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Sufjan Stevens- Fourth of July


On my ninth birthday, when everyone gave me dolls and tea sets and a music box that played Fur Elise while a tiny ballerina twirled by the tip of her slipper, my uncle gave me a microscope. It came with prepared slides of insect parts and algae, a little dropper, tweezers and blank glass slides. I left my dolls to have their tea parties, and I began investigating the truth of things. I looked at the veins of a four leaf clover, a drop of water from the creek, an eyelash. I learned that the smallest things hold entire universes inside them, to which we are oblivious. I abandoned my imagined world: the one where I knew the taste of the tea in my empty cups, the various dramas in the lives of my stuffed animals, the torture of the tiny ballerina who was bound by a bolt and a screw to Beethoven’s Fur Elise in favor of things I couldn’t dream of. The real world was even more unseen, and that became my secret.

I began to examine everything with a suspicion that it could be stripped of its magic by looking at it through a magnifying lens. It is the myth that replaced fairy princesses and happily ever after. It replaced the sort of faith that allows you to believe that no two snowflakes are alike without wanting to ask, “but, how could anyone possibly know?”

I’ve since lost the microscope. No doubt I grew out of playing with it, though I have not quite let go of the desire to dissect things, put them on a slide, turn on the light and peer through the hole with one eye and measure it, define it, prove its reality. This way, nothing is insignificant. This way, I cannot be tricked by my mediocre eyes into believing anything is invisible. As a scientist, I know nothing is empty; everything is small. As a poet, I believe the opposite is true. As a Buddhist, I am twirling by a bolt and a screw.

I still don’t fully understand why the sky is blue. The sky can’t fit on a slide. Neither can a lot of other invisible things like luck, health, or love. But I like to imagine what they look like if I could capture them with my little kit. A drop of luck is not green like you’d expect. It’s a plurality of ingredients, little amoebas of desire dancing with the placebo of hope. Health looks like the seeds of a strawberry, which is not actually a berry at all, but a heart guarded by its own future. You know it’s love under the microscope when you peer in and want to look away, but you can’t look away. It was never green, but you want it to always stay green, like it was before you couldn’t see it.

On a blank slide, there’s nothing to describe, to identify, to sketch into your notebook. No proof. There’s just the light, the sheet of glass, the trace of your fingerprint which has tainted the experiment but proves that you exist, which you knew already, which you believe in less now that you’ve learned that no one else’s fingerprint is like yours (because how could anyone possibly know?)

You can either get away with anything or you can leave proof of you everywhere.

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