The true nature
of our own interventions
is only made clear
by their eventual malfunctions.

We always think we know what it is we want
but only find out its meaning
when the levees burst or the hurricane
scours the coast of our foundations.

It’s not as if rivers have never undone dams
or lightning has never ignited a conflagration.
A tremble of the earth sends concentric waves
racing for the vulnerable flesh of naked beaches.

We take the normal course of these great patterns for granted.
We assume the rain will fall, the streams will run,
the oceans will lick the sky, the clouds will course,
the mountains will collect the vapor, the small creatures
will climb up to the tips of the leaves to drink,
the currents will convey the warmth way beyond us
to the lands that otherwise would lie buried in ice.

And yet and yet somehow we do know about heavy water
burrowing its way down into the base of an ice dam
and we feel the queasy crystals collapse in wormholes
and the entire architectural structure wobbling around us
ready to burst into its true violent nature so sudden
this claw paw of time, this fang of a world that we thought
we had mastered but now discover we never really knew.


James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. Van Looy leads the Labyrinth Creative Movement Workshop, which his Labyrinth titled poems are based on. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.