Martha Silano



Seen it myself as a girl—flare the size of a jet plane.                                    
Raced to tell my mother, who told me not to lie.

And why should a mother, why should anyone
these will-o'-the-wisps gone wild, this spun silk

spattering brilliant streams, this yellow washtub
bouncing down a boulevard, traveling a city block,

crashing into a barn, killing the horse inside?
Why this buttery boules de feu,this kugelblitz

riding the center lane, buzzing the Sunday ham,
these sparkly basketballs striking the Golden Temple,

carving trenches, bulldozing peat, busting down doors?
Came at me like a comet. Blew my shirt right off.

Sizzled and crackled like bacon frying,
like candle flames not three feet from my nose.

Several physicists, a loud crash, my sanity,
especially here in the Midwest. Not some sort

of wacko President of Find the Children.
A grandma of three! Half the timeframe fuzzy,

but it rotated on the sill like two fists, coiled tinsel,
a traffic signal blinking amber, a novelty glass ball.

Fizzed like one of those fizzer sticks. I knew
no one'd believe me, that feeling of taking clothes

from a dryer, but they weren't chirping,
not at all in a Figure 8, so I hung up quickly. 

Just a blue mist, loose screw, ringing phone.
A hammer made of tinfoil, a hula-hoop of light. 

Just me and my dear daddy (daddy saw it too).
Just leaving the house the same way it arrived.





About a dozen years ago, my sister-in-law shared with me that she'd seen ball lightning as a child, but her parents didn't believe her. Had I ever heard of ball lightning? No, I hadn't, but I was curious. Ball lightning, according to Wikipedia, is an "unexplained atmospheric electrical phenomenon" involving "luminous spherical objects." Until the 1960s, most scientists did not believe in its existence; it was considered an urban myth. Scientific data remains scarce, but there is a growing body of evidence that ball lightning is real.

As she sometimes did during those early years of knowing her, my sister-in-law asked me if I'd write a poem about it. I said I'd try. My 'research' involved reading every online account of a ball lightning sighting I could find. These accounts were then collaged and massaged into a quasi single-voice narrative. I found myself delighted by the poetic 'feel' of these eyewitness accounts, along with the bizarrely disjointed 'story' born of meshing together several accounts into one semi-deranged voice. I relished both the poetry in the so-called everyday language of non-poets, and the non-poetic tendencies of the so-called poet/maker (me). There was just something so compelling about having those two opposing and contradictory forces playing off each other. Also, by the end of the poem the ambiguity of the title plays out: there are many things that cannot be explained, and sanity is fleeting.

I continued to revise this poem for years (and years). I'd put it away, not sure if it was finished or not, then return to it a few years later. Then I knew it was finished, but it kept getting rejected, so I'd put it away, then bring it out and tinker some more. The only sad thing is that my sister-in-law is out of the picture, so I can't tell her I finally finished her ball lightning poem.