Sally Ball

Sieverts and Joules | Plate 136     Butter Lamp With Moths
March 21, 2016 Ball Sally

Sieverts and Joules


Maybe there’s a new way to be nuclear, not using rods with their troublesome impermanent cladding, their uncoolable fuel, a new way to make less waste and reuse the waste, too, not “maybe,” this is in the world, waiting to be confirmed and approved, refined, waiting to be allowed to open up some air.


Maybe then it’s okay to love the world. Or to love it and not immediately crumple up in fear….


Sieverts and joules: the sieverts terrify, exist only to measure fatal exposure—8 sieverts mean you will die, sometime between ten minutes and two days from the moment at 8 or above. First, severe vomiting, severe headache, severe fever, incapacitation.


Sieverts and joules: these beautiful words for power, for the creation of motion, for the danger of power, propulsion, to move is to touch, a sievert is a deadly joule—


but maybe we can retool, rethink, make energy more safely?

because we want to love the world,


despite the seductions of this imposed dormancy.


(Foucault told us, so did first Bush.)


Imposed dormancy in which we buy corn syrup and drive home to some dragons-and-incest tv. While we watch, we hold smaller blue lights in our hands, like nesting Russian dolls of connectivity except those dolls you know eventually the last one is a stone.


I am a teacher, I lather them up about openness and aliveness and not drinking the corn syrup but also I have spent the last ten years powering down—


I smell this foreign laundry, this other sweater,


the air full of woodsmoke, the rain,


the cooling towers in the distance sending out steam in a Cheshire whorl, saying What about a new way?


You can fear the world or love it, right? If you are free.


If you aren’t, you would probably think (if you ever even came to hear it) that this observation was not a bit obtuse but lame, oblivious,


still the freest people are so often the most fearful. Too much to lose.


If you believe you have power you have to prove it in love


which I recognize as a principal essential to Christian thought, if not practice,

so measure your sieverts and measure the joules and can we please do real things


can we


choose instead of pray


I can’t make myself be good but maybe—




Plate 136     Butter Lamp With Moths




As if in amber, the fallen moths float

(without flickering) toward the flame,

which shines equal parts fact

and reflection. Pressed flowers, impatiens

torn in half—






The fire in the photograph

glints so white it’s made of nothing.

A gash in the page, haloed

in pixels that mean radiance.


Oh little flame in the zoom,

you are motionless this way,


yet not still, not at all—


The flat lack

that you are matters more

than any sodden wing,

and my eye flinches:


slack maw, little gateway

where the death wish goes.


Sally Ball is the author of Wreck Me (NY: Barrow Street, 2013) and Annus Mirabilis, which was selected by Ellen Bryant Voigt for the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize (NY: Barrow Street, 2005). Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Ploughshares, SlateThreepenny Review, Yale Review, and other journals, as well as in the Best American Poetry anthology. Ball is an associate director of Four Way Books and a recipient of recent fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the CAMAC Centre d’Art, and the Virginia G. Piper Center at Arizona State University.