Enid Shomer

Lightning Demonstration

Museum of Science, Boston

In a hushed and darkened
room, with pre-schoolers so wired they threaten
to emit sparks,

spotlights fall
on what Dr. Frankenstein rigged to call
the life force from the sky:

Vandergraf
generators, flinging forty-foot gaffs
barbed with light.

A sizzling arcade
fetches up in the blackness; tree-shapes fade
to twigs intaglioed

on our retinas in red
sealing wax.  Here Thor and Zeus were bred,
all the gods of promise and fear.

Our guide enters
a cage and ascends through the ozone-rich, rent
air.  Science

solid as a lag-bolt
is the shield he wears while thirty million volts
ransack his prison

licking through the bars
for tinder or flesh to ignite.  He wouldn’t dare
such a feat without

knowing the laws
that insulate him from the fiery claws
of the lightning and keep

the rest of us safe.
The certainties of science outweigh faith.
As the lightning climbs

the machine’s spiral
rods, popping like hot champagne bubbles
I am awed but not

afraid, while the children shriek
a delight streaked
with panic until

the guide unlocks
and exits his sleeve of steel, not a mock
god, but a man

who has survived
a miracle, who is alive
by virtue of smarts.

An unexpected sound
like lightbulbs fizzling out
floats up in the vault—

the children’s scattered applause.

 

Poet and fiction writer Enid Shomer is the author of four books of poetry and three of fiction, most recently the novel The Twelve Rooms of the Nile (Simon & Schuster, 2012, published globally in English). Two of her books, Stars at Noon (poetry) and Imaginary Men (short fiction), were the subject of feature interviews on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, Paris Review, The New Criterion, Kenyon Review, Tikkun, etc. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Modern Maturity, Midstream, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Virginia Quarterly Review, etc.  Her poem sequence “Pope Joan,” adapted into a dance oratorio by composer Anne LeBaron and choreographer Mark Taylor, premiered in October of 2000. Her book reviews and essays have appeared in The New Times Book Review, The Women’s Review of Books, Moment, and elsewhere.

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