Colin Cheney

Transmutation Notebook B

I am drawn to Phaethon’s friend, Cygnus.

His change seems at least half-willed, half the evolution of guilt.


For $1,000 you can have your own genome sequenced
to find what difference exists between you & the marsh bird


you might wish to become. North of Chambers Street,

I sat in the planning chief’s office waiting to discuss the deadweight


of earth on rooftops & watched a man hang a huge photograph

of a theater—plush seats filmed with dust, empty proscenium—


near Chernobyl. As I think about it now, maybe it was the reactor’s

control room. Odd how the rich who own such images


hang their silver gelatin on the wall above zoning maps

of affordable housing in the Bronx. Maybe it’s like how I loved


being this close yesterday to Darwin’s notebook on transmutation,

the one where he scratched a tree beneath I think.


Or was it only a copy? I don’t understand the radioactive mechanism

that caused the daughters of the sun to turn into trees.


But I understand why their mother tore at their branches of blood

& amber, & why they later stretched their grove to listen to Orpheus


singing before he was torn to pieces like the bird on the running path

yesterday. Winded, I try to gather each feather & wing-bone


broken down in the bellies of ants, try to hold this creature together

long enough to ask, whatever new part of earth you are—am I there?



“Transmutation Notebook B” is from Here Be Monsters (University of Georgia Press, 2010).