Joanne Limburg is the author of two poetry collections published by Bloodaxe. Femenismo was shortlisted for the Forward Best First Collection Prize; Paraphernalia was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. She has also written a memoir: The Woman Who Thought Too Much (Atlantic Books, 2010). She lives in Cambridge with her husband and son.
“The poems that make up The Oxygen Man (Five Leaves Publications, 2012) were written in response to the death of the author’s younger brother, a brilliant chemist who took his own life in 2008. They follow Limburg as she visits the mid-Western town where her brother lived, worked and died, range back over their shared childhood, and look ahead as she tries to work out what it means to be the one who stays behind.”
“Limburg’s universe appears to be constantly twisting away from perception even as she pins it down in lines of singular economy.”
– Poetry Book Society
She will harrow this town, she will turn him up,
whole or in pieces. Being a sister,
she knows that brothers are born to trouble.
Her part is to rescue him,
lend him a heart to face his enemies,
or failing that, confound them herself
with withheld smiles, or with her sharp
big sister’s tongue; and if she finds
them gone to ground, their damage done,
she’ll cut the losses for both of them
and seek him out, wherever he’s lying,
broken and say, Brother, there’s
no shame in one lost battle, or
in ten. Put the phial down –
don’t drink! And if it is too late
for that, she’ll scruff the man and stick
her fingers down his throat, or find
an antidote, or make her own,
or heave time back, or failing that,
and even failing that, she’ll take him home,
and never mind how small the pieces.
Sylar and Elle
Into the midst of things more real
and personal, creep Sylar and Elle.
She is shaking with grief and rage;
he wants to know if he can feel
for someone else, he covets pain.
So he approaches her, this girl
whose father he scalped some episodes back,
and she cries You! and zaps him. And again.
I’ll kill you! Zap! She hurls blue lightning
from her palms, it hits him dead
in the chest, and he falls back, his arms
spread wide, a T-shaped allusion to something –
make that ‘someone’ – the viewers know,
and maybe love, and maybe pray to.
Then, in case you hadn’t got it,
he gets up. He has no wounds to show
but he looks chastened, and his shirt’s
in charcoaled tatters. I understand,
he coos. You hate me. Let me have it:
I can take it. She slings her hurts
again. Again. The shirt is gone
completely. His body twitches back
to life, as we expect. He’s keeping
calm. He’s kept his trousers on.
Elle’s given up, she’s emptied
of her hate. His work complete,
Sylar crawls to her, the blue
sparks in his hands, all mended,
and they laugh. I never want
the scene to end, but it must.
I want to do what Elle does, give it
all to Sylar, but I can’t.
Today, instead of dying,
you could go to work,
open up the lab
that has your name on it,
power something up –
some expensive toy
it took two grants to buy –
and set creation going.
I said creation. I know
the things that you can do:
engineer an enzyme,
speed up evolution;
one of your early tricks
was making oxygen.
Do that once more for me.
Take the manganese ions,
the ones the flowers use,
bind them up with ligands,
stick them in solution,
add your hypochlorite,
wait. We’ll wait.
Maybe minutes, hours –
you know, I don’t – but then
we’ll see the bubbles rise.
Now that’s your own good stuff:
breathe it, breathe it in.
Blue is not your colour.
Let everything be green.
from The Oxygen Man (Five Leaves Publications, 2012).
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