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Combustion
by Sara Eliza Johnson


If a human body has two-hundred-and-six bones
and thirty trillion cells, and each cell
has one hundred trillion atoms, if the spine
has thirty-three vertebrae—
if each atom
has a shadow—then the lilacs across the yard
are nebulae beginning to star.
If the fruit flies that settle on the orange
on the table rise
like the photons
from a bomb fire miles away,
my thoughts at the moment of explosion
are nails suspended
in a jar of honey.
I peel the orange
for you, spread the honey on your toast.
When our skin touches
our atoms touch, their shadows
merging into a shadow galaxy.
And if echoes are shadows
of sounds, if each hexagonal cell in the body
is a dark pool of jelly,
if within each cell
drones another cell—
The moment the bomb explodes
the man's spine bends like its shadow
across the road.
The moment he loses his hearing
I think you are calling me
from across the house
because my ears start to ring.
From the kitchen window
I see the lilacs crackling like static
as if erasing, teleporting,
thousands of bees rising from the blossoms:
tiny flames in the sun.
I lick the knife   
and the honey pierces my tongue:
a nail made of light.
My body is wrapped in honey. When I step outside
I become fire.

typing prompt

We don't normally associate love with science.Long ago, it was thought that love was centered in the heart, and that misconception still holds a place in our culture - just take a look around you when Valentine's day approaches. Later, we found that the emotions of love were centered in the brain and involved chemical reactions in our bodies.

In Sara Eliza Johnson's poem, "Combustion", we begin with the science of the body that we can enumerate.

If a human body has two-hundred-and-six bones
and thirty trillion cells, and each cell
has one hundred trillion atoms, if the spine
has thirty-three vertebrae—

When I read articles about scientists studying love, it always seems so cold and dry. For example, when researchers measured hormone levels in young people who reported recently falling in love, they found "that the lovers had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than people who hadn't lately been bitten by the love bug. They also found that the men who were in love had less testosterone than their single counterparts, and the women in love had more. The researchers speculated that falling in love may reduce some of the differences between the sexes, making men softer and women more aggressive."

That last piece of scientific conjecture is the most interesting: falling in love makes us more like each other.

Johnson's poem moves from the facts of the body to the body itself.

When our skin touches
our atoms touch, their shadows
merging into a shadow galaxy.

I don't think you need to read about the neuroscience of love in order to understand that falling in love and being in love does things to our brain and our bodies.  The challenge of this month's prompt is to use the science as a way to understand an aspect of love in a new way

The submission deadline for this prompt is August 31, 2018

POETS ONLINE offers you the opportunity to submit your poetic response to this current prompt. All submissions that address this prompt will be read and considered for posting on this site. Before your first submission, you should read some poems in our archive to get a sense of the types of responses people have had to previous prompts. We will only consider poems that are in response to this current writing prompt.