Pandora’s Boxes

Box 1: Water

This is the box of sense, of no sense, of cliffs
calling for gulls slick with our carelessness,
of sands piled high with the lies we recycle,
then toss aside into a sea murky with—not
misgiving, just nonchalance—into the open
mouths of fish swallowing our wish list of
death whole and wholly. Whale me away to
that shore before Jonah, that sea beside Eden,
that pre-human beauty forgotten beneath heaps
of plastic hubris, beneath this discarded
cardboard: addressed, sent, never received.
The sun is hot and sinking. Do it now.

               Message in a Bottle

                        carry any
                  scrawled pleas,
             cannot ride your tides
            of self-inflicted sorrow,
            ebbing away tomorrow,
            the under-tow relentless,
            unforgiving. The dead—
             starfish, clam, octopus,
              shark—echo the sea’s
                salty message more
                  clearly. “Please!”

Box 2: Land

Drill this: worm’s muddy tunnel awash
with rain; crawlspace of wild rose; ancient
oak’s roots tethering dirt to sun, mole’s
dank mine for the blind; hare’s hideaway;
ant’s underpass; cicada’s subway; shrew’s
shaft; termite’s pit; badger’s labyrinth; prairie
dog’s spa; tarantula’s turf; cool sand caves
for desert tortoise; rough passage to elsewhere
for ferret, fox, chipmunk; ritual popping spot
for dapper Punxsatawny Phil in frayed top hat
prophesying as frantic Whistle Pig his earth’s
blueprint of doom: hail, drought, sleet, tsunami,
pipeline, blizzard, 120 degrees in the shade,
fracking, seismic shift, negative 40 degrees
in the sun, oil, earthquake, greenhouse gas—
no spring in sight, no sight at this site at all.


        say can
              you see
                  its flag-
             red, fraying
                           tail, sputtering
             amidst the smog? Its
                         muted explosion
         tangled in low-lying clouds
           saturated with acid?

Box 3: Air

Monoxide, carbon; dioxide, sulfur;
exhausts of CFCs and nitrogen oxides;
sunlight exploding hydrocarbons; Oh
where did we pack those stylish gas
masks? Light trespass; over-illumi-
nation; astronomical interference. Keep
all orifices closed as long as possible.
Scarred landforms, municipal solid
waste stacked up in junk heaps, rubber
burning. A cornucopia of chemicals
overflowing in this valley of vapors,
this mountainside of crackling warnings,
No, don’t inhale, everything rotten
under this too-hot, too-cold sun, under
this there that is there, that is here, that is.

Marjorie Maddox

Winner of America Magazine’s 2019 Foley Poetry Prize, Lock Haven University English Professor Marjorie Maddox has published 11 collections of poetry—including Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation—What She Was Saying (prose); 4 books for children and teens, including Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises; Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (co-editor); Presence (assistant editor). See www.marjoriemaddox.com

Cosmic Lesson