Blown apart, the afternoon, severed in two
How to compare the hole in Bourdin's plans
with the space beyond his wrist where once
a hand clutched a crude, unreliable bomb.
The irony of inaccuracy, here of all places,
or is this, too, a fabrication, as much as time—
the design of twenty-five sea-faring bureaucrats
(only Haiti dissented) with their charts and scales
and gentlemanly calibrations, legislating the seasons
down to the second as if, like men, they could be made
to progress uniformly toward world order,
stretching west to east by decrees. Before 19:00 hours
(Greenwich mean time) Bourdin had died,
the hole in his belly deep as the continental shelf,
wide as the Tower of Wind and beyond repair.
At the Club Autonomie the authorities found
Freedom and La Révolte discarded in haphazard
stacks, but not a single map of the Royal Observatory.
Either they weren't talking or it was true:
nobody knew what the Frenchman intended.
No deed was planned in either hemisphere.
Perhaps it was more complicated
than murder—or less—a vision
of chronologies halted, history unmade,
the demise of precision. Did he imagine
the newly divided day extinguished,
uncounted hours clinging like February's
black frost to the tall oaks in Greenwich Park,
bare branches scarred with the fire
of one man's protest: you cannot measure the distance
from here to anywhere in sterling. Did he expect,
in his terrible fantasy, to see numbers scatter
to the sky like dark birds startled from their nests,
7 shattered on a steep slate roof, 6 (or is that 9?)
bent on its side and swinging from the stucco tile,
trains the L&M timetables reduced to ash—stalled
on their tracks. Ships—logbooks liquefied—sailing
backwards, the bitter ends unraveling,
noon and midnight unmoored, all the lines and arrows
come full circle. Was it not a murderous impulse,
but his compulsion to alter the universe: the zero split,
fore and aft reversed, the inhuman course of events
washed, dead reckoning, up river and out to sea?
In 1884, forty-one delegates met in Washington D.C. for the International Meridian Conference to adopt a Universal Day and a single world meridian. Ten years later, anarchist Martial Bourdin died after the bomb he was carrying went off as he approached the site of the Prime Meridian, which passes through England's Royal Observatory.
This poem appears in the New Michigan Press chapbook Murmuration (February 2006). Available [here].