For this week’s “Poem of the Week,” we’ve chosen “On Not Experiencing the Ultraviolet Catastrophe” by Maurice Riordan, which appears in The Wake Forest Series of Poetry: Volume Three.
On Not Experiencing the Ultraviolet Catastrophe
Unlike my childhood neighbour Jacksy Hickey
Who, rain or shine, wore a black gabardine,
Reasoning what was good to keep heat in
Was good enough, by definition, to keep it out,
We, when we reach the heart of the cornfield,
Know better: we shed each other’s clothes.
Oh, you are radiant, my dear, and I am hot for thee!
But what, you ask, is heat? This I claim to know…
Then I tell you why a tea cup doesn’t scorch
And why, for instance, Josiah Wedgwood’s kilns
Only baked Black Country clays to lucent jasper
With the help of an unknown hand: the constant h
Blocking frequencies in the ultraviolet range
And which, according to our century’s laws,
Is true even to the cosmic radiation coming
At us, year on year, from the origins of time.
A modest number, with its dairy herd of noughts
After the point, it almost is–but isn’t–zero.
By its mercy, we lie in the face of heaven.
You may lie beside me flesh to flesh. For this
You may be shunned, you may turn a dusky porcelain.
My love, you may be skinned. But you will not burn.