the balance among things
By Michelle Mitchell-Foust
Herodotus says the king made a bowl to leave behind
the memory of a number.² We don’t know the number.
We don’t know if it was divisible by two or three.
I want, at the moment, the number to indicate
a ratio, part of a proportion, because the measurement
of the earth depends on this, the balance among things,
the snow at the bottom of the hill, the gold garage light
caged in a tree, my love for my friend and the distance
between us, which I can’t bear.
I made a pinhole camera³ to demonstrate proportion,
and everything bright hovers on its milky eye,
and here is the catalogue of what hovers there
smaller than itself: the blue horizon and the dash
at the stoplight, a shell night-light, the gazing ball
of the sun going down against the white back fence,
which made it look like night in the woods lit
from underneath on the wax. I held these things
yesterday, along with two pearls that are spheres
hanging from my living room ceiling.
My friend is smaller now, and if I held my camera up
to her, she would give off enough light to hover
pocket-sized in my hand, and grand in the world.
Source: Poetry (November 2016)
¹ Camera obscura is a Latin phrase meaning “darkened room” and refers to a natural optical phenomenon in which an image on one side of a barrier or screen (a wall, for example, or the front of a box) can be projected through a small hole in that barrier or screen onto an opposite surface (another wall or the back of the box) as a reversed and inverted image. The poet substitutes eulogia in place of obscura: a eulogy is a spoken or written statement of praise for another person.
² Herodotus, Persian Wars, Book 4: “One of [the Scythians’] kings, by name Ariantas, wishing to know the number of his subjects, ordered them all to bring him, on pain of death, the point off one of their arrows. They obeyed; and he collected thereby a vast heap of arrow-heads, which he resolved to form into a memorial that might go down to posterity. Accordingly he made of them this [massive] bowl, and dedicated it at Exampaeus. This was all that I could learn concerning the number of the Scythians.”