Event Horizon

Jorie Graham

      I took the soiled dress out, put it in a basin. Soap.
Brought the kettle out, poured till full.
      Sunlight teetered at the end in the thousand-faced
bubble,
      sunlight hovered, pregame, in chasm of the 
millisecond,
      played over the ranks,

      grazed at the uptrend shield-tips, faces and faces,
then—pop—went in
      as I pressed down—now on my knees—
to get the dumb stain out.
      Two jays watched from the snow-lowered pine bough.
Two still jays in the swelling instant.
      Poured off the brown water. Started over.

Strutting of sun over fencepoles, river.

Strutting of wind over tops of pine.

      There is history—the story of the man carrying his father
                                                                          on his back—
that stairway—
      narrowing helplessly on the way down.
There is the wind trying to enter the aspen tree—
      wind twisting round and round the wrinkling tree for a while,
trying to narrow itself, force an edge to itself,
      the wind only entering to cross on through.
And there is the girl with her dancing red shoes,
      and how she loved them too much, beware,
how her dancing took her away to where the wind

      goes, to where the man and his father came from,
that burning place, Imperial, faces among the flames,
      towers (before they fall) like the exposed rays
of some other star
      deep in the earth,
star made of bricks, piled stone, mortar,
      of rocks being carried thousands of miles

by the backs of creatures some of them human,
      star of work—things piled on other things—
a blueprint somewhere down there on a scrap of paper,
      an idea down there somewhere in the mind
of the one looking up, squinting, figuring....
      The wing comes up. Cloud-cover. Shade like a 

searchlight upping its ante. 
      Gloss gone, the day it tries harder to be really 
seen. 
      Squirrel-scold. River-glint.
One wood pecking deep on the south side. 
      How to see her, this foreign girl?
Shadows unwrap.
      Something walks abroad ignoring things.
Anger frets the edges.
      Some promise, some big one,

kept? unkept?
      One jay, high-pitched.
Nearby? Behind?
      Rising, the second rinse done, dress in hand,
I can feel the mind at its hinge,
      insane for foothold.
The bawdy jay shrieks.
      The mind feeling sure there is a beneath—a hard place—

behind the glitzy news report....
      Then the sun back. The girl beribboned again.
The water, as I toss it out, festooned.
      The fake thing—the blessing—splashed over everything.
almost a hiss—.
      Inside, the anchorman's back, the minutes tick by.
The government in Beijing has cut off all the satellite 

      transmission
and all we get is the anchor's face
      and sometimes a voice-over onto the freeze-frame
where coverage
      was interrupted.
Mostly we get the face—animated—

something in front, something that can be washed off.
      Before there was a close-up on the faces of the young troops.
The camera picked up tears or something into the mike
      “We think everything must change.”
A crack has appeared between day and night writes
                                                                         
 Bei Dao

      and you did not get back at the time we
appointed.
      
The dress flaps on the line.
The clean dress flaps underneath. 
      Beyond it the river's finery, molting, silky,
and on it something unearthly—
      there on a spot in the middle of its back,
where the sun hits first and most directly,
      where a person can hardly look,
a little gash on the waterfilm,

      an indentation, almost a cut—a foothold—
where the dizzyness seems to be rushing towards form,
      pressing down hard where the river flows, down on that skin,
as if the light needed something it does not have,
      down hard on that one-way motion—hard—no turning back—
(how can the water rise up out of its grave of matter?)—
      (how can the light drop down out of its grave of though?)—      

everything at the edges of everything else now rubbing—

      (making tiny sounds that add up to laughter)—

summer, noon, humming, clicks,
      water currents, arcs of flight,
degree of temperature and notes, notes,
      the mind, the anchor,
the number of bodies,
      what sounds like gunfire on the blank
screen,
      and laughter which you might think an angel—

      the wind whispering take it or leave it—
the river narrowing, narrowing—
      and the son putting her father down saying here we 
are, look around,
      and all around the above screaming inaudibly to the below:
you did not get back at the time we appointed—
      you did not get back at the time we appointed—
and out there, floating, on the emptiness
      among the folds of the radio signals, hovering, translucent, 
among the dress of fizzing, clicking golden
      frequencies—the pale, invisible flames—
is the face of the most beautiful woman in the world
      at the top of the tower at the heart of these flames

—her living face a stain on the flames—
      and a smile on her face as the hair starts to burn—
the last thing to go that smile at us
      as the face disappears feeding out into

our gaze on her, our long thin gaze,

      then the space where the face has gone and the gaze remains,
pushing out, still probing, versos,
      the orphaned gaze still sloshing out
onto the smoky upslanting void—
      no image there and the gaze remains—
no place there and the gaze remains—

      and the dress remains, and the flapping thrumming dress all
sleeves of wind
      remains—

Jorie Graham is the author of fifteen collections of poetry, including To 2040, forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2023. She teaches at Harvard University.
Originally published:
June 15, 2024

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