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GRAVITY
by John Frederick Nims

Mildest of all the powers of earth: no lightnings
For her—maniacal in the clouds. No need for
Signs with their skull and crossbones, chain-link gates:
Danger! Keep Out! High Gravity! she’s friendlier.
Won’t nurse—unlike the magnetic powers—repugnance;
Would reconcile, draw close: her passion’s love.
 
No terrors lurking in her depths, like those
Bound in that buzzing strongbox of the atom,
Terrors that, lossened, turn the hills vesuvian,
Trace in cremation where the cities were.
 
No, she’s our quiet mother, sensible.
But therefore down-to-earth, not suffering
Fools who play fast and loose among the mountains,
Who fly in her face, or, drunken, clown on cornices.
 
She taught our ways of walking. Her affection
Adjusted the morning grass, the sands of summer
Until our soles fit snug in each, walk easy.
Holding her hand, we’re safe. Should that hand fail,
The atmosphere we breathe would turn hysterical,
Hiss with tornadoes, spinning us from earth
Into the cold unbreathable desolations.
 
Yet there—in fields of space—is where she shines,
Ring-mistress of the circus of the stars,
Their prancing carousels, their ferris wheels
Lit brilliant in celebration. Thanks to her
All’s gala in the galaxy.
 
                                   Down here she
Walks us just right, not like the jokey moon
Burlesquing our human stride to kangaroo hops;
Not like vast planets, whose unbearable mass
Would crush us in a bear hug to their surface
And into the surface, flattened. No: deals fairly.
Makes happy each with each: the willow bend
Just so, the acrobat land true, the keystone
Nestle in place for bridge and for cathedral.
Let us pick up—or mostly—what we need:
Rake, bucket, stone to build with, logs for warmth,
The fallen fruit, the fallen child . . . ourselves.
 
Instructs us too in honesty: our jointed
Limbs move awry and crisscross, gawky, thwart;
She’s all directness and makes that a grace,
All downright passion for the core of things,
For rectitude, the very ground of being:
Those eyes are leveled where the heart is set.
 
See, on the tennis court this August day:
How, beyond human error, she’s the one
Whose will the bright balls cherish and obey
—As if in love. She’s tireless in her courtesies
To even the klutz (knees, elbows all a-tangle),
Allowing his poky serve Euclidean whimsies,
The looniest lob its joy: serene parabolas.

SOURCE: “Gravity” appears in John Frederick Nims’ collection The Six-Cornered Snowflake and Other Poems (New Directions, 1990), available at Amazon.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Poet and academic John Frederick Nims (1913-1999) graduated from DePaul University, University of Notre Dame with an M.A., and from the University of Chicago with a Ph.D. He taught English at Harvard University, the University of Florence, the University of Toronto, Williams College and the University of Missouri. His books of poetry include Zany in Denim (University of Arkansas Press, 1990); The Six-Cornered Snowflake and Other Poems (1990); The Kiss: A Jambalaya (1982); Knowledge of the Evening (1960), nominated for a National Book Award; A Fountain in Kentucky (1950); and The Iron Pastoral (1947). Among his honors are an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, a National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities grant, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, The Guggenheim Foundation, and The Institute of the Humanities. He served as editor of Poetry magazine from 1978 to 1984.

Painting: ”Le Château des Pyrénées” by René Magritte (1959)