What We're Sure Of
The poet whose grandfather died a week ago hugs me
and presses his card on the dim sum table to assure me
that all orders today are on him. For twenty minutes, longer,
he asks for nothing but stories—his arms folded on the table
and head tilted forward as though attention, rapt focus,
will buy some grace needed for later. My forced punchlines
finally exhausted, he sighs, tearful, and shakes his head.
Everything he knew is gone, he says. We picture memories, jokes,
hard-won lessons slipping away. Earth takes the body
and heaven may admit the soul, but does the mind side
with dust or ascension? Perhaps it floats in the middle,
the leavings of gray matter swirling over tables here
in between scents and steam. Gone, for us, may just mean
unreadable, too far for a voice or pen to set in code.
So many others passed today, time and again, and each
freeing of memory may have made the air thicker--
the sun squeezing its way through clusters of particles
and there weighing just barely more on each shoulder.
Did creation exist before we learned to imagine it?
How slighter was the world before we gave it names?
Home to prepare for tutoring and I’m relieved that knowledge
is back in its physical bounds: the wooden CD case that I bought
as a child with the discs stacked in chronological order, creased
books on the shelf nearby holding the stories behind each song.
I am glad everything is in its place, but today the spines linger
like unanswered telephones, no incentive to power the speakers
or stretch to reach the top shelf when the gray matter recalls
so much. Even still, I have my old self to thank: the 12-year-old
who raced through homework, thrilled at the blank canvas
of an open hour and bent to listen on repeat to Bob Dylan
sing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” each throaty phrase
and connection to the Cold War era adding to the stockpile
of what could someday be cashed in. This week, the U.S.
has mended walls with Cuba. Fifty years coming, some say.
The iron curtain looms elsewhere and we still have the tunes for it.
Meanwhile, rain keeps falling—on the road this morning,
I watched a woman huddle with her cart at the bus stop
while a plastic bucket gathered drops beside her. Each cupful
will have its use, laundry or wipes or a boiling mug of tea,
a source to ration; our luck determines what we learn from rain.
At school now and the girl assigned to me laughs, Mark Twain
the white light on her Kindle and even the sober footnotes
close enough to be funny. They call her an English-learner
but that word applies to all of us, the definitions we gather
and pass to others never inventions of our own. She pauses
at sever, the cousin of severe, and I sketch a flailing hand cleaved
from the arm where it once belonged. If you sever a hand, I say,
you have a severe injury. She smiles, tugs a sleeve over her fingers.
Severe, like serious? Like serious, yes, and in no time,
we’ll both be serious again—this knowledge we carry a talisman
that does nothing on its own, a ticket merely to buy the food
our stomachs cry for, an incantation against war and the storms
that hammer on our roofs. So many things out to dissolve us!
For what it’s worth, we can classify them. The bell rings
and she jots sever in her binder, bows on her way to the door.
One more word today, a new prize weightless and hidden,
another piece of the trove assembled a blessing at a time.
Published in Angels in Seven (Moon Tide Press, 2016)