In our house, not once did we hear
someone say you’re welcome
in answer to thanks. Instead—it’s all right,
backhanded reminder of the sacrifice
this or that Dollar Store trinket
cost folks well below the poverty line.
This is a hard habit to break. Don’t worry, it’s fine when you thank me
for helping you move furniture
or coming to your reading,
your wedding, your beloved’s funeral. Oh, it’s all right, to students
when they thank me for margin comments,
for letting them turn in assignments
half a semester late. It’s all right—
the door held open a few second longer
for the jock on crutches,
for the blue-eyed girl breathing
into the straw fixed to her wheelchair.
I want to thank the moon for tilting
in time to highlight the rain
spilling off a parked windshield,
my body for keeping itself free
so far from cancer, diabetes, suicide.
I want to thank my fear of death
for melting whenever a beautiful woman
bends to drink from a fountain.
I want to thank the crows for mating
on any windowsill but mine.
And their answer, rising in chorus
with each day’s rusty sunset: It’s all right. It’s all right. It’s all right.
I left. There was another man I loved.
I buckled into his Civic and we shot through fields
in which everything suggested the shape
of something else. Ohio to Michigan,
his football broadcast strained; it fractured
with static. His team would not win half their games
that year, but then, it was still the beginning
of the season, and he could shrug off loss
as easily as he swept dry leaves from the windshield –
still say, what was one slip-up, one bad run?
He tongued strategies and traced plays in lines
on the dashboard’s dust and held my hand
as he might have held a child’s. I let him.
I kept trying to say, We will not last through winter.
Instead, I asked, How long till we’re home?
You’re in a new room with clothes piled on the floor and a TV that doesn’t work. You’re lying in bed, you’re on your side, you hear water running, you hear dogs barking. In this new bed, your muscle memory remains and you go through the motions which are by now instinctual.
It’s a new day in this new bed, but you’d never know if they didn’t tell you, didn’t touch you, didn’t run their hands hot and burning across you, leaving impressions that whisper. This is Saturday. This is the first day of your new life, like it or not. Breakfast won’t be on the table and coffee isn’t ready. You want to go home to your own bed, but you don’t get that, you get this bed, this Saturday, dogs barking and that water still running.
You keep waking up like this and you aren’t even sure where your own bed is anymore. If home is where the heart is, then in that home there is a bed where you think you left your heart, at least you’re praying hard that it’s there because you can’t keep retracing your steps and getting it wrong and slamming into new beds and bodies. But you’re here now and whatever you have beating in your chest is giving a soliloquy, and it’s as trite as a sunset or a picnic on the beach or a long walk on a short pier or whatever you’ve been told love is, so maybe this is home for now, maybe this is just what you need.
You are in a new bedroom and it’s Saturday and the TV doesn’t work but you keep staring at it like it’s playing your favorite movie and you recite all the lines and they think you’re clever, but what do they know? What did you ever really know besides how to kiss a little harder and just what to say to end up in a new room with clothes piled on the floor and a TV that doesn’t work?
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree Toward heaven still… –Robert Frost, After Apple Picking
I only saw it once,
though saw is an exaggeration.
It was something less than a glimpse,
some insignificant wisp of a passing idea
at the far end of my peripheral vision,
the blurred silhouette of a hawk
carrying in its talons
the blurred silhouette of a bird.
This was after I had found
the first feathers,
and then, twice, blue jays’,
feathers arranged neatly on the ground
in the shape of a starfish
or a God’s Eye.
That was all;
no plucked, hollow-boned body,
Just a composition of feathers
there on the grass
beneath the feeders,
a talking circle,
the ritual of What is left unsaid,
the hawk lifting
the plucked and keening body
and perhaps the talking feather too,
leaving the rest behind,
as if the hawk’s ascension toward heaven
were affirmation that
when you are carried away
you must shed everything,
what you have said,
what it was you meant to say,
and, yes, even your
lovely, momentary feathers.