String Theory by D.E. Kern

String Theory

The mother knelt, one knee drawn back, three inches off the ground and
paid out the string a handful at a time using her fingers as a guide. Wind
caught the face of the kite and lifted, held it just beyond the reach of an
arm about the distance of a mirror from a face after a harried breakfast

two cups of coffee too few and the news another good friend was dying.
The child looked at it askance and danced to the music of the breeze
rattling the plastic against the dowel skeleton like Elijah’s bones, then
turned his attention to the next-best thing: a flash of color, sounds cutting

through the white noise in a busy park. But the mother kept kneeling
doled out life by the cuticle to balance the fragility of things against all
the wonders of possibility. She studied the kite’s burnished surface as if
expecting it to catch the right light for a reflection—perhaps the surreal

mélange gifted by glass in a funhouse—and I wondered if she had heard
the story told by a writer dying young. How after one last doctor’s visit
he considered the shirt he’d decided to be buried in, just back from the
drycleaners and swathed in a thread-bare layer of plastic pierced at the top

by a hanger. If she did, I imagined she’d rise and corral her prodigal son,
encourage him to bear witness to the way process gives way to payoff
tell him there is something holy, miraculous about the moment when things
take flight. There is a danger in turning away when the sun first breaks

the darkness with a laser shot of purple; when a ball meets a bat with a crack
that sounds like someone breached the wall between space and time;
when two lovers carry out the last sway in their dance and fly away together
only to land with a sigh. These are the things too essential for one to miss.

Instead she knelt, fixed on lengthening the slack, battling the squalls that
threatened to tear the kite into scraps of kindling and cheap-ass garbage bag.
Ten feet away her son danced to the music drifting in from another party,
a ranchera tune with a trumpet cutting slices of the high, cloud-mottled sky.

I found my feet bolted to ground and smiled, just half-certain God caught
the gesture, but believed the child missed nothing of consequence at all.

by D.E. Kern

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Editor’s Note: This poem’s meandering narrative draws the reader through one possibility and into another, until the last two lines arrive with great certainty.

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