Museum of Science, Boston
In a hushed and darkened
room, with pre-schoolers so wired they threaten
to emit sparks,
on what Dr. Frankenstein rigged to call
the life force from the sky:
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
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.