David M. Sheridan
On this fall day in Michigan, we all gather on the screened-in porch, protected
from the cold by a technologically advanced heater hung from the ceiling.
Our host explains that this space-age device generates infrared light:
“It heats objects, not the air.” At first this seems like a routine piece
of information, akin to “these muffins are sweetened with beet juice”
or “these heirloom apples are locally grown.” We raise our palms,
immersing them in the infrabeam. As promised, our skin registers warmth.
But then we try to feel the air, to learn whether it is being heated as well.
How can we tell? “It heats objects, not the air.”
Why should we care? But we do,
and wave our hands ridiculously, a vain attempt to verify
that the in-between space remains untroubled. There is no knowing
if the air is warm or if our skin is cooking via direct communication with the invisibly glowing
bulb — redder than red, or perhaps nascently red, a hue en route to obtaining true
status as a recognized color. Suddenly, the heater seems to call into question
our understanding of space itself as an everyday medium. What would it mean
for heat to be transmitted to our hands without affecting the space between,
like a sailboat that doesn’t touch the wind? Even fish, so slippery,
must create a little disturbance as their fins cut through the water.
Infrared: that category of light that allows Navy SEALS to see at night,
positioned at the spectrum’s edge, opposite ultraviolet.
“The rainbow is so much thicker than it looks,” someone quips.
Infrastructure provides a matrix of support at the bottom of our lives,
blindly shaping our momentary existence. An infralapsarian
is someone who believes Adam’s lapse lies beneath our sinful nature.
Infradian (rhymes with circadian) refers to cycles that extend beyond
a single day, that spill, like the enjambed
lines of poems, past the borders of the presumptive unit.
The world is full of infra-:
Infralanguages, composed of infrawords, allow us
to convey the infrareal.
In fact, this poem is only the shiny surface
of an infratext, a better poem that lies beneath/beside/beyond this
one, if only you could sense the sense
radiating infrareadly from the page. But that would be an infraction
against the laws of optics or semiotics
or leprechauns. Don’t ask how it works.
Be content to let it heat your hands as you hold it,
carefully, like you would hold a hot piece of aluminum foil
when you retrieve a slice of warmed-over pizza from the oven —
fingers pinching the edges, touching
as little as possible, so as not to get burned.
David M. Sheridan teaches writing and design in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities program at Michigan State University. He holds an MFA from Western Michigan University. His poems, essays, and stories have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Parting Gifts, and other places. He is working on a collection of poetry entitled 52 Missing Poems, in which every poem is cut out of a black 3″x5″ card.