“The Institute”

A sign and eight low buildings pass
unnoticed in a field the size of Central
Park: a wall-flower by a college town.
Wandering its halls, one chair offices,
bare egg white walls, nothing stands out until
I reach a lounge where mathematical
notations—integers, fractions, powers,
roots, Greek letters, brackets, slashes—weave
arabesques of genesis and infant stars
for paper napkin audience and nibbled
chocolate bars, on slate where palimpsests
and marginalia in coloured chalks suggest
a coffee break authored this text
a plaque below it warns, DO NOT ERASE.

Today’s news is no better than yesterday’s:
three suicide bombings in the “cradle
of civilisation”; a dowager billionaire
in Voltaire’s homeland gives her daughter’s
patrimony to a decorator; tar balls seed
hot beaches in a spoiled land whose citizenry
always blame others; immortality remains
elusive and, sub specie aeternitatis,
there will be nothing. The same is forecast
for tomorrow, the one bright patch a blackboard
crammed with symbols I cannot understand,
guarded by three words, DO NOT ERASE.

From We Look Like This (Carcanet, 2012) by Dan Burt, former Director’s Visitor