CERIDWEN

HALL

Ceridwen Hall is a writer and educator from Ohio. She is the author of a chapbook, Automotive (Finishing Line Press). Her work has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, TriQuarterly, Pembroke Magazine, Tar River Poetry, The Cincinnati Review and other journals.

 

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CHRONOLOGY

        When we are anxious, we like stories with rules

for time travel. For instance, I can go backwards,

        but not forwards because the world might not exist

ahead of time. Or you can go back, but you mustn’t

        take anything, mustn’t touch anyone; you might alter

history just by speaking—the way archaeologists

        and politicians do, reframing battles as expedient

when new bones surface. We might find

        that someone has already intervened, minutes

or centuries ago, so now there’s no choice

        for any protagonist but to repeat the act. Time machines

reflect the era in which they are produced—

        ours are luminous screens, free, now, of wheels and levers.

They shimmer and we struggle to follow

        the complex mechanics of temporal transit, to spot

the glitch that protects against chaos.

        If I stay too long, I won’t make it back to my own time.

Or you might complete several trips, only to witness

        the same emergency recurring: blast, aftermath. We check

the parameters, try to cheat. But once we know,

        it’s always too late; our hammered warning trips

the whole crowd into panic. We go mute, watching  

        our mistakes unfold; they rush, arms outstretched,

toward a brief incandescent future.

EXHIBIT

across four screens, a longboat voyages and is built. Or reconstructed with our best approximation of historical materials and techniques. They show this on a loop, leaving us to imagine the boats’ ritual burning. Two crews race each other west; but when you look again, you find they are one, doubled. Viking was more verb than noun, the wall asserts. For trading abroad. And for pillaging, though we are encouraged to marvel instead at tools and motifs borrowed from neighbors. Pendants gleam behind glass: leaping dear, ornate crosses. They captured slaves also, now represented by empty chains over a paragraph none of the mothers will read aloud. Their children press buttons, fight over who gets to lift the sword. Fog threatens. Grey sails—wool—ripple in silent wind

TORPEDOES

       Another year, a new accident, I will think,

once I’ve located my eyeglasses and the fuse

       is lit; or, halt and blur, as the flames climb

a ladder of smoke and noise. Then we glide

       under the dragon, into the mouth of the party.

I drift toward explanation: a pedestrian starting

       to cross, a faulty signal—so she couldn’t tell

I’d braked. But there are astrological predictions

       to be heard, films to watch. Her engine crumpled

against my bumper and tail lights. A friend tows

       me to the nearest chair. We saw fluid leaking,

but none of those white subtitles that indicate

       what we are looking at, whose submarine

has been hit and in which ocean. I worry

       my stop was too abrupt, admit this—as a captain

rescues his enemy and they agree the blast

       was an act of sabotage, but fail to convince

their governments. At home, trees limbs block

       the curb again and I slip into ultra-quiet mode,

where, if a wrench is dropped, it falls

       with terrible slowness—until an outstretched

palm perhaps averts disaster.

SCALE

like the crew of a submarine, ordered to attain a certain velocity, they proceed absent a destination. It’s just nickels and dimes, up or down, when the day ends. Abstraction contains, the way a missing hydrogen bomb’s destructive capacity can be measured in cities rather than civilians, a series of bets devised to locate and retrieve it. Exact magnitudes, at this depth, diminish confidence or inflate it. Instead they celebrate with Wednesday night trivia, where obscure facts turn assets. He enjoys winning, but knows the game is to sell drinks. All scores are rituals—are wars of quantifying. Words too; no matter its size, a sub is never a ship, always a boat, as if just out fishing—where risk, amid oceans of data, begets further oscillation

INSTRUMENTS

 Souilly, France 1918

Cables stretch through barbed wire and battlefields

become switchboards. From above, pilots report,

 

invisible hands seem to manipulate the plugs

in thousands of electric flashes. Generals speak

 

to every trench as Signal Corps women connect

hundreds of calls. They breathe smoke and speak

 

French or English as necessary, retaining

AT&T’s polite script in case of interception

 

—if “the line is out of order,” it’s been bombed.

When headquarters catch fire, they keep making

 

calls until engineers drag their switchboards out

to nearby fields. A silent hour follows. (I mute

 

my phone and conceal my location, so I can think

of this in absurd comfort, undisturbed by friends

 

or news of my own century.) To hide the reason

for downed communications from their enemy,

 

the operators take responsibility for this lapse

and apologize. They are somewhere between

 

ladies and officers with gas masks hanging ready

and navy skirts—hems raised beyond propriety

 

to clear the mud; no one knows how to address them,

whether to salute. The Hello Girls learn new codes

 

every week, eat like wolves—or men—when bacon

appears in the mess. Days off, they drill with pistols

 

and, to boost morale, play and sing at the piano.