When I lay my head in my mother’s lap
I think how day hides the stars,
the way I lay hidden once, waiting
inside my mother’s singing to herself. And I remember
how she carried me on her back
between home and the kindergarten,
once each morning and once each afternoon.
I don’t know what my mother’s thinking.
When my son lays his head in my lap, I wonder:
Do his father’s kisses keep his father’s worries
from becoming his? I think, Dear God, and remember
there are stars we haven’t heard from yet:
They have so far to arrive. Amen,
I think, and I feel almost comforted.
I’ve no idea what my child is thinking.
Between two unknowns, I live my life.
Between my mother’s hopes, older than I am
by coming before me, and my child’s wishes, older than I am
by outliving me. And what’s it like?
Is it a door, and good-bye on either side?
A window, and eternity on either side?
Yes, and a little singing between two great rests.
the unthinkable prospect
of a world in which I am left
to my own devices
which are few and as soon
as the batteries die useless
first order of business
I draw a map in the sand
mark where I stand as the capital
of civilization within me the
detailed blueprints of the pyramids
and the concept of zero
beyond me the finite frontier
the many miles of undeveloped
shoreline with spectacular views of a
sea filled with intricately depicted
monsters I have a lot to do before
I introduce the new world
to art and astronomy and industry
medicine and technology
ethics politics democracy
by a show of hands we shall elect
which tree to burn in the first fire
Play the one about the family of the ducks
where the ducks go down to the river
and one of them thinks the water will be cold
but then they jump in anyway
and like it and splash around.
No, I must play the one
about the nervous man from Palestine in row 14
with a brown bag in his lap
in which a gun is hidden in a sandwich.
Play the one about the handsome man and woman
standing on the steps of her apartment
and how the darkness and her perfume and the beating of their hearts
conjoin to make them feel
like leaping from the edge of chance—
No, I should play the one about
the hard rectangle of the credit card
hidden in the man’s back pocket
and how the woman spent an hour
plucking out her brows, and how her perfume
was made from the destruction of a hundred flowers.
Then play the one about the flower industry
in which the migrant workers curse their own infected hands
from tossing sheaves of roses and carnations
into the back of the refrigerated trucks.
No, I must play the one about the single yellow daffodil
standing on my kitchen table
whose cut stem draws the water upwards
so the plant is flushed with the conviction
that the water has been sent
to find and raise it up
from somewhere so deep inside the earth
not even flowers can remember.
Since I was the one who had been ill, it was me she came to see.
Everyone wanted a glimpse of her.
The people emerged from their houses toward mine
and with such caution.
They made a visor of their hands.
It was as if they were to be accounted for,
wading the long uphill, little moving triangles
all I could distinguish at first.
But the queen came to see only me and I saw her.
And my life for a while was dismissed
and so repaired.
In the evenings of my childhood,
when I went to bed,
music washed into the cove of my room,
my door open to a slice of light.
I felt a melancholy I couldn’t have named,
a longing for what I couldn’t yet have said
or understood but still
knew was longing,
knew was sadness
untouched by time.
the music was a rippling stream
of clear water rushing
over a bed of river stones
caught in sunlight.
And many nights
I crept from bed
to watch her
swaying where she sat
overtaken by the tide,
her arms rowing the music
out of the piano.
Someone across the room laughs so lightly
We hear the rustle of pines, the rattle
In a cone when a sparrow, alighting,
Leaves for a reason unsung in its singing,
And the air, stirred by startled breath, now
Emptied, surprises like another’s pain
We register without a smile or gesture,
Admitting it is there as our pupils
Dilate slightly, change gently pulling like
An undertow anemones answer
When waters whose whispers are lost in waves
Intimate worlds we will never enter.
Thanks for the Italian chestnuts—with their
tough shells—the smooth chocolaty
skin of them—thanks for the boiling water—
itself a miracle and a mystery—
thanks for the seasoned sauce pan
and the old wooden spoon—and all
the neglected instruments in the drawer—
the garlic crusher—the bent paring knife—
the apple slicer that creates six
perfect wedges out of the crisp Haralson—
thanks for the humming radio—thanks
for the program on the radio
about the guy who was a cross-dresser—
but his wife forgave him—and he
ended up almost dying from leukemia—
(and you could tell his wife loved him
entirely—it was in her deliberate voice)—
thanks for the brined turkey—
the size of a big baby—thanks—
for the departed head of the turkey—
the present neck—the giblets
(whatever they are)—wrapped up as
small gifts inside the cavern of the ribs—
thanks—thanks—thanks—for the candles
lit on the table—the dried twigs—
the autumn leaves in the blue Chinese vase—
thanks—for the faces—our faces—in this low light.