Perry Janes


Katharine Johnson. Maine. 1920. Conflicted by her feelings for Tesla, and their ongoing epistolary affair, Katharine takes refuge at a secluded hotel after temporarily abandoning her husband at home.

Deep in the Earth, beneath saline crust laid
along the shore, inside the center of a dull bulb
unbloomed—energy stirs, sharp and snapping

at the surface. This is Niko, my dear
and ever silent friend. Niko, everywhere—wires
and switches, all. If it can be said that Niko loved

by omission, no man ever loved me
more. I wrote him so many letters,
only some of which I sent, each envelope

a hollow skiff I hoped he would crawl inside and stamp
Return. Now? This hotel, this afternoon, thin and sheer
as a shift. Why have I come? Robert lies ill at home

in the shadow of our marriage, little else than a reflection
of the past: autos streaming from banquets with patrons
in fetching silk brocades, a street-cellist's cords 

filling crowds stricken mute by Niko's machinist
wizardry. This was a life well lived, but whose was it?
In a summer just like this one nearly thirty years ago

Nikola stood as tall and willowy as curtains tossed
by wind, his labnow burned to nothingfilled
with metal contorted by its own strange properties,

a midnight snow of sparks rising, falling,
the sort of mysteries a young woman wants
to wrap around her shoulders and sink into.

He was young. My husband was young. Both were handsome.
We were all in love with one another. But now.
Niko removes vocals from their larynx containers

and calculates the cubic centimeters of his dinner.
He crushes crumbs between his thumbs for birds
to peck out. Their feathers line the walls

of his room at the Waldorf—to think I lost his love
to pigeons. But genius stoops to the Earth
for the plainest things.