Watch This: Snippets from The Universe in Verse

From the 2020 Universe in Verse, Marie Howe’s “Singularity”

illustrated by paper collage artist Elena Skoreyko Wagner , original music by cellist Zoë Keating

by Marie Howe

(after Stephen Hawking)

Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?

so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money —

nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone

pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.

For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you.

There was no   Nature.    No
them.   No tests

to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf    or if

the coral reef feels pain.    Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;

would that we could wake up   to what we were
— when we were ocean    and before that

to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was
liquid and stars were space and space was not

at all — nothing

before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.

Can molecules recall it?
what once was?    before anything happened?

No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb      no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with

is is is is is

All   everything   home

Natalie Diaz’s “Lake-Loop”

artwork and animation by  Ohara Hale.


by Natalie Diaz

, because there was yet no lake

into many nights we made the lake

a labor, and its necessary laborings

to find the basin not yet opened

in my body, yet my body — any body

wet or water from the start, to fill a clay

, start being what it ever means, a beginning —

the earth’s first hand on a vision-quest

wildering night’s skin fields, for touch

like a dark horse made of air

, turned downward in the dusk, opaquing

a hand resembles its ancestors —

the war, or the horse who war made

, what it means to be made

to be ruined before becoming — rift

glacial, ablation and breaking

lake-hip sloping, fluvial, then spilled —

I unzip the lake, walk into what I am —

the thermocline, and oxygen

, as is with kills, rivers, seas, the water

is of our own naming

I am wet we call it because it is

a happening, is happening now

imagined light is light’s imagination

a lake shape of it

, the obligatory body, its dark burning

reminding us back, memory as filter

desire as lagan, a hydrology —

The lake is alone, we say in Mojave

, every story happens because someone’s mouth,

a nature dependent — life, universe

Here at the lake, say

, she wanted what she said

to slip down into it

for which a good lake will rise — Lake

which once meant, sacrifice

which once meant, I am devoted

, Here I am, atmosphere

sensation, pressure

, the lake is beneath me, pleasure bounded

a slip space between touch and not

slip of paper, slip of hand

slip body turning toward slip trouble

, I am who slipped the moorings

I am so red with lack

to loop-knot

or leave the loop beyond the knot

we won’t say love because it is

a difference between vertex and vertices —

the number of surfaces we break

enough or many to make the lake

loosened from the rock

one body’s dearth is another body’s ache

lay it to the earth

, all great lakes are meant to take

sediment, leg, wrist, wrist, the ear

let down and wet with stars, dock lights

distant but wanted deep,

to be held in the well of the eye

woven like water, through itself, in

and inside, how to sate a depression

if not with darkness — if darkness is not

fingers brushing a body, shhhh

, she said, I don’t know what the world is

I slip for her, or anything

, like language, new each time

diffusionremade and organized

and because nothing is enough, waves

each an emotional museum of water

left light trembles a lake figure on loop

a night-loop

, every story is a story of water

before it is gold and alone

before it is black like a rat snake

I begin at the lake

, clean once, now drained

I am murkI am not clean

everything has already happened

always the lake is just up ahead in the poem

, my mouth is the moon, I bring it down

lay it over the lake of her thighs

warm lamping ax

hewing water’s tender shell

slant slip, entering like light, surrounded

into another skin

where there was yet no lake

yet we made it, make it still

to drink and clean ourselves on


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