The Einsteinian Qualities of Distance

By | 1 May 2017

It seems only yesterday a disorienting sense
of unease, and the shrinking autumn sun,
and the scattering leaves of the plane
trees all told me it was time
to escape these iron-born, sky-wrapping clouds,
and drive, or fly, or take a (now impossible) train

journey to you. For years I’d needed to train
myself to deal with the singularity of your absence,
with the state of living under different clouds,
in a different city to you, my old, only son
– with having to face these longitudes and time
zone discrepancies – and not just jump on a plane,

and land on your doorstep. The dry, boundless plain
that stretches between us, spanned only by dead train
lines and gouged-out roads and sheep, stretches Time
somehow, beyond borders or meridians, or a sense
of reality, and is measured in megalitres of sun,
wingbeats of crows, claps of thunder, and clouds

– a barrier as tangible and solid as brick. It clouds
our thinking, this quantity of distance that only a plane
can take on (devouring the miles while it races the sun).
Walking’s too slow (Life’s too short) and you hit rain
squalls and rockfalls in four-wheel-drives. In a sense,
they’re partners in crime: fat Distance and hungry Time.

But everything had changed this time.
My room was a prison I couldn’t leave. Clouds
of memories cast shadows of doubt and my sense
of gravity failed me. My eyes lied. A passing plane
flew tail-first across the sky. A passing train
of thought reified, opalescent in the west-rising sun.

And now nothing remains, including you, my son,
or not for me. I’ve crossed a line in Time
that no-one recrosses. The curtains of distant rain
always stay away, and their dark, mothering clouds
forever float far beyond my windowpane, in plain
sight but unknowable in this, my eternal loss of essence.

I have a sense of it now: the relativity of Time
clouds the amplitudes of Distance on our brief train
journey across the endless plain and on, into the sun.

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