, things already seen

but unknown to those who had merely studied images.
So we find him by candlelight, working miracles,
dissecting members, viscera, exposing articulations,
considering the wonderful planes of the body,

its positions and torsions of pronation and supination,
noting colors and complexions, the flax-like skein
of nerve-in-muscle that, under running water,
clings and unites, making it impossible to trace

in all of its ramifications. In semi-darkness,
he did fifteen drawings: the cosmography, he hoped,
when finished, of this lesser world and counterpart
of Ptolemy's glorious plan of the greater one.


In his feverish illness, Descartes looked out
at the countryside, at the rain, and felt once again
his need for warmth, his dizziness after height,
his loneliness after stiff ritual. He dreamed

he woke up one morning outside himself, in a place
he'd never been. He saw himself disconnected,
apart from motion and sensea floating point
in the gap between earth and sky. The heavy snow

covered the fields that winter while he slept
and took his meals in a well-heated room.
The dreary town of Neuberg offered few distractions
while he reinvented space. But his nightmare continued

it was the end of thinking, grief in the house,
the hard frost outside, and the thick brown earth
always finishing what was said. At the corner
of ceiling and walls, he saw death flap its wings;

he heard sounds rushing through the dark house,
weeping in the empty corridor. Afterwards, he needed
still more warmth, the gift of pure consolation,
the sheltering body itself to come and sleep with him,

a place to rest from thought. It was then that he knew
what had spoken first, asked the first questions
in the cold dawn of St. Martin's Day, he pulled
his blankets around him and closed his eyes.

He saw in his fever the only place in which
he'd ever be: the name of the stars and his pulse,
the only map at the one intersection of all
other maps, the one continent of all his parts.


In the expressionless face of child or friend,
the final instant of its structure, Emily Dickinson
considered its elegant plan. The body, too,
practiced silence in tight arrangements, statement

in the precise symmetries of its still details.
In the strings and wires of its fibers, its voice
was as spare as the simplest hymn; in the coda
of its rigorous end, there were few flourishes.

She considered, as well, the minute particulars
of her own life: its taut economies of gesture,
its constant course from day to day. She thought, too,
about what an eternity might be: a faint smear

in granite, the smell of rich garden dirt
under her fingernails, kitchen steam on a winter window,
the loud crack of summer thunder over the house
in which she lived. Under her father's roof

or on the nearby common, all such distinctions
of form and time, of heaven and ground, seemed
to meet in points of sense. In the mid-March light,
scored by branches, she looked again at the mask

and considered what it was, and, as she did,
noticed the sounds beyond the window of carriages
and belfry, of slow iron-rimmed wheels
going forward through a sky of fresh puddles;

she saw the anterior and posterior divisions,
the union of the divisions, the crosshatching
of gray sky and tiny white clusters, late-winter
anemones under the pale shadows of birds.