in the city
the animals finally came
with their glinting eyes
and their quiet walking
with their adaptable hands
and their appetites
great furry shapes
and curdling cries
passing among the people
going everywhere on
flimsy leashes and chains
looking in windows
on the other side of buildings
they even knew how to obey
the traffic signals
no one was ready
for their danger
no one was wary
one imaginary child
in the motionless swing
who was raising a whistle
to his lips and smiling
At dark of morning
he prepares my lunch;
how he surprises me
of such taste . . .
and I, at work,
unwrap it slowly
on my half-hour,
or what plain fare,
Some carrot strips.
An apple, quartered.
A LONG WAY TO THE HOUSE
Such a long way to the house which recedes
one distance for every step toward it.
Time is like that.
On this late afternoon she marks the familiar way toward
the house with no windows, perhaps one door
through which to enter and disappear.
All her life she has been walking toward her childhood
which is a toy house. Inside are her innocent dreams
and toys. She will stay there.
On this late afternoon she practices more gray,
the wet things she will say
when she reaches the house.
The mud shines deep with after-light. It has been raining.
She carries groceries in a heavy sack past the chickens.
Her shadow lags behind her. And the old dog.
The house shrinks back against the flat day.
It cannot help her arrive. It is a toy house.
It holds onto this reality for as long as it can.
She follows the curved ruts.
The weak sunlight upon winter is almost warm.
The chickens float in the light above their small shadows.
The dog looks off toward the left.
She shifts her sack
from one hip to the other.
Now the house has grown large against the last light.
All else is unimportant—pulled away—like the sky
which is turning its own page to let the slow darkness in.
AT THE CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST
I remember that you looked something awful, sitting across
from me at the breakfast table in the late morning light from
the harsh windows. It was awful to see you this way—sitting
across from me at the breakfast table, talking rapidly and
making nervous gestures. It was awful. To see you this way.
Manically distraught. Not caring how you looked, talking rapidly
and making nervous gestures as if the room’s light would
hold you together—manically distraught—not caring how you
looked—washed out by the white glare of the tablecloth as if
the room’s light would hold you together, though you were
coming apart in front of my eyes, washed out by the white
glare of the tablecloth.
What happened to you last night? What happened? Though
you were coming apart before my eyes, I dared not ask the
question. You were talking. What happened to you last night?
What happened? I kept quiet, watching you spill out in all
directions. I dared not ask the question. You were talking.
In the late morning light of the harsh windows I kept watching
you spill out in all directions. I remember that you looked
DAY’S LAST REACH
We face the twilight with generosity:
you at the door feeding the chickens,
I back in the shadows counting how much more.
We turn the distinction into new diffusion:
you in the lowering light becoming less absorbed;
I wearing the dark garment of the house.
We grow as separate as any difference:
you at the door that goes both in or out,
I drawing back into the doorless room of self.
We use the lessening hour for our old commentary:
you at your deflective silence,
I at my usual remark.
We face the twilight that grows swifter than
before: you staring at the sunset that outlines you,
and I out of day’s last reach just inside the door.
(first pub. in Acorn, 1999)
THE CHICKEN RUN
In the back yard the rabbit cages have slowly fallen in, leaning
now against the fence which leans on them, their stilt-legs
sprawled, the wire doors stuck or hanging open, the water bowls
still inside. And the chicken-wire fence is gone, removed for
access. But the hen-roost still stands, sturdy; its layered rungs
still span the sheltered darkness where the emptiness is deep.
The nest boxes are no more; no more the gathered eggs, the
funny clucking choruses . . . that space is used for tools and
junk that must be kept, though Lord knows why. Well, that was
then . . . all that was then . . . and this is now . . . this abstract
glance across the recent years. And you are gone now, too.
The last time you bought the heavy sacks of feed, I had to help
you lift them from the trunk of the car where I climbed in and
strained from the opposite end to shove them out. You held the
wheelbarrow steady and we finally got them loaded and wheeled
them to the back, slit down the sides, and emptied them, half-
way, from the two-pound coffee can till they were light enough
for both of us to heft and empty out into the storage garbage
cans. Well, that was when we decided to give the rabbits and
the hens away, and the pampered rooster who so eloquently
proclaimed himself upon the certain admiration of the neighbor-
hood. And when we found a taker, it was I who had to ease up,
after dark, into the cramped interior of the chicken roost and
grab the feet of the settled hens and hand them, squawking, out
to you, while you held the flashlight—all that you could do.
YOUR DOGGIE BAG
Today I sit down to my table and eat your food,
your small portion of fish, and your hard roll,
your mixed vegetables that need salt. I re-
member to say a small grace in your honor.
I remember to chew slowly—to savor. I allow
time for conversation. A whole day has passed
under your absence, and I find myself folding
a red cloth napkin when I am through, and
remembering to say thank you for your hospitality.
The table is but a metaphor, but
the fish and the roll and the vegetables are real.
My refrigerator was an accommodation to your
leftover thrift and meagerness of appetite. I am
sorry you forgot your take-home carton. I know
how you like to portion and savor, letting the
too-expensive banquet dinner parcel-out to three
THE SUNNY WINDOW OF THE DARK CAFÉ
Ghosts in costume sit
at the sunny window
of the dark café.
They will not move
from the sunshine.
They are cold.
I think they want
to pray for
One of them
is at the jukebox
reading the names of music.
Another hides his face
in the shadow he has brought
beneath his hat.
I will not stay.
I will go through the door
and enter the brimming day.
I will not glance
as I pass their table.