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Sharon Olds


For and Against Knowledge
                                (for Christa MacAuliffe)
What happened to her?  As long as it was she,
what did she see?  Strapped in,
tilted back, so her back was toward
the planet she was leaving, feeling the Gs
press her with their enormous palm, did she
weep with excitement in the roar, and in
the lens of a tear glimpse for an instant
a disc of fire?  If she were our daughter,
would I think about it, how she had died, was she
torn apart, was she burned— the way
I have wondered about the first seconds
of our girl’s life, when she was a cell a
cell had just entered, she hung in me
a ball of grey liquid, without nerves,
without eyes or memory, it was
she, I love her.  So I want to slow it
down, and take each millisecond
up, take her, at each point,
in my mind’s arms-- the first, final
shock hit, as if God touched
a thumb to her brain and it went out, like a mercy killing,
and then, when it was no longer she,
the flames came-- as we burned my father
when he had left himself.  Then the massive bloom un-
buckled and jumped, she was vaporized back
down to the level of the cell.  And the spirit--
I have never understood the spirit,
all I know is the shape it takes,
the wavering flame of flesh.  Those
who know about the spirit may tell you
where she is, and why.  What I want
to do is find every cell,
slip it out of the fishes’ mouths,
ash in the tree, soot in our eyes
where she enters our lives, I want to play it
backwards, burning jigsaw puzzle
of flesh, suck in its million stars
to meet, in the sky, boiling metal
fly back
together, and cool.
Pull that rocket
back down
surely to earth, open the hatch
and draw them out like fresh-born creatures,
sort them out, family by family, go
away, disperse, do not meet here.
-from Blood, Tin, and Straw