Dana Levin
Across the Sea



We used our texting machines 

to look up the definition of soul


in the middle of class―

thumb-joints at work


above the stitched paper

of actual books       in which 


we’d been reading


               about a Prophetess


               one of the human cave-bound Time Machines…


She had travelled a long way through the four dimensions 

                to be with us.


From someone’s mouth to someone’s ear.


Someone’s hand

              to tablet, papyrus, parchment, paper, the liquid crystal light

             of our computer screens―


Liquid crystal light they’d really 

called it that, 

            the inventors 


            at Marconi Wireless.


“See if you can hear anything, 

             Mr. Kemp!” Marconi had cried, the day they sailed the letter S 


            across the sea―I loved


the synesthesia of that, See if you can hear, they’d coaxed some radio                waves to propel the alphabet

             through the air―


Was that Marconi wishing


he was a liquid crystal light and not a 

            break of bones


            that had to fear the future―





A human-headed bird, the Egyptians said.


A butterfly, an innermost.


A web-site 

      I was afraid to enter: wewantyoursoul.com the students

      laughed and laughed―


      soul-adorning, soul-afflicting, soul-amazing―




They really called it that, the ropes they wound

round oil skin

       to keep out sea and storm, our sailing men―


who sent the cheeriest message you could imagine

to usher in

       the Telegraphic Age: Thanks


        am well―


The soul, it was an ellipse in white, it fizzed, 

their chaplains said, with God’s 



      “breath of life”―


So they could travel

      through length and width and depth and time and

      man a ship―


      where someone

      in a small room



      would tap out a message―


      to a far man on a far shore, and they    

      would understand one another…




He shared all roads and he braved all seas with me,

all threats of the waves and skies is what the Hero says 


of his dead father―but it sounded like soul to me.


Guide companion―Captain

      of the ship of flesh I had to ride, where “I”


      was a third thing in the closed grip 

      of the body’s vise―


Marconi, he thought he’d hear

      the agony of Christ


      with a sensitive dial to help him sieve. 


He trawled

      the frequencies―


      for eli lama sabachthani no song lost―


      no impress of tongue and teeth that made a sound, ever lost―


      if you had a receiver―


      a virgin say, in a mountain crag, or a brain-bot 

                     from the nano-future, did it 


                     matter which―


                     You’d have a house


                     for a god’s mouth


                     and it would message you

                                  your rescue…



Rescued from what is what I’m trying to mean.


Rescued from what you have to fear the future

          more than you used to which sounded like the soul


         waving a series of flags at me―




We wanted arrival to be instant

because we didn’t want to be separate

          from what we loved.


Wireless, weightless and omniscient is how we

refined our machines―


We had a dream


that we could smash the bans

of matter and time and

         still be alive―


Was that the soul, wishing


we would invent the body

out of existence, 

        so many of us now 


        enthralled by doom…


The students peer so deep into their hand-held screens they 

        look like Diviners. 


Each one

       a scrying Sybil at the world’s 



      scribbled-on leaves thrown out of their caves


      and into the wind―


The only part of the Epic

I make them read, just after

       the crew is borne ashore, but before


       the walk amongst the dead―


The part between.


Where there’s a body, agonized by light.


      And someone lost.


      And a query―


Found In Volume 43, No. 02
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Dana Levin
About the Author

Dana Levin’s fourth book is Banana Palace (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), a finalist for the Rilke Prize. Previous books include In the Surgical Theatre, Wedding Day, and Sky Burial, which The New Yorker called “utterly her own and utterly riveting.” Her fellowships and awards include those from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Library of Congress, as well as from the Rona Jaffe, Whiting and Guggenheim Foundations. Levin currently serves as Distinguished Writer in Residence at Maryville University in St. Louis, where she lives.