The Structure of Pluto

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Paisley Rekdal’s poem, “The Structure of Pluto,” appeared in  MQR’s Spring 2002 issue.
Whose only moon is Charon, ferryman of the dead
who circles death’s king.
No cartoon dog this, Pluto brings its own
rules to the table: sheets
of rock and frozen methane, an icy mantle of ammonia
that cloaks in a perfume like cleansing fluid.
If there are dead vacationing in the eternal,
they might be torn here between attractions
of oblivion and remembrance.
Charon is half the size of its parent planet.
Death and its fan club thus revolve through weight
and gravitation almost
balanced: the one threatening to pull the other
into its frozen orbit. Cold is the language
Hell spoke in through Dante, yes, Auden noted it was chilly
the day Yeats died and it was winter the night
I read illicit excerpts of Yeats’s
unpublished notebook, copied
by my lover under the ammonial green light of a law firm’s Xerox.
We crouched before my apartment’s picture
window reveling the world
Disneyfied by static, snow under which my lover’s car
froze and our will to separate got buried
inch by inch. He worked on copyrights:
this was his first case. For this
he’d simply heard YEATS, slipped
what he could from its maroon folder,
its dead syllables
leashed to the notebook’s lines

as if by gravity. Someone has to care, if not me,

he’d thought; perhaps Someone has to care about me,

which phrases twined into one orbit, weighted

equally with their own cold


This is what my boyfriend thought: to drag

his love-gift in over a thousand protestations.

He would have done anything to impress

upon me what tied, the structure

of our sex intricate and unvaried as if fatal, as if

kisses were isotopes that radiated.

Or we were planetary: our shared affection no more faithful

than a hood of methane.

There was nothing in those notebooks

that needed protection. Nothing private

of the great poet ferried from the otherworld.

All we learned was that he had terrible handwriting. But

why shouldn’t I love most the accomplished?

This I learned, as months later I learned to say Hell

would be staying with you forever

to this man who brought me entry,

language like an irradium of hail, white-hot

silicate raining through space forever.

I learned to be cruel as protection, poling

between this

desire and that, love’s boredom stiffened in each cell.

This is not the only galaxy in the universe.

This is not the only planet, the coldest one, even further

from our star than Neptune which itself is plagued by wind-storms.

Years before a lawyer brought me poems from the dead.

Faithful dog, what keeps you here?

the planets whisper. And watch each night, attracted

to the brilliance

of men we still believe

are found in stars.


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