10:3: “Mark Twain Feels the Storm”, by J. C. Runolfson

10:3: “Mark Twain Feels the Storm”, by J. C. Runolfson
  He fancies himself the son of the comet
  but in this place, he understands
  how humble among the stars
  that birth would be.

He has learned to read
the stars, to measure
water, to count the seconds
between lightning and thunder.
He cannot think

(one thousand one)

for the humming, the incessant buzzing
of stars harnessed, of lightning caged.

He has been invited to witness
in his inimitable style. He will try,
though he feels the ashes
of inadequate language

(one thousand two)

curling on his tongue.

He tries instead to fix sensation in his head
and hands, in the hopes the stars will lend
clarity of speech,
their pure vocabulary

(one thousand three)

to craft perfect phrases.
It seems unlikely.

He is, after all, only the son
of a comet.

He touches everything he’s told is safe
to touch, entirely convinced
that safe is not the word. He feels an ache
in his famous hair, root to tip, and wonders
if the whiteness of it, of his customary suit,
unmake him in this space — the pale reflection,
the light negative, the flash

(one thousand four)

after the fact.

He doesn’t know.

In that moment, he understands
all he wants and cannot.
The lightning-bug caught in the storm

(one thousand–)


J. C. Runolfson’s work has appeared in Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, and Stone Telling, among others. Her Rhysling-nominated poem “Lifestory” was previously published in Ideomancer. She currently lives on the west coast of Florida at the whim of the U. S. Navy.

Her interest in the early history of photography has led her to write several poems inspired by black and white portraits. This poem is based on the famous series of photographs featuring Mark Twain in the laboratory of Nikola Tesla.

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