The Theory of Radioactivity

Burnt-out taxis rest like lozenges on a tongue of rain
in Phnom Penh, where the suctioned geckos stare for hours
at the zigzag tiles of the Commissariat’s roof, double zeros
doubled back in pools spooled around sandstone fingers
pointed at the pastlife of stars, the ornately carved prangs
of Angkorian temples clenching open a cool space to pray
under distant frigatebirds that ride among streets of clouds,
their wings in a tropospheric heat as Bikini Atoll
lifts the year 1952 in a column of ash, snow
of calcite and coral to follow, the drift and falling
chunks of archipelago vaporizing into thin air
on eternal patrol with vague whispery outlines of hands
that anchored an array of destroyers, a show of strength.
Now the coconuts on palms suffused yet with cesium
glow faintly at night like phosphorescent bowling balls
or the eyes of sailfish and skipjacks once hooked
and pulled hard through the blue current of eternity,
as we all are, at some point, our ears filled with white
noise like a purely theoretical construction, a solar flare
that ejects through space ions of unknowable unknowing.

Ravi Shankar is an associate professor of English and poet-in-residence at Central Connecticut State University. His collections of poetry include Instrumentality (2004), a finalist for the 2005 Connecticut Book Awards; the collaborative chapbook Wanton Textiles (2006), with Reb Livingston; and Deepening Groove (2011), winner of the National Poetry Review Prize.

Brian Turner (author of Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise) received the Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship, the US-Japan Friendship Commission grant, the Poets’ Prize, and a Lannan Fellowship. His work has appeared on NPR, the BBC, Newshour with Jim Lehrer, and elsewhere. He directs the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College.