Notes on Discovery: The Invention of the Death Ray

Perry Janes


Nikola Tesla. Colorado Springs. 1900. Tesla collates notes for his top-secret "particle beam," intended to revolutionize warfare by rendering modern firearms obsolete.

My god-fearing mother would have said
there is no such thing

                              as absolute zero
but there is. Every word written on
the body's blue lines can be erased
with water, all the world's petals
smothered by lightlessness. Why else
should we prize

                             the pistol, cupped

like an infant's fontanel fresh from the womb?
Understand: as long as guns exist we will
invent new machinations for pain.
Hunger, the one equation that shifts
even as we solve it. I cannot abide

the way each rifle wastes its warmest promise:
heat diffused, combustion spoiled, lead
vole tunneled to another bile-bitten end.
For what? The miracle

                             of manufacturing—
how the firearm makes more bodies
into bodies. I have never courted fear.
And yet. More frightening than blood

is lack: the drained creek, sorghum
pulled from every furrow, trees struck
by disease, leafless. Lord, I will peel
the field from the field. I will drink
the ocean free from salt. Lord, stay
my thirst for such ruinous knowledge.

This is not a benevolent contribution.

Once, I said I could kill a man. And dreamt
I did. My sterile gloved hands reached in
to fret the sternum's strings, white rubber
soaked red.

                          There is a vacuum inside
each of us waiting to be opened. Why not

                                                       open it?