Christopher Buckley

On Time | Parallel Universes | After a Winter Storm: Grand Unified Field Theory
December 18, 2017 Buckley Christopher

On Time

”non in tempore sed cum tempore Deus creavit ordinem mundi.”

—St. Augustine

The light years

arriving after untold time,

or driving away from us,

the distances lost in it. . . .

You lie here at night,

saline drip-


star-drift, cloud-drift,

slowing the gazing

down to waves or packets.

It’s all the same imperceptible time

where you can’t see your way

clear until

you are somewhere else

looking back,

say, to 1968, The Chamber Brothers


the obvious

you were oblivious to,

                                                                                 Time has come today: Pleiku,

the Pueblo, Tet Offensive, My Lai,

Russian tanks in Prague,

King, Kennedy,

Apollo 8 orbiting the moon. . . .


Yet no appreciable change

in the air around you—

time traveling,

the cerebral storeroom,

the congealed unlikely jelly where

historical bits

and pieces coalesce

for the time being. . . .


B mesons oscillate trillions of times

a second before they decay

into matter,

into 1% more

than antimatter

explaining how,

there is a little something

instead of nothing.

Freight train time, the red shift

and whistle of every bright thing

moving away

from us toward the finite weight of everything

or the timeless weight

of the infinite—

not that long

to make up your mind. . . .

For instance, the grey weight of my cat

each night


as we breathe together,

the string, the inevitable

length and portion of time neither of us see

though I have more

access to the timeless abstractions than she. . . .

Einstein timing-out despite his atomic appreciation of the variables—

the spindrift

comet trails of chalk across blackboards,

the star-white

aurora of his hair—late emblems, ephemera

of hours spent revealing

a theory about space,

and the attendant matter

of time as well.

My cardiologist slipping the threads through to

the ventricle

to keep time a while longer.


school bell later each day

at the end of science class time—


at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel school,


in the outer precincts

of a flung arm of an average galaxy

spinning clock-wise somewhere—

the grammar and gravel of it then,

the seemingly unending duration

of it—precious monotony now. . . .

Fossil fuel-buried-time that moves

us faster

around the planet

to our ends.

Likewise, ice ages, the unlocking

of glacial-time

melting away,

everything running out and

the fire next time. . . .

Everything takes time.

Part and parcel,

thought particles stalling

like Zeno’s arrow,

motionless in theory,

in flight. . . .       Yet the air

of the Himalayas

continuing to rise, drifting off

to the dark edge

where there is no longer

any of it. . . . where time dissolves


The source of it un-sourced,

bright un-mined ore of it,

the un-enriched absence

of atomic structure in 96% of whatever it is

that is un-shining out there,

all that’s beyond parsing in the dark.

What then about the instants, the pools

where we set forth,

the open locks and flood gates,

the unmetaphysical eons where

salt encrypted our blood,

where every paper boat

and soul set forth

with the invisible

ink of time

imprinted on each cell?

What we have then

is the brief

bread crumb equivalent of time

across the cosmic expanse,

the here

and available now,

the whisper and hum of it,


chorusing in the rocks—

the gravity and attenuated driving


finally un-endurable force of it.

Just our glint of time

in time, time. . . .





Parallel Universes


“Recent research has indicated the possibility
of the gravitational pull of other universes on ours.”  Wikipedia


Einstein didn’t live long enough
to work out the Theory of Everything,
the exact mileage to the immense . . .
but if parallel universes are the case,
he’s out there in the stars still
putting the pieces together
even though Max Planck’s study
of radiation suggested divergent laws
operating beneath the floorboards
of gravity and light. . . .

they’ve turned up cosmic bruises
4 circular patterns in the microwave
background radiation—evidence
that our universe has crashed
into others. . . .  One soap bubble
rubs against another and
you have a foam of universes,
a mathematical crash and run-out
to the other side of the end of anything
you now have on hand . . . almost
endless permutations until you arrive
at a duplicate of our own
“Goldilock’s zone” habitable planet!?
More or less.

