This collision of teeth, of tongues and lips,
is like feeling for the door
in a strange room, blindfolded.
He imagines he knows her
after four dates, both of them taking pains
to laugh correctly, to make eye contact.
She thinks at least this long first kiss
postpones the moment she’ll have to face
four white walls, the kitchen table,
its bowl of dried petals and nutmeg husks,
the jaunty yellow vase with one jaunty bloom,
the answering machine’s one bloodshot eye.
Just because I’m no longer visible
to the naked eye
I’m not still here,
that some kind of life
Magnify, and you’ll discover
how I shadow my time
like that wobble of light
from a distant star
that proves the unknown
planet’s existence —
its year-long days,
its hypothetical water.
I want to see things as they are
without me. Why, I don’t know.
As a kid I always looked
at roadkill close up, and poked
a stick into it. I want to look at death
with eyes like my own baby eyes,
not yet blinded by knowledge.
I told this to my friend the monk,
and he said, Want, want, want.
A twenty-inch feather with black bars. Stones I’ve picked up.
An acorn with its cap beside it like a cup.
Chunks of gypsum from a mine I explored,
a postcard of a heron—eye glittering, not bored.
Pens and pencils nestled in a metal box.
A magnifying glass for peering at flowers and rocks.
A clump of lichen, gray-blue, smelling like smoke.
One pressed leaf with a black spot—from an eighty-foot oak.
Dusty gold wing of a half-eaten moth—
so slender it wriggled in, hid under a cloth.
A three-pronged branch tip—with unopened buds.
Whatever ripe swelling, they ended up duds.
Ahead through the glass stand our woods going bare—
pine needles, dappled ground, color smearing the air.
A map on tissue. A mass of wire. Electricity of the highest order.
Somewhere in this live tangle, scientists discovered—
like shipmates on the suddenly-round earth—
a new catalog of synaptic proteins
presenting how memory is laid down:
At the side of the transmitting neuron
an electrical signal arrives and releases chemical packets.
What I had imagined as “nothing” are a bunch of conversing
remaking flat into intimate.
When they say Don’t I know you?
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone is telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say We should get together
It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.
When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.
Two little owls, twins down to a feather,
put in hours upholding Western Civ.
Curiously, what brought them first together
holds them apart—those words by which we live.
Centered on a black marble pedestal
each of them roosts upon his open book.
Never a hoot escapes their vesperal
calm as they brood, easy to overlook,
in a dull sheen of bronze and verdigris
guarding the upright, sober, classic row.
However distantly derived from trees,
such gathered leaves are all the leaves they know,
and would know better were they to explore
the sum of them, and not alone the ones
pinned open by their claws the while they pore.
Those folios they scan are blank and bronze,
empty reflections of their staring eyes.
I’d say they earn their space by weight and age
rather than endless hankering to be wise.
Wisdom is knowing when to turn the page.