On Hearing the Sonic Boom of a Meteor Over Salt Lake City While Drinking Coffee with Lao-Tzu

A poem by Christopher Cokinos.

 

Above the mountains and the city, crashing

into stratosphere to flare unseen and crackle

-rumble like less sonorous thunder, the mystery

sound lifted our gaze from morning

coffee and an online heat map of the future sky.

We’d learn, hours later, that a venerable rock had skipped 

Earth’s air, skipped terrestrial catastrophe, meteoroid returning

like a ship to the vacuum-dark sea. Door-cam videos,

texts, the chatter of averted disaster : instead of mass extinction,

a Tweet. It’s always like that, the moment as epoch, manifesto

of a second or maybe two : enchantments

at the edges of mortality. There was ridge

-top lightning I ran from once, then, in a way, I blessed :

that should be involuntary, like breathing, but

we grim ourselves with worry. Of course.

When has fear ever fixed trajectories 

or filled your lungs?–and

it’s not that your slogan’s pithy fever

is mistaken, but its t-shirt doesn’t help.

What if, before moisture flux convergence and polar

amplification, before Charney sensitivity, Lao-Tzu

had been right? That the only path to serenity

is to do the work then step back. Like a fossil

made of smoke, he looked up with me. We stared

at air whose crash we couldn’t then name. So

I sipped. He scritched on scroll.

Made of scrub-jay digits, what was blue

-feathered bone lands in our scrawny hands

like a choice. The wake is silent. Then resumes

the granite, an outcast monarch, the locust-leaf wind.

Like me, you can use that quill

to message an empire. You can change

yourself even if the world refuses. 

Take it.

Christopher Cokinos lives in Salt Lake City and Logan Canyon and is the author, most recently, of The Underneath, winner of the New American Press Poetry Prize, and co-editor, with Julie Swarstad Johnson, of Beyond Earth’s Edge: The Poetry of Spaceflight. He is working on a nonfiction book about the moon and writes for Discover, Astronomy and other venues.

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