In print: Years
On Tumblr: About 45 minutes.
Here I am with the brother I didn’t have.
That’s me in the party hat,
him blowing out the candles on his cake.
This is us a few years later
standing too near the rim
of The Grand Canyon
on a trip we never took.
Here we are again
in the uniforms of a baseball team
we didn’t play for.
This is me with the swim team at Penn
I didn’t try out for. That’s me on the end
in the back row standing next to the man
who didn’t become my diving coach.
Here I am at the graduation that didn’t take place
just before I didn’t leave for Sri Lanka
to spend two years developing
rural agricultural cooperatives.
Me, again, after not returning
to write my dissertation,
standing on the steps of a museum
with a woman I didn’t propose to
and the two children we didn’t have.
And this last one is of me,
much older and wiser,
as people are fond of saying,
with nothing to regret.
Not much happening in the world of poetry
outside the kitchen window this morning.
The sky is bright blue, not much
to write about there, not even a passing cloud
to challenge my human gift for pattern recognition,
something anthropologists think
led us down the evolutionary road
to intelligence and eventually
to writing poetry.
But today no shape of a leopard
about to leap from a high perch
in that blue sky to eat me,
no saber-tooth cat, no bear.
Nothing but a dusty window sill
and the stump of a dead tree
the landscapers took out last week.
There’s rain in tomorrow’s forecast.
At last, something to write about.
Do you like apples?
Try one of these. I bought them
from a man in a gas station parking lot.
He looked like a young Willie Nelson
from before the braids and bandanna,
before the invention of “outlaw country”,
from before all that trouble with the government.
Go ahead, take a bite.
Taste the sweetness that the bees tasted
in the apple blossoms in May.
Smell the coolness of the shady orchard
on a muggy day in August.
Feel the crisp bite of the first frost
of late September on the skin.
Listen. You can hear the small talk
of the harvest crew as they carefully
move their ladders among the trees.
See how the juices drip from your chin?
Eat it slowly. It took a long time
to grow an apple such as this.
Sometimes I think about one of the great loves of my life,
George Eliot, who’s real name, Marian,
suited her so poorly. We never became lovers,
the accidents of our births separating us
by a hundred and twenty-eight years.
Her father made certain she was educated
beyond the fashion of her times,
he said because she was too plain
to have much chance at marriage.
We would have made a homely couple
of a kind you wouldn’t notice in a cafe
or strolling through a park in winter
under a dark umbrella, her arm in mine,
me nodding as she explained how
the unexpected hero of her novel
would be redeemed in the final chapter.
We would return home at six,
eat a simple dinner,
read awhile then turn off the lights
and make love in the dark with our eyes closed
as homely couples do.
In Chinese painting
there is no vanishing point,
no place that cannot be seen
from any other place.
Distant mountains, an island
across the sea, a waterfall,
the gates of a great city,
a merchant travelling
along the silk road, a forest
of bamboo, a single blossom
in an orchard of plums.
I go to the bakery one day and ask for a rye.
No, that’s not right. I go to the bakery one day
and notice that everything has gone awry,
that things I had planned didn’t quite
come together, that things I thought I would do
never quite got done.
The view in the mirror is different
from what I expected. The solid ground
beneath me trembles once I am standing still
long enough to feel it.
Everyone around me is young
with plans of their own which will soon
go awry in their own way.
The rain comes and goes.
The trees change.
How like an ox are the gates of the ancient city.
How like a fallen temple is the acacia tree.
How like the young heart are both the spider and the nail
and the quiet pond, the bow.
The great eye of the sun
is more like the river
than a slender arrow is like
the pile of ashes.
How like the sea are the mountains
or a pair of hands, one young - one old,
which are like unpicked fruit,
yet not unlike the copper penny.
How like a great prince is the broken seal,
and the lost melody, a torn page.
The open book is more like a monk’s robe
than the stone tower is like a painted fan.
The glass bowl is to the iron bell
as the white rose is to the wooden fence.
How like a winding path is the ram’s horn
and how like the whale is the whale.
Sign on a telephone pole:
"Lost Dog, Mixed breed,
some kind of retriever and maybe spaniel.
Blue collar, shaggy black coat,
grizzled muzzle, ears long but not too long,
friendly but shy. Answers to Oswald.”
On my way to the bus I watch for him,
any sign of movement in the park or alleys
as I walk by. I wonder of Oswald,
what he was thinking, leaving
people who love him,
feed him kibble in a bowl on the floor
every day at four, give him his heart-worm pills,
clip his nails, brush his fur, share bites
of sandwich under the table.
To lose these things, Oswald must realize,
is the cost of freedom.
Later on the bus I notice an odd looking man
in an ill-fitting suit.
He has shaggy black hair, grizzled face.
The collar of his blue shirt buttoned to the chin.
His ears are long but not too long.
He has a friendly face..
"Oswald?" The man looks startled but doesn’t speak.
He turns away and sticks his head
out of the window, sniffing the air
with his large, sensitive nose.
I might have been something else
Had one of my ancestors, before there were men,
Climbed out on a different branch
On a different tree.
A small mouse-like animal that,
Even before primates, led me down
An evolutionary dead end,
A species without a name
Whose fossilized bones
Have never been discovered in a tar pit
Or layer of sedimentary rock.
I might never have considered
how a cloud and a stone are different.
And if I hadn’t, what would have been the harm?
It’s no coincidence that rats and kids love me.
They have a lot in common (the little vermin),
So when I was contracted to pipe rats away from Hamlin
Piping the children too was no problem.
But, what do with them now?
It seemed like a good idea at the time
But they are soooo needy”
And they smell, lord how they smell.
Eat? You should see how they can eat!
Getting them all to sleep, you can forget that.
You put them down then one has to go to the bathroom.
Another wants a drink of water
Then one says she can’t go to sleep without a story.
So I make up a great story about a witch
Who cooks and eats some children.
Next thing you know, they’re all bawling;
They have to have a story with a happy ending.
So I have to retell the entire story so it’s the witch
That goes into the oven and sizzles like a piece of bacon.
I think this whole thing was a big mistake.
I have to admit, though, the little ones
Are kind of cute. Not like the rats
With their tiny paws and whiskers
But cute in their own snotty-nosed
Booger-flicking sort of way.
"Hey kid, come here. Pull my finger."
All day I have been at work.
Now, I have returned home to dance,
To circle to the left, waggle,
Circle to the right, turn, circle
And waggle again,
A dance I dance for you
Across the waxy floor
Forty-five degrees to the right of the sun.
It is all for love of this life we live together,
As if all of us were one, dancing our way
Along the miles, circle, turn
Another waggle to say
How far I have come,
How far we must go,
You, for whom I must dance,
You, with whom I share this sacred hive.