What People I Know Have Done This Week
Paint tree trunks white,
cut stones for street cobbles,
boil beans, shoot
pigs and hang the legs,
paint pictures of sad
naked women, dream
of snow, spar
in the park and lie
on the grass, pour
lines of chalk
to keep cockroaches out,
kiss lovers, weld axles,
play Bach on the cello,
remember the war,
kill rivals in a play,
bury them, sing,
fix the leak, weep,
pay off gangsters,
dance in the dark
ring bells, parade
for the Virgin,
and fix the leak again.
It’s enough to make me want to do
something like that too.
The mystical we are born to
At first it almost makes sense.
You walk in a forest
pink with budding oaks
on a trail lit by dappled sunlight.
Pine needles smell of summer
the blackcaps are ripe
the sky blue and the trail ankle-deep
in orange maple leaves.
You walk with those you love
and sometimes by yourself
across an endless white meadow
where a big bird dipping to catch a rabbit
has left wing marks on the snow.
You see a deer carcass and the prints
of all the animals that have come to feast
the infinite patterns of sky touching clouds
hills, trees, grass, and water.
You are curious about the news
then you aren’t anymore.
You feel too cold and too hot and just right sometimes
happy and sad and nothing as well.
You dream you are swimming
or flying; you dream you speak Chinese
or the language of fish
you dream the kiss of lovers
and your children’s faces.
You hold your father’s fat thumb
your mother’s long fingers
your wife’s soft palm
feel the tiny grasping hands of your children
their slippery mouths on your cheek
and when you look they’re wandering
with books and fly rods
cell phones and nice boots
away with lovers of their own
until the fog swallows their thin white necks
and long bare legs.
You call your dog
and he walks with you
happy, then another, different dog
also happy, but when the sun sets
you’re alone and don’t remember
which way to go.
A bird calls from a thicket of prickly ash
and across a marsh that smells like a woman
through dry stone canyons
that fill your lungs with hope
past the edges of Northwoods lakes
and the ghostly squeak of oarlocks
you follow the bird’s strange call
through the night.
Near dawn you stand by the sea
no bird, wet feet
and think of sirens and free will
wonder if they both lead to doom and laugh
because you can’t think of one thing
that doesn’t and you laugh again
as you look across the water
at the shape of the sky around one more cloud
you’ve never seen before.
You don’t know where you are
but you always knew you’d get here—
yet who could imagine it would be like this?
With that pale blush and those pastels
and this new sweet air on your skin?
You remember hoping
you’d have something to show for it all
but that was a long time ago
and now there’s nobody here
to show anything to.
As if it all hasn’t been strange enough
your mother’s face rises
behind the sinking moon.
Well? she asks
in that way she shows
delight and concern
and you walk in deeper
feel the water rise past your knees
waist, chest, and stop at your neck.
You’re light now
your feet bob on the sand
and you have nothing to be afraid of.
It’s been a trek, you finally say
and try to smile.
Are you warm enough? she asks.
Yes, you say
it’s cold, you say
but not too terribly cold.
You stand and bob and look
where the water meets the sky
how the light grows
and the breeze carries the smell
of distant lands, and try to remember
what it was
you ever loved more than this.
Are you hurt? she asks.
Do you need a rest?
Can I make you some soup?
Do you feel sad?
Will you tell me your dream?
Make sure to say yes
Everything she asks
everything she doesn’t .
And remember to let out the bubble
of gratitude holding you up
and when you do
water will swell over your chin.
You’ll taste the salt
feel the brief sting of fear
as your feet lift off the sand
and the last of the stars in your beloved sky
blur and blink out.