Poetry International Poetry International
Poem

John McCullough

KNOWN LIGHT

KNOWN LIGHT

KNOWN LIGHT

Now you’re crossing that ocean, I have to confess
I’ve rather warmed to this shed where nothing is yours,
where your father found God in a Bunsen flame.

Chipped oak, a gas tap, scores of powdered specimens —
the perfect stage for resurrecting my A-level chemistry.
I remember this much:

a Nichrome wire dipped in compounds then in fire
bares their truer colours.
It’s a bit like those stars,

the ones you rehearsed on the pebbles at Kemp Town:
the blood in Betelgeuse, Rigel’s furtive blue —
they only show under fiercer, more devoted attention;

you have to inspire electrons if you want to unveil
calcium’s brick-red, barium’s green,
the strange lilac which means simply potassium.

Loyal friends, they return now at my diffident prodding,
make me smug as a sorcerer,
impatient for knowledge of the lone unlabelled jar.

Reveal yourself, sweet familiar, I whisper to glass
before I’m blinded by the white heat
of a magnesium heart.
Close

KNOWN LIGHT

Now you’re crossing that ocean, I have to confess
I’ve rather warmed to this shed where nothing is yours,
where your father found God in a Bunsen flame.

Chipped oak, a gas tap, scores of powdered specimens —
the perfect stage for resurrecting my A-level chemistry.
I remember this much:

a Nichrome wire dipped in compounds then in fire
bares their truer colours.
It’s a bit like those stars,

the ones you rehearsed on the pebbles at Kemp Town:
the blood in Betelgeuse, Rigel’s furtive blue —
they only show under fiercer, more devoted attention;

you have to inspire electrons if you want to unveil
calcium’s brick-red, barium’s green,
the strange lilac which means simply potassium.

Loyal friends, they return now at my diffident prodding,
make me smug as a sorcerer,
impatient for knowledge of the lone unlabelled jar.

Reveal yourself, sweet familiar, I whisper to glass
before I’m blinded by the white heat
of a magnesium heart.

KNOWN LIGHT

Sponsors
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Hendrik Muller fonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Partners
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère