“Field Journal,” a poem-hybrid by Phil Spotswood

Poetry: Phil Spotswood

Field Journal

the last scientist does not know where the others have gone. he searches the corners of the stone hearth for bacteria—to prove that there were breathers, once—that oxygen roiled. he rolls out dough to watch the yeast rise, for movement outside of himself. he breaks bread with his own two hands and says that this is good.

the last scientist looks out his window to the sun drifting down. he sweeps the floor with a straw brush, so that the ice won’t stick when its feet track through. he disassembles the iron-wrought frame of his bed and hangs the bolts and screws from the ceiling with twine. he hopes that the wind will catch them and sing him to sleep. he hopes that the tapping on his last door will send a Morse code out into the long night coming. the ceiling fan has stopped spinning, finally, and he laughs because there is no reason for it, this far north.

the last scientist cuts a hole through the ice with a hacksaw. on the underside of his cut-out star he is not surprised to find the slide of a microscope. peering deeper he discovers all of the things that tried to flow away from this cold place: death as a blue-black parasite, steel from his forgotten aeroplane, and crumpled white pages of his diary which speak of places unfrozen. he sets the ice in the raised frame of his hut, to act as a window and warble light through. in the mornings he will wake to bits of ice from the window cracked overnight and chipped in his beard.

the last scientist knows that things are breaking apart. he scrawls dreams on sticky notes and feeds them to the mice. once the mice have had their fill he picks up the pieces, rearranges them to reconstruct his memory. newly created, he cannot remember which winter was warmer than the last or why. in every construct, the ice is melting.

the last scientist listens to airwaves on the broken FM radio. there has been no real communication for years, and he has let human language slip through cracks in the ice, to be swept away and form new masses elsewhere. the airwaves float through the silence of his solitude like white gulls in formation against a steel sky, broken only by readjustment of the flock, his fingers turning the dial. he has learned in his listening that gulls and airwaves flow downwind of force—a running from, to.

the last scientist has a ghost heart. it is the structure of a human heart, but made with thick layers of muscle and equations: the velocity of surging blood, the gravitational push that keeps the walls together. the last scientist has often walked the chambers of his ghost at midnight, when the walls weaken like soft light and there are no shadows. the rooms are empty, are whitewashed, are the size of a fist. pressing his ear to the wall, he can hear murmurings like high voltage, like decades of pixel-data floodgated. he is comforted by non-remembrance.

Phil Spotswood is a poet from Alabama, and an incoming PhD English Studies student at Illinois State University. His most recent work can be found in baest, The Wanderer, and Five:2:One. He is the recipient of the 2018 Robert Penn Warren MFA Poetry Thesis Award judged by Tonya Foster, and the 2017 William Jay Smith MFA Poetry Award judged by Daniel Borzutzky. He is the poetry editor for Cartridge Lit, and tweets @biometrash.

Image: muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com

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