Poem: The Body Electric

Poem: The Body Electric


Poems don’t look at; they look into. Contemplating the body in which he lives every minute of his days, James Crews imagines what’s happening inside, then feels the metaphor of a glittering city arise. The poem moves from the intimate space of each interior cell to the vastness of highway traffic movement, then pulls its lens back in again to focus on those visible cells, little shining telephone faces. We never really witness all the miracles that keep us going. I love the breath of this poem, its mingling of solitude and community. And I have loved being part of The New York Times Magazine reading community; this is the last poem of my tenure as poetry editor. Thank you and farewell! —Naomi Shihab Nye

The Body Electric

By James Crews

Every cell in our bodies contains a pore
like a door, which says when to let in
the flood of salt-ions bearing their charge,
but the power in us moves much slower
than the current that rushes into wires
to ignite the lamp by which I undress,
am told to undress by sparks that cross
the gap of a synapse to pass along
the message, It’s time for sleep. As I pull
back the sheets, ease into bed, I think
if I could only look beneath my skin,
I’d see my body as alive as Hong Kong,
veins of night traffic crawling along
the freeways as tiny faces inside taxis
look up from the glow of their phones,
sensing that someone is watching.

Naomi Shihab Nye is the Young People’s Poet Laureate of the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. Her most recent book is “Everything Comes Next, Collected & New Poems” (Greenwillow, 2020). James Crews lives on an organic farm in Vermont and edited the anthology “Healing the Divide — Poems of Kindness & Connection.” His book “Telling My Father” (Southeast Missouri State University Press) won the Cowles Poetry Prize.

Illustration by R.O. Blechman

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