First Laws

A weekly poem, read by the author.
April 11 2001 3:00 AM

First Laws

Every body continues in its state of rest, but tonight I have
to tell you we have divided yours into two principalities:
domain of black box on the linen closet's top shelf—


out of reach of over-zealous cleaners, myself included,
who might discard you without thinking, or
grandchildren who might dump you into tea cups—

and domain of nature, fistfuls of ash tucked into humous
and peatmoss in pits dug in the yard, fertilizing the roots
of two kousa dogwoods and a stewartia,

matter which cannot (remember, cannot) be destroyed. Each at rest
continuing, or of uniform motion in a straight line, straight through
the summer when drought turned the leaves to cylinders,

when Dad began screaming that the trees were dying, why
couldn't I do anything. I hung a thimble of ash from a dead branch,
soaked the roots. A body in linear movement unless it is compelled to change

that state by forces impressed upon it. And what could have pressed
you, Mother, if love did not? I just want one more cigarette before I die,
you begged from under your oxygen mask, Take me to the back porch.

To every action force there is an equal and opposite reaction force,
and so breath is its own resistance, its own memorial. My opposite,
my appositive. My pleas to quit. The pen presses back against my hand.



Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 30 2014 10:10 AM A Lovable Murderer and Heroic Villain: The Story of Australia's Most Iconic Outlaw
  Double X
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal. But… What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.