Michael G. Smith

Omphalos

1.

Squeezed between cotton and fleece, you wake
to the probability that the seventy-nine protons
inside the nucleus of a gold atom are confined
by the same orbital equations as its seventy-nine
circumambulating electrons; dart to the lenticular
cloud hung above Wheeler Peak, gunpowder
tea wetting your lips a breath away from mouthing
Skidi Pawnee named constellations swimming
ducks, antelope herd, rattlesnake. Within this cycle
of divination, buffalo warm in Yellowstone geyser
mist; you hear your child ask to be held; a chinook
teases Warren Air Force Base; ancestors reveal one
path to hazel eyes; for a smoky midnight hour, a man
outside the oval of shrieking gamblers around a craps
table scratches numbers on a worn piece of paper,
firmly calls out his bet, hard eight on the fly.
Floating on the fact that Earth’s mass shortens
the circular distance a communication satellite
travels from the theoretical two-pi-r by one inch,
you know in the spaces between red light green
light red light green light you can be awakened-
man-girding-wind. Quickening to the decimal
length of pi holds no pattern, you let first light tunnel
through glass, join the morning birds of classical
KHFM singing today like every day, six a.m.

2.

Two therapists enter the dusky ICU room to teach walking;
mind shivers, rationalizes, shapes, leaps; zigzag-step-

after-zigzag-step around the ICU nurse’s station are slight
recalibrations of the brain-to-heart-to-leg-to-toe-linkage

canny to moving through protean landscapes. Returned
to light and noise and glitch, you recall before you could run

experiments, you had to tune the fickle scintillation detector,
first twirling the coarse control to zero in the 14.4 keV gamma

ray, then tweaking the fine to maximize signal-to-noise. Between
speculating about the cant of your descending foot and the warmth

of cool linoleum, one therapist tugs the wide canvas belt to true
your wavy hips, the other walking behind, kneads your off-kilter

shoulders. They chatter about W’s acceptance speech, the salvo
of balloons and confetti. Gripped by the curvature of space,

you dive, shuffle, re-shuffle, tool, re-tool, frame, re-frame, jig,
re-jig, fly. Your skeptical legs again wander the ten directions.

3.

Paused at o-nine-hundred
along the stupa’s brick walk,
you know Scorpio meanders
across your oval of sight.
You see in fractals:
snowflake, mountain range.
If only your eyes
filtered white light,
you could see red Antares
eclipsed by its orbiting
companion; if only your
eyes filtered thirst
you could see the woman
holding the door open,
you could see there is no
stopping this moment,
no stopping this moment
from turning into a radical
moment, you and the stupa
circumambulating the wind.

4.

Driving, mind sees a sparrow lying in the road’s median strip,
right wing twitching. Mind skips to wind, skips to unseen force.
Between green light red light mind skips, transcends the snags,
hitches, hooks of the three realms, becomes man-circumambulating-
wind. Mind skips to stopping, circling, parking the truck, walking
across the silence, gently cupping the near-weightless bird
in hands. Neck crooked, its eyes flicker, body shakes.
Mind skips to digging a tiny hole beneath sage with a stick,
laying the cooling body down, slowly returning the cup
of soil. Mind skips to parent’s plot in the veteran’s cemetery,
Mother resting atop Father, skips to what reposes within
another: bacteria ensconced in hail hitching a ride, rounded
Appalachian peaks flat-topped for coal, Himalayas climbing
millimeters per year, glaciers melting, waters falling upon
the Scottish Highlands. Memphis floods today. Mind skips
and skips and skips like a smooth rock side-armed across
the glassy river, lands on warm Tibetan friends and dank
Bal Mandir Orphanage in Kathmandu, Sunday blackouts
during that dry season, Suntali pointing to the Cheerios® box
lit by candlelight in the flat rented for her adoption. Mind
skips to the birdhouse on the passenger seat, recalls a reason
for driving to the feed store, Suntali waiting at home.

5.

Today, a spring mix of winter and summer,
the café deserted, and though I can’t remember
exactly where that was or when, I circle back

to our starting point, weigh analogs
for the not-so-lost: emails mostly find their
way; in a snowstorm’s flat light, Arctic reindeer

sight in the UV. I comb the water cycle:
as Henrys Fork became Upper Mesa Falls
we looped a desert slickrock trail nibbling dried

dates and roasted almonds. My hat’s off to ignition:
I can only take you in by whirling and revolving,
a pinwheel spewing red and green and orange

sparks. My hat’s off to ignition, to a sky
rekindling desire: each spring, cranes visualize
return along a magnetic path, wind reports the river’s

sudden breakup, purple larkspur seedlings surface
in the rowboat-turned-flowerbed. Looking up,
I watch the barista scrape the last chunks of cookie

batter, swirl water round and round the large steel
bowl, a line at the counter. Round and round
go the beautiful tasty bits, round and round we go.


Author note: Susan Brind Morrow writes the omphalos is the center, eye, or “navel boss,” the rounded thing that rises up at the center of the world. The ritual of circling a raised natural or man-made (e.g. Mount Kailas, saint’s tomb, stupa) rounded structure representing it is a primal feature of the human connection with landscape and man’s animal nature—an animal with eyes in the front can only fully consider an object by circling around it.

Author Portrait

Michael G. Smith’s poetry has been published in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Cider Press Review, Nimrod, Superstition Review, the Santa Fe Literary Review, and other journals and anthologies. The Dark is Different in Reverse was published in 2013 by Bitterzoet Press. No Small Things, published in 2014 by Tres Chicas Books, was a finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award in Poetry. The Dippers Do Their Part, a collection of haibun and katagami co-authored with visual artist Laura Young based on their joint Spring Creek Project (Oregon State University) residency, will be published by Miriam’s Well in the summer of 2015.

View the website of Michael G. Smith