It could vary by a micron
or two—the tiniest sub-atomic backfire
or jitter of an electron or quark
and scads of different outcomes,
though cosmic strings vibrate
essentially as Parmenides set it down
in his poem about the music of the spheres,
leaving out the north star as the still point
of the turning earth of course. . . .

Elvis is still doing TV Spectaculars
from Hawaii; Al Gore was re-elected,
Rick got on that plane with Ilsa,
everyone in the middle east is sharing
pita bread and baba ganoush with his neighbor,
and somewhere on a stage Burns & Allen
are taking a bow:  Say Goodnight Gracie!
There’s an even chance that communism
did not collapse, and instead of making reservations
at that French/Bulgarian fusion bistro,
you’re eyeing the two potatoes and shriveled bit
of beet root left in the shop—some guy selling
lamp shades out the back. . . .

Sergei Krikalev,
Russian cosmonaut who flew six space missions,
could well head transportation for the EU.
We’re here on condition that everything occurs
within the parenthesis of time,
within the end-stopped tributaries
to a sea, a great blind quantum scramble
where we arrive too late to the table
to translate the oscillating patterns and
packets of light.

With every veneration
of my breath my cells are imminently obliged
to oblivion. You choose one god
or another, but religion is a trial,
an excuse to feel good about the fact
that you might be dead soon,
that, before you know it,
all your atoms will be headed
somewhere without you.



After a Winter Storm: Grand Unified Field Theory

Out here, on the point, I think

I see as much as I’m ever going to . . .

spindrift splashed in air,

time and space dissolving

down storm tracks

to the east. . . .

The rummage of clouds

sloughing stale gusts,

the fogs of industry,

and our sky’s still stuffed

with afterthoughts

from the Greeks—

Leucippus and Democritus

working out

that it’s only atoms so far

as we’re concerned,

along with the four

split forces that account for us,

for every molecule

or cathedral

we turn up.

Kelp, clam shells, drift wood

from the south seas . . .

bits and pieces,

nothing you can do

about the deep

clock of the universe

slip-streamed on starlight,


but never slowing down—

every shining thing redshifted,


past our ears

as we place a provisional penny

on this collection plate

of dust. . . .

Add every zero you can,

we still end up

with just the fine powder

of the past in our hands. . . .

Who knows

how the ionosphere developed

into a backboard

for radio waves?

Programs your father punched in

on the chrome buttons

in that Pontiac 60 years ago

bounced around and are still heading out—

Gunsmoke, The Whistler, Mr. & Mrs. North—

zooming past

the cosmic street lamps,

the only interruption a voice instructing

listeners to Call for Philip Morris. . . .

    A sky’s wind-ripped edge is all

the evidence of our breath,

returning to what exactly—

solar dust on the sea?

And the sea is dull

as that zinc counter

in the neighborhood bar,

one thing I could count on besides

a Fernet Branca,

those dark wings spreading inside me despite

the bitter cold . . .

a place for apostates,

home-spun astrophysicists

to gather for a smoke, a glass

of groundless speculation.

Wise Up!

a good salt air slap in the face says,

even gravity’s ignored

by the sleepwalking clouds.

I can still hear the volley and thunder

from the back room,

someone breaking 9-ball . . .

fat chance the 1

and 2 sink in opposite corners,

the 3 and 4 in the sides at the same time. . . .

I’m wondering where, amid all the quantum mechanics,

a soul turns up

in a garage full of theoretical parts—

lost among more dust drifting

across pages of Natural Philosophy

from the Middle Ages where

no metaphysical exceptions were made,

where they hadn’t the slightest

intimation of supergravity

or the eleven dimensions

that might

elegantly resolve the old equation.

Electromagnetic, weak or strong

nuclear forces,

the idea is that they can one day seamlessly be thrown

back together

like evening light gathering itself across the sea. . . .

Still, almost

everything we can put our finger on

bangs along

consistently enough,

one charmed quark or left-handed neutrino

after another. . . .

Centuries of star gazing

and nothing’s clear

as we still wonder

if we’ve come this far

only to come this far?

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.