There was a nothingness, an impulse, a quark
flittering around existence in a place
of purest emptiness, no light, no dark,
a flicker of mathematics in manifold space,
less a movement than a moment. Still,
less a moment than numbers, that slowly start
folding into others the way they will,
like numbers on a checking account and a credit card.
Then moving to build toward everything we’ve been,
the quarks became the cores of electrons,
flying formations like clouds around their kin
who sit at the center of atoms like toy suns.
Already there were forces weak and strong,
the seeds of war and empire and molecules.
There were such clear signs all along
with no one to read them. Molecules in pools
complicated themselves into protoplasm
then suddenly into Mary Beth and Sam,
both looking dimly backward across a chasm
to numbers that somehow came to give a damn,
that one day would look an hour for a simile,
that one day would cry almost as one for the One
who might have been there when there was nowhere to be,
whose thought might be how universes run—
thoughts we perceive as shoestrings, crickets, and bread
and car keys and a maple leaf and a kiss.
So what is a thought? Better ask instead
what is not? Think of a thought as this:
A table. A dog. A door. A footstool. A fire.
And Sam and all his looks at Mary Beth.
Headaches and birthdays and glass. Failure and fear.
It isn’t fact or fantasy. It’s both.
Circling circles, I wonder why God should beguile
a thought of God into thinking I am me,
but this will do—you and some jazz a while
with a dog at your feet, or one that seems to be;
the senses of ourselves, of sense, of stuff;
the lifelong impression that we live;
what we have believed was wine; what feels like love;
your shapes I touch. These are convincing enough
to a man from a small town, not too quick,
who doesn’t know a lot of arithmetic.