It wasn’t meant to happen. Like a knife
that slips through bread
and into the first joint of your finger.
I was a woman in a dress and pearls.
My footing sure, the front of me
so carefully put together.
And this was a block of firmly closed doors.
Lawn after lawn, the green rectangles
going on forever. No razor wire
or stagnant gutters anywhere. No one ahead,
but one man moving toward me.
It was a summer afternoon. I’d been looking away,
studying the dead air beside me. We should
have passed like two bars of light,
but he grabbed my skirt and threw it
up over my shoulders.
Then, like a scene in a painting
that takes place half in the sky, I am where I am
and at the same time, locked out of my body.
I must have known this was nothing,
that worse went on within those walls.
That smear of sounds, only a record started wrong,
something torn. For I stood there, hushed,
like a tree with fire at its heart.
Already, we’d be driving past
those trees, that part of the forest.
Even briefly, it refreshed you.
It was like mint in August
though that sting would be gone
with summer. The ground
tarnishing first, and soon the leaves.
I thought then, men don’t stop.
They want so much to get on.
What we said, incidental
yet hammered into the mind.
Talk like a magnet, so it draws you
together or away. We made a line
around that part of the forest,
the exact shape of our attention.
Even after, I remember
how it was taken up and moved
along with us, into the dim
living room. Each holding a glass,
ice colliding in water. A tiny
mirrored sun caught in the trees.
The same sadness that darkened
our features. Later, bed
without making love, without
the chance of a reprieve.
That day the starlings didn’t eat.
That day was a sudden return
to winter. In the fields,
snow on a base of ice.
The birds couldn’t bear
to set down except
on the clear face
of the road they remembered.
My husband leaned on the horn
the way you lean on a railing
until they lifted
before the unstoppable metal.
I pushed into the floorboard
as if I were doing the driving,
as if I could halt
the laws of physics,
while somewhere, my brother’s chest
rose and sunk and rose.
So much you take for granted,
like going to sleep in spring
that you will wake in spring.
That the blossoms were right
to push out, there was
But when we hit the slick
and slammed hard against
our own forward motion,
the roadbank spun
and the orchard of stunted trees
that had just begun to soften.
What with foresight and dancing,
gypsies would seem to pass easily
between worlds. The hummingbird too—
only a moth with a beak—
Have I ever heard it hum?
Yet it’s everywhere welcome,
coaxed by red flowers, even sugar water,
for we are devious, in our desires.
And the dead, we embody them
for our own purposes. I can’t talk
to a shadow, to an abstraction.
A sun worshiper, my brother,
always raising his face to it.
One touch and the body roar quieted.
Now, though I walk the length
of the park, he is not there.
He is nowhere under the sun.
I want the dead but I am with
the living. The tulips raise up their hands.
The lunch crowd swallows me.
In the heat, in the high grass
their knees touched as they sat
crosslegged facing each other,
a lightness and a brittleness
in their bodies. They touched
like shells. How odd
that I should watch them say goodbye.
What did it have to do with me?
There was my own stillness
and the wasps and the tiny flies
for a long time taking stitches
in the surrounding air and
a comfort I felt, as the wind
tore through, to find the trees
miraculously regaining their balance.