Great Blue, and Why Is the Speed of Light So Slow

by Mike Baldwin

Great Blue

The sticker on the bumper ahead says

“Time is God’s way of keeping

everything from happening at once.”

But it seems to me that events clump

up in our lives like punctuated

equilibrium in the theory of evolution.

When the sacred pierces

the envelope of our ordinary perspective,

it does so strangely and unexpectedly.

Watching the mystery of water lilies

becoming luminous beneath

emphysemic clouds,

a Great Blue Heron blinks

into existence, enormous on the stones

encircling our little garden pond.

His beak becomes an angel’s sword

hovering above trembling water.

Gaunt, grim, gray-blue feathers,

rough as a beggar’s blanket,

yet haughty as a samurai,

his fierce eye pierces with the same power

his beak can strike a fish.

He contemplates the worried water

Intently as a fortune-teller’s crystal,

then, disdainfully, with a last warning glance,

skies himself with a single heave of wing.

Somnambulating toward the hospital,

I wonder if, just before the giant eye

was razer-sliced in La Chien d’Andalou,

it saw the truth of everything

with the amazing clarity of finality.

I think, too, of how trillions of neutrinos

are streaming through us and everything

every moment, invisibly, utterly unnoticed,

containing, perhaps, like receiverless radio waves,

vital information we have not learned to listen for.

Crossing the street to the hospital,

a scrap of dirty paper I step on

resolves into a days-old dead toad, squished

flat as steamrollered cartoon character.

Then, a wimpled nun leads a single file

of same-skirted little school girls,

the middle one of whom smiles slyly at me

and levitates in a perfect ballet jetté.

My father lies absent-eyed, within

his death-womb, sprouting plastic umbilicals

from every body part except his navel.

Bones seem desperate to burst through

the shrinking membrane of his skin.

All the leaking energy of his weakening

exerted only to produce nose hair and phlegm.

Mom pulls back the sheet to massage

his legs, once athlete’s legs,

now thin as the heron’s.

I would have sought the hallway

to leave them to themselves,

but his finger beckons, his eye now

fierce with effort, his gaze focused

through me, beyond me,


Having lost his swallow reflex, he can only

whisper, which is a blessing,

his mind having been unclear for several days.

(He insisted the doctor is a communist

serial killer and we must call the FBI.

I assured him the doctor is a confirmed

capitalist who will try to keep him alive

as long as the insurance holds out.)

But now his eyes do not beseech.

I put my ear to his hard lips

and he whispers slow and calm and clear:

“It’s so easy to fly when you detach the load.”

Perhaps he was referring in some hallucinatory way

to his career as an aircraft engineer, but--

that night my father’s scarred soul

skied with a single heave of heart.