Margin, Error; Wanted

Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers

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Margin, Error

Vincenzo Galilei (1520-1591), lutenist, composer, music theorist, and father of Galileo Galilei

The numbers always failed
when forced with heaven’s
weight: absolute, holy

what about the gut, and its unknown
flaws—if an octave is perfect
then why the fifth impure?

Galilei picks up where Pythagoras
tossed his hammer to the sand,
having sketched the first crude ratios

from a water glass and a row of bells.
But what is rational in day
by night is spun back

to question—and so in the dim
of his studio, Galilei’s work
is all refrain.

Again with ballast
he ties and plucks, asks God
to foil muteness. Squaring

weights: two to four,
three to nine—the intervals pronounce
just as they slip, their dissonance

slight as heartbeat.
Poised with pen, he
stutters through

the figure. This ratio of tension
and octave not, in
fact, Pythagorean 2:1, but more

abstruse: varying
with square root, and also
instinct. Sonority—

a capricious code—casts,
recasts in human form.
He stirs in his chair. What note,

he thinks, is not played
tremblingly, or untunes
from bloating wood—it’s summer,

the Arno hisses. A rough
watermark, this new equation,
one of nearly-, almost:

chaos. Despite the late hour,
it seems noisy in this house,
and every house. Walls echo

with the children’s arguments,
scratching pens, the squeak
of their compass. So unsettled, all of them:

stirring nights with their questions,
and awake again before
dawn, already thumbing at lutes.


Shanxi Province, 2009

Dusk, dogs grunt
behind the closed
mud of courtyards

to tell me I shouldn’t
be here, that this
is no place to be

alone. At school
the wanted poster
had a blurry inkblot

stare, reminding me
of easy characters
I still can’t read

Get your organs harvested
was the rough relay

of meaning, and
so I run past
the brick factory,

the empty
Uighur restaurant,
and kilometers

of wheat, silence
like skin. On the distant
edge of town, parlors

are turning on
halogen signs,
按摩: massage

for less than the price
of dinner. I’m warned
by 按, a portrait

of a woman kneeling
down, and 摩,
to rub, a hemp house

with 手 inside: hand.
Night hours especially
females shouldn’t

move alone:
if you are here
after dark, you’re looking

or looked for. Dogs
as I hurry home,
cross the outer

wall of town; a girl
washes her face, spits
into the alley. Mother—

still in veil—keeps
an eye at the door
until the child runs

towards her, reaching
her palms to face.
摸: to touch, to feel, drawn

as a hand beside this
莫: the sun as it slips,
disappears into the brush.

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