We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is — if you’ re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’ s someone else’ s brother,
What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.
We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,
and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.
The dad. body has just enough gravy on his plate
to sop up one piece of bread. So, enough for one
supper, says the mom. She comes back to him, says
don’ t argue with mom, you’ re a ghost. There’ s enough
water around to drown a cob in its husk. in a dad. He puts
up weather stripping all night. to keep out the mom. He says
He tells me in Bangkok he’ s robbed
Because he’ s white; in London because he’ s black;
In Barcelona, Jew; in Paris, Arab:
Everywhere and at all times, and he fights back.
He holds up seven thick little fingers
To show me he’ s rated seventh in the world,
And there’ s no passion in his voice, no anger
In the flat brown eyes flecked with blood.
The little girl won’ t eat her sandwich;
she lifts the bun and looks in, but the grey beef
coated with relish is always there.
Her mother says, “Do it for mother.”
Milk and relish and a hard bun that comes off
like a hat — a kid’ s life is a cinch.
Brooklyn, 1929. Of course Crane’ s
been drinking and has no idea who
this curious Andalusian is, unable
even to speak the language of poetry.
The young man who brought them
together knows both Spanish and English,
but he has a headache from jumping
back and forth from one language
to another. For a moment’ s relief
he goes to the window to look
down on the East River, darkening
below as the early night comes on.
Something flashes across his sight,
a double vision of such horror
My brother comes home from work
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop
one by one. You can have it, he says.
The moonlight streams in the window
and his unshaven face is whitened
like the face of the moon. He will sleep
long after noon and waken to find me gone.
My mother stands at the screen door, laughing.
“Out out damn Spot,” she commands our silly dog.
I wonder what this means. I rise into adult air
like a hollyhock, I’ m so proud to be loved
like this. The air is tight to my nervous body.
I use new clothes and shoes the way the corn-studded
the only parts of the body the same
size at birth as they’ ll always be.
“That’ s why all babies are beautiful,”
Thurber used to say as he grew
blind — not dark, he’ d go on
to explain, but floating in a pale
light always, a kind of candlelit
murk from a sourceless light.
He needed dark to see:
The Rev. Royal Filkin preaches
tomorrow on why we are sad.
Brethren, Montana’ s a landscape
requiring faith: the visible
government arrives in trucks,
if you live out far enough.
If you live in town, the government’ s
gone, on errands, in trucks.
Let citizens go to meetings,
I’ ll stay home. I hate a parade.
By the time you get the trout
up through the tiny triangular
holes in the Coors cans, they’ re so
small you have to throw them back.
Glum miles we go
to Grandmother’ s house.