The man poses in the trees as a lion with a crooked tail. He looks
on the two girls with animal regret, if only he could play, if they
might want him. The upturned willow was commissioned
by the river. All afternoon he watches. The girls leap from
the willow. They hang their suits in the branches. Girls, girls
the world tells him. Girls should not sleep in the woods.
Their dinner, their fire, he watches. Pretend bear. Pretend
gun. In the air, a coal perfume. They wake twice, in the trash,
raccoons. Inside the tent they might want him. Not the raccoons,
not the bear. Girls should not sleep. Never animals
that bother you. One girl tears out the other’s hair
to wake her. Again, the raccoons. A deer then. The lake. No.
What teaches them not to sleep. The man crouched over them.
Without light what teaches them. Soured air. Car keys. He mentions
the gun, crouched over them. Bear sighting, there is a bear.
They might want him with no light. Black bears don’t bother you.
What teaches one to play along. Over there. Stand guard. Thank god
you’ll help us. A little actress in a fake play. What teaches her
what to say. What teaches her to quiet the other. To unlock
the car. Thank him. To drive away.
What are they, those burrowing crustaceans, the ones
my son and I unbeach each summer
building sandcastles? Thumb-large
helmets with dainty, iridescent feet
and as far as I can see no eyes,
no head, no front or back at all, only
the shove and pull of the waves,
or only the quick, attentive gulls, who love them
just as they would love us, my son and me, if they could,
and who, the truth be told, cannot name us either.
The heat so peaked tonight
the moon can’t cool
a scum-mucked swimming
pool, or breeze
emerge to lift the frowsy
ruff of owls too hot
to hoot, (the mouse and brown
barn rat astute
enough to know to drop
and dash) while
on the bunched up,
corkscrewed sheets of cots
and slumped brass beds,
the fitful twist
and kink and plead to dream
a dream of air
as bitter cruel as winter
gale that scrapes and blows
and gusts the grate
the whitened ashes from the coal.
The release of water in the base
so controlled that the surface tension,
tabletop of stability, a mirror,
remains unbroken. Moisture seeps
down polished basalt sides.
This is how I grieve, barely
enough to dampen river stones,
until fibers in my husband’s
tweed jacket brush my fingers
as I fold it into a box. How close
the whirlpool under my feet.
Tell us of a bypassed heart beating in 12C,
how the woman holds a stranger’s hand
to the battery sewn in beneath her collarbone,
and says feel this. Tell us of the man’s ear
listening across the aisle, hugging itself,
a fist long since blistered by blaze.
Outside, morning sun buckling up.
Inside, twitching bonesacks of bat, birdsong
erupting as light cracks the far jungle canopy.
Ten thousand feet below ours, a grey cat
tongues the morning’s butter left out to soft.
Last night we broke open the sweet folds
around two paper fortunes. One said variety.
One said caution. The woman in 12C would hold that
her heart needs its hidden spark, but the man shows
how some live the rest of their lives with half a face
remembering its before expression. Who was it
that said our souls know one another
by smell, like horses?
What every painter knows, but most others forget
is how bright colors dim in artificial light
and lobster tastes most fresh
the nearer to death
you set your teeth into the lobster’s flesh.
Often I imagine the earth
through the eyes of the atoms we’re made of—
no me, no you, no opinions,
no beginning, no middle, no end,
soaring together like those
ancient Chinese birds
hatched miraculously with only one wing,
helping each other fly home.