Decay Constant by Margaret Ross

Did the time change. Did little
savings of a day glint on blades
wind tilted towards the illuminated
capital. Starting again, did change

course. A sentence rougher on the side
where fur used to grow brown meadow
fluttering across the hide was, flayed, a Book
of Hours listing prayers for the tolls

that turned the pages, Venetian blinds
drawn over so we can’t
say anymore where the room is from
inside. Glare melting its windows. Air liquid

iodine to anyone looking in. The lowest rungs
of cloud turn gold and that’s
how you know what we’re to
gauge ourselves against. I slept, was jealous of

my privacy, I wouldn’t see anyone, the houses
cropped to yellow squares,
black branches wiring some blown-out
intercom, I mean I checked the settings

on the sun and the day was fine. I keep a sample
in my desk for beauty, the test tube glows
pale blue through cracks in the wood when you turn
the lamps down. A little moon you used

to wear on your wrist and better than the moon
could shine on its own, that numbered face
the girls in uniform would lick a brush’s tip
to get the finest point for, careful

as hands liming animals books were
before they were trees. He shoved
a kaleidoscope in my mouth and told me
but the dream cut off. It’s only half lived

consciously, by perforated loss, therefore
nothing, how am I to get a point across
this long life? Did you take them for
assembly lines or for a comic

strip, the girl performing slightly
different operations by herself in alternate
time frames. Some private stained glass
you arrange by rotating

your wrist and in its object chamber
bright shards coalesce whatever cataract.
It’s just the black light
making you look chemical. Undark

used to paint their teeth and cheeks
and so their skin gleamed
independent of the overhead or sun. Did
you speak in time? No. Did you know

what piece to save? I couldn’t see to. Did you
see anything light up that wasn’t sunlit? You weren’t
supposed to watch the choreography for pleasure, it was
developed as ‘a science of behavior towards

others,’ strict exemplary manners
that the audience might live as if they lived        
in Italy or France. En pointe, the girls were
tangent to the ground by one toe only, even

that one plinthed on wood and numb
to ever sharper stages of a pain interpreted
as stairs you used to elevate yourself. She carried
vials of it in her pocket home and kept

it in her desk because she thought it
beautiful, the mild blue specimen resembling
a flame’s pale eye gemmed cool and steeping the dark
air of her room in washes that betrayed

no injury or effort save for skill
describing grace so that we knew
from the way the dancer raised her arm
how far her country was.