Of all the images, it was the bland span of black and white splats that caught my eye.
In it, I saw a murmuration of birds, a swarm of swallows
swooping in unison, caught mid-swirl over a swollen river.
The image quickly did what murmurations do. It changed shape
as my mind brought into focus the outline of human heads, two of them,
floating like bodiless gods hovering over Earth’s crust,
which brought to mind Salvador Dali’s Head Exploding.
In it, the head of a Raphael Madonna. She is made up
of floating fragments, while her halo echoes
the shape of an atomic mushroom cloud.
How fitting for one who is, at the same time, both
Mother of Eternal Life and Woman of the Apocalypse.
How in lockstep with the laws of the universe, everything
created to fall apart over time.
When I turned the black and white image upside-down,
my mind imagined, not a nuclear explosion—
its predictable onslaught of death—but the Big Bang.
Its improbable explosion of life.
It was one of the few times that I recognized
a sign. I was standing under it—
a tiny rainbow only twenty-feet tall.
It arched across the narrow causeway,
touching down into the lake
just on either side of the two-lane road.
Above the rainbow, the sky
bisected into before and after:
On one side of the lake—
the expected white clouds.
Gathering on the other side—
a royal tower of black jet.
When my father, quoting Mary Oliver, said
Darkness, too, is a gift, what I saw
in my head was an explosion-in-reverse, a universe
of fragments all fleeing backwards
in time to a beginning, everything
wanting to be whole | everything
wanting to return
to the way it had been.
Nancy Chen Long is the author of Wider than the Sky (Diode Editions, 2020), which was selected for the Diode Editions Book Award, and Light into Bodies (University of Tampa Press, 2017), which won the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry. Her work has been supported by a National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship and the Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award. You’ll find her recent poems in Copper Nickel, The Cincinnati Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. She works at Indiana University in the Research Technologies division.