Holding Radium

by Diane Ackerman


You handle me

as if composing a haiku—

a few pithy strokes

with an effect

that’s pure lightning.

What does it feel like

gathering a wild, dark,

iridescent thing in your hands,

tight enough to shelter it

and even calm its trembling,

yet loose enough

not to fright or imprison it?

Sometimes how we are

is the most beautiful thing

I know—an invisible gift

I’ve craved since I was little.

But there’s no word for it

in my heart’s vocabulary.

Excerpted from a three-part longer poem, in Origami Bridges, New York: HarperCollins, 2002, page 45. I think of Bashō’s notion of karumi, or lightness, in haiku, which I’ve defined elsewhere as the poetic ability to catch a soap bubble without popping it.