Christopher Buckley

On The Calculation of Chances
May 24, 2020 Buckley Christopher

On The Calculation of Chances
It takes more than faith
to be a pilgrim—
arms raised
to an unexpected
shaft of light
cutting through the clouds,
the clouds still
making room
for that hopelessness
I was sure I’d lifted
for the last time.

But here I am again,
sitting on the cliff
beneath the blue powder
of evening,
of lost thoughts—
but you can’t forget everything,
each estimation
you continue to make
out to sea.

But look,
even Einstein timed-out
with his best guesses,
and what becomes of us
more than a starburst,
something eminently
compatible to the dark?
What goes around. . . .

I look again from one hand
to the other,
from our parochial destination
to some quantum depletion,
to parallel universes—
every promise still swimming before me,
as immediate,
as substantial as air,
no faithful returns beyond
the light’s blank lists. . . .
What life was it
in which we went around thinking
about the abstract
value of Beauty,
its repeated
thinking that the coast was clear,
that we knew
what was coming?
At some point
I’ll once more pick up Spinoza
and admire
his stoic courage,
but then what?
Night after night
the galaxy’s little more
than feathery spume,
a smudge against the dim
lens of time . . .
what chance
I’ll understand the least bit
of it this time
before time’s up?
The earth keeps revolving
with our relative irrelevance
across a well known enormity
that flags down our hearts
whenever I look up—
full stop.

We are such minor shareholders
in the clouds
which proceeded us
a few atmospheres ago,
before we finally drew breath
and considered the luster
of the recurring moon,
before the first idea
of paradise
circling above the palms,
and we thought
that anything
turning regularly toward the stars
was bound to tell us
And who is going there—
there’s no doubt
what the prospects are.

Rain on the sidewalks,
hopscotch, stick figures,
saints’ names I chalked there
washed away like most things
that continue
to vanish above our heads—
each night
in the heavens’
disappearing ink. . . .
A lifetime ago
sunlight steamed
in the fields,
well before the invisible
attrition of the air,
the salt crystals
of each moment
the sky-grey
expanse and perimeter
of ice ages melting,
absence and un-enriched
atomic structures,
pendulum and clockwork
all through the night.

What is there
to choose from
between our molecular
and a return to nothing,
that belief
in something
we keep trying to put our finger on?
White caps or glassy calm
the sea prays to itself,
and whatever turns up
off shore,
I have no more idea
what I am
looking at today,
than I did when I was 7
and stood here listening
to waves break upon
these same rocks,
the spindrift ascending a moment—
the rip of the surf,
and the undertow of every second
pulled away,
for what?

Christopher Buckley’s most recent book is One Sky to the Next, winner of the Longleaf Press Book Prize, 2023. He has recently edited: The Long Embrace: Contemporary Poets on the Long Poems of Philip Levine, Lynx House Press, 2020; and NAMING THE LOST: THE FRESNO POETS—Interviews & Essays, Stephen F. Austin State Univ. Press, 2021.