On the Side of a Hill Above a Large City
I open the book at random to section three. I read in it for an hour,
then walk around this neighborhood, its houses and its trees.
The book and the trees share a thesis regarding the triumph of memory,
but the paved street keeps its simple counsel under the sun and wind.
I feel my feet on asphalt, and a breeze around my face and ears,
a breeze too new to remember. Now that father and mother have
gone, I notice what they took from the landscape with them, but
I must search for missing buildings behind a heavy blue curtain.
The curtain’s fabric is the residue of an argument between thieves.
Which phase of a theft is better, the early or the late? I made a list,
you made a list, the lists themselves made lists, again I open the book
to find an erased spot where my name would have fit in your list.
Who took it away? How long, for that matter, has the loud clock
hidden inside your list been silent? That clock was once our home.
Its minute and hour hands were downstairs and upstairs, where
we slept, and its tick was the scary basement. But then the rooms
took on the odors of stale lilies and a candle having just gone out, and
no, we can stay no longer, we must leave, we must run and return.
The Tumbling of Pebbles
Authorities tried explaining thunder,
what it was expressing when it exploded above the slag.
I would sneak away to the place of
mute roses, sit with you in a glimmering border,
and listen to our favorite ales ferment. Why were we never caught?
We changed and listened to [our favorite] algorithms in our
reincarnation schoolroom clubhouse,
we ran or slouched toward the claws of algebra,
the sleepy hour’s best-loved dribble subscription.
Nonsense syllables always indicated the doors we were
to use, and the sequences. Nucleus here, presentiment there!
We showed authorities some thorns,
not one of them asked us to ache for ourselves —
one coach actually placed a preposition there.
So that had changed
but he only said the early bits of
sentences, placing nouns here and here.
When that coach got caught up in his lecture,
we nodded our heads in our gym clothes,
trying to account for ourselves.
Afternoon classes? Mine was always a
dream subject, where sentences
backed into our regular school clothes
and knew what they were expressing.
My friends and I heard little of what
they said, only that they had seen us
there in the music room, in a glass booth,
bragging that we had never been caught.
You wore a tight red hat, and said it
was a gift. I gave it a secret name I never
told you. You added up the sober candles
behind your portrait, kept the number
to yourself. Instead of guessing, I tapped
on the bell you had given me, the one
with a private name.
The bell-ringers played, one bell, one
note at a time, for a long, perplexing
moment. The world did not object.
We have somehow inherited this
unreadably blank mess, you and I.
More and more, I see our problems as
personal and historical, both, and
I feel guilty being here with you.
Do you want to leave? Shall I? But
we climbed past and into the situation
which came dressed as our return to
the heaven we fell from, long ago.
Gliding Among You
The character the actor played has died, and he can play no other.
It took him three long hours to chase down his dog through the woods.
At last, he saw the animal, got his attention with a treat, tackled him,
clipped his leash to the dog’s collar. He ran through backyards
to his suburban home, placed the dog feet first on the kitchen floor.
He heard a gong and a cymbal, looked into the living room.
The character he played lay there in a coffin. Its narrowness
forced him to look back at the dog with a new, terrible empathy:
he was plain gray, the dog was orange paisley. In his pocket,
his phone was a quiet barrel of hailstones. Candle smells
overcame the room. He heard the click of his own thoughts
finding shape inside him.
The character he played could not hear his heartbeat. Candles
continued to burn in the room, as they had burned since
the middle of the previous century, when the dog first slipped
the leash and ran into underbrush fast as a bobcat, and the boy
ran in after him, ground noisy with dead leaves, the fall sky
a threatening linen, every tree a scary officer.