Size / / /

"But where does it lead?" Alice inquired.
"He doesn't know," the Crane replied.
"Well I don't like it."

The ruins seem endless, their forms evocative

of something he cannot quite pin down;

the scale varies bewilderingly;

he stumbles over pebbles with the form of buildings

and is dwarfed by formless lumps.

And yet, amid the weathered stones he finds

a cardboard box. It has no

insignia; nothing printed on the side.

Joel climbs into the box, seals it from inside,

mails himself home.

OUTSIDE THE BOX: bodiless observer

watches from uncertain vantage point

watches with curiosity as pink digits manipulate flaps

into an overlapping pattern of

simulated security; observing, it adjusts vision

from three dimensions to four, peers

inside the box, inside the boy

observes how he is composed of wet layers of cavities

now filling up their adopted shell

AROUND THE BOX: the ruins seethe and sway

too slowly for a human eye to notice

INSIDE THE BOX: the rasp of cardboard

against his palms feels comforting yet strange;

the heat inside swiftly becomes stifling,

but this too provides a cramped wombspace reassurance.

It's larger, in here, than he expected, and

he presses his ear against the wall,

listening for something moving outside.

Whatever is there makes no noise,

it steps carefully over loose fragments of sandstone,

over the cardboard box.

AROUND THE BOX: heat shimmer veils Heisenberg

details—the expected can never happen here,

but sometimes it just might.

OUTSIDE THE BOX: the observer clears its light-sensing organs

records its impressions of events, shuffles through

reference frames, seeking an unobstructed view.

It seems the box exists only where it cannot

be clearly seen, is occupied only where its occupant

can no longer be observed. Any number of loci

in which a corporeal being steps into the box

lead to confusion and Brownian change.

INSIDE THE BOY: A new watcher

opens a hyperdimensional eye.

INSIDE THE BOX: Joel cannot remember

how he came to this place.

Joel recalls the crash, the inner scream

of finding Mom and Dad dead in their stasis booths.

Joel recalls the rough landing, leaving Mom

to tend more injured Dad, to look for—

Joel cannot remember how he came to this place.

A Joel struggles against the unyielding flaps,

begins to suffocate. A Joel peers through the gap

his fingers make, sensing something watching.

A Joel huddles unharmed in the still-closed box,

sensing something watching. All is

potential energy. All is possibility.

OUTSIDE THE BOX: A foot might fall,

An appendage of indeterminate form might grasp the box,

might bear it away to a place not usually

accessible from the ruined city.

Observers might register consternation.

Something might need to be done.

INSIDE THE BOY: samples are collected, analyzed in real time

(whatever that might be in a given frame of reference);

decisions are made and acted upon.

AROUND THE BOX: probabilities collapse into

determinate states. Heated air shimmers above

stone, brick, and ceramic, transiently taking forms

that resemble what might once have been.

What might be again, or always have been.

INSIDE THE BOX: Joel thinks of his cat,

wonders if it is alive or dead and if

he will ever see it again, had always wanted

a cat, preferred dogs, really, but the cat was free,

free like Joel wanted to be, not inside this box.

Not any more.

Mike Allen lives in Roanoke, Va., with his wife Anita,two comical dogs and a cranky cat. By day he works as a reporter covering court cases; in his spare time he serves as president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and editor of the speculative poetry journal Mythic Delirium, thus ensuring he has no spare time. His first book length poetry collection, Strange Wisdoms of the Dead, is forthcoming from Prime Books. In 2003, he shared a Rhysling Award with fellow Roanoke writer Charles Saplak; their winning poem can be found in Nebula Awards Showcase 2005. "Rattlebox" is his first collaboration with David.

David C. Kopaska-Merkel won the 2006 Rhysling Award for a collaboration with Kendall Evans, edits Dreams & Nightmares magazine, and has edited Star*Line and several Rhysling anthologies. His poems have appeared in Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. A collection, Some Disassembly Required, winner of the 2023 Elgin Award, is available from him at
Mike Allen is president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and editor of the speculative poetry journal Mythic Delirium. With Roger Dutcher, Mike is also editor of The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase, which for the first time collects the Rhysling Award-winning poems from 1978 to 2004 in one volume. His newest poetry collection, Disturbing Muses, is out from Prime Books, with a second collection, Strange Wisdoms of the Dead, soon to follow. Mike's poems can also be found in Nebula Awards Showcase 2005, both editions of The 2005 Rhysling Anthology, and the Strange Horizons archives.
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