Rick Bursky



Cloud Theory

                for Vyvyane


No one gave much thought to the weight 

of the cumulous cloud overhead 

until it collapsed killing forty-nine people. 

The weight of a typical cumulous, 

a little over two billion pounds. 

Notice “typical” and “little.”

It’s these nuances that separate us 

from other animals. It makes me nervous 

to think about the darkness inside my body. 

What other animal would think about that? 

One religion still insists 

clouds originate as the dying breaths of angels

destined to be reincarnated as gods.


Scientists estimate the oldest cloud on earth, 

an altocumulus lenticularis, has survived 

two hundred eighty-seven years; 

the runner-up, forty-two years. 

The discrepancy is being investigated. 

When I was young I kept three clouds in mason jars.

Came home from school one day 

and they were gone. Years later my mother told me 

my father flushed them down the toilet. 

After making love to a woman

with clouds painted on her ceiling 

I told her about the metal plate in my head.

She left me the next day. Years later she wrote

to say she also had a plate in her head. 

This is how we learn from each other.


Only three species of clouds 

are known to have gone extinct. 

Perhaps clouds have more 

in common with sharks than waves do.

I think I’m talking about courage.

Altostratus, mammatus, cirrus, noctilucent 

– when I’m afraid, really afraid, 

I quietly chant – altostratus, mammatus, 

cirrus, noctilucent – and go to sleep. 

Sometimes in the morning before work

I sit in my car, watch clouds gather

and the sky twitch like an eye 

with something small, 

very small, caught under the lid.


The Journal, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, Summer 2014