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Red Paint

sara pirkle / poem

To Find Out What The World Is

French artist Abraham Poincheval entombs himself inside giant boulder “to find out what the world is.”

Leave it to a man to believe the truth can be found in stone. Don’t get me wrong. I want to find out what the world is too. But when I see a river winding through boulders like a man sliding down between my knees, I forget what I was thinking. See, sometimes I know a word without knowing its meaning. More often I know a meaning without knowing the word, such as the heart rush when a chemist drains his bourbon on the rocks, says Let’s do an experiment, then slips his hands around my waist like a tailor measuring for a skirt. Tricky, trusting a man who ignites chain reactions for a living. Also tricky? Trusting myself. Around here, the spring air hangs so heavy with honeysuckle my lungs ache with longing. I always seem to lose my train of thought when I smell flowers or a man’s neck. If I wasn’t so scared of solitude, I’d stop searching for sex with scientists. If I wasn’t so scared of dying, I’d entomb myself in something living, hollow out an oak’s heartwood or bury myself up to my neck in my grandmother’s garden, Georgia soil feeding green beans, sweet corn, peaches. Leave it to a man to curl like a fetus in limestone for a week, surviving on dried meat. Leave it to a man to inhabit that hard darkness, to assume an answer resides inside. Here’s my hot take: a rock isn’t alive. The only way to find out anything worth finding out is to watch the world move and breathe: robins hopscotching along branches, waist-high reeds backbending in the breeze. Creeks gurgling, frog armies honking, a man moving shirtless through his kitchen to offer coffee to me. When I tell my chemist about the artist, he murmurs, How clever, his eyes focused on a book about the brain’s hemispheres. After six months, he still can’t say he loves me. He doesn’t know why. I kiss his temple and insist not everything can be figured out just by thinking. The chemist disagrees. For days at a time he doesn’t speak, just sits inside his mind. I reckon he’s trying to find the same answers we’re all looking for, but even the best chemist can’t balance life’s greatest equations. Baby, I say, there’s no algorithm for love. Here’s a theorem that can be proved, though: if I unzip my dress to reveal red lingerie and a man doesn’t leap up from reading, that man is not right for me. Leave it to a chemist to believe desire is merely chemical. Leave it to this man to believe all truth is cold and indifferent, not soft like his bed, his chest rising like the land as he breathes, my head on his shoulder. For me, understanding the world begins with tenderness. For him, tenderness gets in the way of understanding.


Sara Pirkle is a Southern poet, an identical twin, a breast cancer survivor, and a board game enthusiast. Her first book, The Disappearing Act (Mercer University Press, 2018), won the Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry. She also dabbles in songwriting and co-wrote a song on Remy Le Boeuf’s album, Architecture of Storms, which was nominated for a 2023 GRAMMY in the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album category. She is an Associate Director of Creative Writing at The University of Alabama.


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