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Michelle Donahue

Tell Tesla

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one x-ray makes me manic, my mad scientist hair
fizzed with alternating current, hair on arm straight up
like a scared cat. X-rays radiate my arm's broken bone,
protected from cancer rays by thick, hard, lead. Tesla, you died
penniless and alone. Know: there are worse ways to go.

Tell 600-pound brown bear
don't chew on Tesla's current. Long, dark claws
elegant as fingers, tore a cell tower utility box.
Great bear teeth found an electric wire and burned.
He didn't know. Pigtailed girl on blue bicycle found him
wire still in mouth, my cell phone ring,
ringing static as I cursed the empty reception. I didn't know.

Circus elephant Topsy
didn't know what electricity in skin felt like when her
third cruel handler fed her a lit cigarette like a promise,
carcinogenic ash burn in her throat, smoke in trunk.
Tell her not to trample. He didn't know how it felt
to be a man-pancake under hard pachyderm feet.

Tell Iowan bald eaglet
flying is hard. Monsters lurk beneath beds. During
first flight an electric telephone pole held him and burned.
The pole didn't know it was modified to be safe
for birds. In an Iowan newspaper article I saw the eaglet
on the ground, at the base of the pole, his soft young
feathers fluffed standing straight up like a scared cat.

Tell Edison
scared elephants made my mother cry, we went once.
Circus scars, movements like shadows, enough. She didn't know
about Topsy. I didn't know Edison killed animals with Tesla's
dangerous current. He didn't know how rag-doll human electrocuted
eyes look. He didn't know to look. The 1,500 people looked,
I looked 100 years later on an x-ray black and white online video. We
watched Topsy ride the lightning. Edison slammed 6,600 volts
through tough skin, not tough enough. At least it was instant.

After Light

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She shows him light when he comes
Inside the sun. She strips his charred
Skin and collects his eyes burned
Too bright. His blue eyes stick
To her blue dress the color of a frozen
Pond. She brushes off his lost corneas
And stares past the sun core and
Corona into that outer black and into
Earth where fast darkness can't catch
The clouds misting like ghosts beyond.

He stretches his sightless hands
Seeking her heat. He thinks of his
Sticky blood from blisters, remembers
That one moment where all he saw
Was her and light before the flames
Burned him out. She guides him on
A sea of eyes and shuttles him into
Cold black between sun and earth
And moon. She thinks, oh men,
Men of every earth, I'll see you soon.

Night in the Burnt House

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In the mirror: a corner of bed, my tired face
your tie on the floor and your ring
on the nightstand, shining against dust
on the dull glass top. My wedding ring close
to yours, nestled, reflection near-transparent
as we climb into bed. I think I smell smoke

(I don't.) It's a dream of your cigarette smoke.
You're suave and sharp. Face
hidden by hat. It rains transparent
drops on your umbrella, metal spine, ringing.
Your cigarette hangs close
to lips. You inhale damp ash-dust.

I inhale too. I awake with dust
in air, an alarm blare, stiff smoke
in the room (you're gone). I close
our bedroom door, walk, stop facing
the flaming window. The phone rings.
You, yelling get out, get out! tone transparent.

I don't understand (still). I gaze at transparent
orange flames. In pink slippers, I'm dusting
the kitchen table, the counter, the now ring-
less telephone. I drag around the smoky
gray vacuum. I pick up photographs, defaced
and crumbling. The house trembles, close

to collapse. Slowly, I close
the window. That transparent
heat presses on my face.
I sit on the burning dusty
blue carpet. Sitting in smoke.
Where are you? Where's my ring?

A knock, the doorbell rings,
police and detectives, too close
to me, they don't see me or smoke
(perhaps) we're transparent.
Our house: a crime scene—men dusting
for fingerprints. I can't see their faces.

Now, I'm outside, cold-faced. I've left my ring
inside. Ash and dust rise, dreams no longer close
but my house burning, swallowed in transparent smoke.

(and you're still gone)

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