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Kaleidoscope

jeffery Donaldson
From:   Waterglass. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999.


                                     for the McNulty family,
                                     John, Mickey, Fran, and Emma


I

Like a scene out of Through the Looking Glass.
Sleight of breeze, cloud trim, April's yellow-lace
rain-silk embroidered monogram on the grass.
Table and chairs, arrangeable and light
as doll-house furniture, are nudged in place
by your daughters. The table is set.

We look down on the plot of a chess board:
there are thick tea mugs, some bread on a dish.
We all move at once. Spoons chime, milk is poured.
In conversation there is give and take,
and words for every momentary wish
stir us to memory for a story's sake.

In this one hour, the world's a lucid dream
to wake us up. Fancy casting each whim's throw
ahead of its own thought. To be and seem
in the same light. For just imagine it,
and little girls--where did Franny go?--
are darting after butterflies with Annette.

II

Then, as though we lacked nothing but a lens
to bring the hour to focus, you brought out,
like a relic from the ancient science
of Seeing Into Things, a kaleidoscope,
antique, home-made: an oblong, bronze-plate
tube of mirrors, angled like a microscope

above ... not the metal-clipped candy glass
used to squeeze the life out of specimens,
but a revolving dish, on which we place
whatever shapes and textures we can find
to see what happens, like experiments
in cell structure, or the origin of mind

revealed in the differentiated,
minutely starred fragments of what it sees:
not just a duller nature magnified,
but looked at from all sides, where the plate shows
a single leaf its myriad symmetries,
a dropped petal its shattered, hybrid rose.

III

But here's a cardboard shoe-box of coloured
foil papers--good for what?--carefully
unwrapped from eaten chocolates and savoured
for their shine and glitter. Take off the lid,
reach inside and rummage for any three
raffle tickets of colour--blue, green, red--

tear them in shapes and shape them in turn
on the plate. The pieces are every bit
as skittery as the breeze, their pattern
lightsome and precarious by design,
touched like us by each spring freshet's buffet
that might at any moment blow it clean.

But look inside the glass for the moment.
The intricate fan-thin pleats of mirror
open like a map, and their radiant
triplings merge and unfold with the stop-play
unwinding action of an orrery,
whirled in a starlit primum mobile.

IV

Or look again. Did the scientist feel
a levity like ours on the first night,
when he watched, wide eyed, the undivided cell
and its hardly-conceived-of DNA
turn on his dish into a gemmed chaplet
that stretched and pulled at itself, came away

unglued, and drifted free, linked and unlinked,
and so for the first time showed signs of life?
Like us, he saw every least grain was instinct
with a form, looked in and knew his heart
broken and enlarged by a mirror that itself
was almost his smallest and his truest part.

Turn the dish again. The bright paper stirs
like a tea leaf in a cup, a single spore
that on reflection shatters into futures
we know already, as if it will all be, oh,
just more of the same. Unless we see the more
the drift of the pattern that will show.

V

Think of all you could put there in its stead,
for example. The mind spins. Take a stray
branch from the lawn and lay it down. The dead
wood under glass will break in parts and show
rootless shoots that ramify, in turn, say,
to the Almond Tree in Blossom by Van Gogh,

whose upper branches everywhere extend
into blue space, and even upside down
still topple out in flower to no end.
Now here's a penny. Set it on the wheel
and by the laws of increase, stone by stone,
a city of bronze in the ornate style

of rococo gabled roofs and gilt trees
will fall away far as the eye can see
to vanishing points that are ubiquitous.
Or put your hand there Emma, and find in each
inchling finger that points wildly
in the crystal globe, your radiant reach.

VI

Let my last thought, when the specimen day
has turned full circle, and its facet
of capricious vision is put away,
be for the shoe box itself of dark scraps,
candy papers and foils, set in the closet
among the dog-eared game boards and old maps.

When I was a child, we too had a box
stored on a back shelf. On its side, spelled out
in bold was "Important Papers": the stocks,
last wills and testaments kept from view,
and insurance policies not talked about.
All in one place, because you never knew ....

But there's a future in a box like this.
Its scraps, like pictures stored away for now,
keep their sights in the dark, their prophecies
of what time will show, having a place, we hope,
there at the side of the unlifted-down
motionless glass of the kaleidoscope.


Jeffery Donaldson's works copyright © to the author.


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