Best of the Net 2015  


At rest, the machine makes a softer sound,
almost pleasant, something

like a lone cricket, perfected in its measure.
But the technician is too

bright, illuminant as the room—talking
with someone in the glassed

control booth about Dixie Donuts—and so
overweight I cannot

imagine she could fit herself into the tube
where she will send me

in minutes. It is Friday, late afternoon;
there can't be many of us

left to see. She feeds me into the mouth
of the thing, telling me

to follow the breathing directions as best I can,
and I do, for the next

three quarters of an hour, breathe in and out
and pray, curse, clench my teeth,

sorry as I have ever been for myself
and suddenly sorrier

to realize that I am the last of the many
this day; someone else's

face was just this close to the low ceiling,
someone else's worry

saw this flat whiteness. In my hand I hold
the small, bulbous call

button everyone must hold, with the same
nervous lightness, I can

imagine holding a moth—so as not to kill it
and not to let it go.

The metaphor for it metastasizes, too:
I am in the belly

of the beast, the belly of a whale, in some sterile
wilderness, desert

island, sand-blind; I am a thread in the deep
eye of a needle; in some

percussive otherworld that rises up
every time I exhale

and hold still my empty lungs. And then I come to
and settle on a tunnel,

a real one, the one they call the Paw Paw
for the nearby trees,

and a day in early June three years ago,
and I can stay in there

long enough to survive it again—artifact
of a place, a quarter mile

through a mountain in western Maryland.
You are never out

of sight of the end of it, and still you find
you do need that borrowed

flashlight you thought you could do without, its battery
feeble, jittery beam.

Mules and men died in here, hauling out
the stone to make this

passage, narrow towpath alongside a stream
of water you can hear

but cannot see. The way out is searing
and round, a worthless sun

that lights nothing but itself, and still you choose it,
the entrance behind you

just as fixed but changed, somehow, another
state, no, another country,

farther away, now, you are sure, than this.

- Claudia Emerson (from One Magazine)