She realizes now
she might have gone on forever without it,
the arrival of intimacy,
this flushed, obsessive,
uninvited guest, taking her by surprise
in what she thinks of as her thirty-second year.
When she least expects it,
when she drops her well-toned guard
forgetting what intimacy itself
has come to know about survival,
something surprising goes off
like a small caliber handgun in her chest,
leaving little evidence
of its devastation, except perhaps
a certain gentleness,
deft notes, killer gifts, a full clip
of caresses, as her ventricles
open and shut like sprung gates.
After We Put Up the Pheasants
at Oren Keeney's Farm
Hands clean, I come to the supper table, bits
of goldenrod on the soles of my waterproof boots,
smelling of autumn field grasses
and perhaps a nip or two of the whiskey we shared
where the fence was down and we sat a while,
then rose and pushed over
to the older, denser fields. My brother asks
me to show him the birds I shot.
The cabin windows steam up
above our checked woolen jackets -
some half-dozen 20-gauge shells now reposed
in the fleece-lined pockets, sharing
the cramped silence with a few hard candies.
Beneath my chair there comes a bump
and something damp noses at my knee.
I take one of her paws, burlap rough, and rub it
with my thumb.
She offers another pad, once partially torn.
This one has healed, leaving a softer, paler welt.
She licks my palm and lies down again
by the iron stove, knowing we will always need her,
will always come back to this peculiar place,
will comfort one another in just this way,
will speak with each other exactly so
of true and incomprehensible things.
Unexpected Telephone Call
When the phone rang and he learned his dad was dead
my father and I walked through the wet April woods
behind our house before supper, stepping
past stands of pale white birch gathered
into tight, stoic families, now and again one
leaning over onto the others, exhausted
by whatever work it had been given to do, ashen
beside the showy dogwoods, the dark grinning berries.
Waiting for us back at the house, my mother stood
looking out the long, rectangular window
that framed her - over father's persistently mown lawn -
looking for something not identifiable by name,
peering across the now darkening street
into an identical window, past another mute woman,
into a similar room, at boys wrestling for attention.
Our mother, who may or may not
be in heaven, the last I saw you
your eyeglasses were gone.
No one thought to ask who had them.
Your dress was pretty.
Your rings had already been spoken for.
From 5 to 7 p.m., people trooped in
and out of the sheeted room
nodding their heads knowingly,
ambling over to shake my hand,
mumbling the nonsense that must be said,
eager to get back to their warm cars,
their duty done,
their faces long and straight as rulers.
Now and again I'd looked over at you,
reposed in your fine mahogany vestments,
your hands giving away
no ineffable secrets. Gone
so much weakness, erased the years
of awkward palsies, as if the air
you no longer needed had been pulled
from countless strands of obligation,
from muffled promises,
from years of elusions and perfect excuses.
Filigree, June '44
on the spinet and rosewood
end tables reflect mid-morning.
Over Germany, hurrying to justice,
my uncles flew combat missions
in shaky bombers and smoked
Lucky Strikes. Such pastimes
pretty much killed them all.
Their decent wives wore lined
hose and bright red lips, listened
to Kay Starr, purposefully hatted,
leaning into the night. Upstairs,
an armoire: pretentious ribbons,
a jet-black handled .25 automatic.
Tiny bullets - elegant as pheasants.
I wrote two randy poems last night,
while eating artichoke hearts from the fridge,
chased with a glass or two of ruby Shiraz.
The first was a tempting little sonnet
with feminine endings,
her lines tight and finely tapered,
her thesis cooking au naturel.
The more aggressive was a seven-stanzaic
free verse number.
I had foolishly laid him on top of the other,
I should never have left them alone
and on their own. I take the blame.
This morning: colorful bits of ink
stain my desk;
parentheses lie nearby, unused.
Alas, in my basket - tout nu -
here's a healthy little Haiku.
You hold him up to the artificial light,
his metered breath pluperfect.
The Last Patrol Ever to Leave Karbala
See how the freshly dead children look our way
for an explanation, their scalded gazes
asking: might we rise from this road soon,
maybe when you're gone, and get back to our play?
One Sunni girl hobbles over. Her shrapneled arm
oozes something more than blood.
The interpreter supposes she is happy to see us,
asks if her sister or brother had come to harm?
She looks to him, to heaven, and back to the ground,
points at something violet red, scarlet brown.
The men have no time to consider the reason;
our driver says it was God's will he slowed down
when he did or we'd be dead too. The gunner
swears, half-falling out of the Vee, ignores the girl,
the stink, his shattered knee, spits and says
"there's no hope now for that front tire."
"I should be the one to tell the major,"
the weeping corporal says, "bastard blew the thing
too soon - killed just these Iraqi kids. Thank
the blood of Jesus we are now out of danger."
The child they often talked of having
sent no card again this year.
They cover his small absence
with the perfect pitch of stillness.
The child's fancy wraps and calico dresses
hang theatrically in the spare room.
The couple finds time to volunteer.
There is no mess to pick up.
The child with his father's fingers,
deft as partial truth,
does not learn his Liszt;
she takes no first communion.
The long, careful inventions
the couple make get stored up
in boxes of second guesses, light
as an infant's breath, light as undeveloped film.
Someone has Fallen in Love with the Past
Home from Oklahoma on a three-day pass
the young man drives crazy
through the high school parking lot
where he once excelled in all things extra,
thinks he will find here
something fine, temporarily misplaced.
The lone tennis court where he once wooed
the coach's daughter has cracked,
its red clay coagulated on the surface.
No one runs across the lot to see who he is.
Empty buses, silent mastodons, repose
in their parking places. Coming home late,
his old Camaro simmering in the drive,
he gains entry to his parents' house
through a spidery woodbox in the garage.
Back again at his unit, the barracks overheated,
his freedom expired, the others ask him
if he is up for a game of cards. No; he'll rest.
The young man pulls his pillow
from the woolen grip of his iron bed,
thinks: sure, this is how I remembered the place
YOUR ONLY SHINY THING
THE LIZARD IN THE WASHING MACHINES
MORE LIGHT THAN WE CAN HOLD