I button my buttons and head out to catch the train,
the millions and I. At least a hundred of us will lose
a fastener today and an equal number forget to zip.
It happens. Ponytail fails, wardrobe malfunctions,
nip slips, a loosening, a backsliding. When I eat
pigs, chickens, cows, I participate in, perpetuate
suffering; does it matter that I used to hold
some of them close when they and I were little
and young, or make it worse. The organic man
shoots his deer from a helicopter so as not to frighten
them; one moment running free on a ranch, the next,
Boom! Down. The venison he serves in his restaurant
in Cambridge contains no fear or trauma. Look how
dictatorships unravel, all the loose threads that had never
amounted to anything before, pull together and transform
into a hole that strips and sucks veneer’d leaders down
into a stark history. China’s getting nervous, the officials
scissor and snip, tighten up. We are all of us replaceable.
When Katia Kapovich’s silk shoelace let go on a sidewalk
in St. Petersburg, a homeless man snatched it up before she
had a chance to retrieve it. Train, stay on track, while I grip
the flower stems bunched in my hand, daisies killed by desire.
Some days, I want to leave myself, but Zip! Surveillance
is the cost of surveillance. Let it go, let it go. Don’t let go.
It started out sweet—friends, then lovers, then–
okay, you’re right, really it just happened—we
happened, fell into it, into each other, somehow
it seemed a good idea, we convinced ourselves
it was anyway, afterwards. We didn’t do anything
formal or public, just let it be known we belonged
to each other, I did try giving you a ring once—
sent it to you when I was out of the country,
but you said it slipped off your finger, fell
into the toilet, and that was that, you don’t
do rings. I still did though, especially since I was
living away, a foreigner wanting to belong
to someone. It was good for awhile after
I came back, you have to grant me that,
we were happy, even as we grew apart,
or at least once we got through that awkward
phase, when we couldn’t stand each other—
still sharing the tiny apartment, taking turns
in the kitchen, me on the couch at night, planning
our lives in avoidance of each other. Then
we slipped back a bit, just the physical part,
it was too easy and each of us too needy,
until that too became just too strange. So yes,
we’ve moved on. Now if only I could move out,
make it final, decisive wave of the hand, Good-bye,
good riddance. But no, neither of us can afford
to leave, we’ve got too much of ourselves sunk
into this, we’re stuck, our once intimacies
shadowing us, lighting the way.
A Hand in a Bucket of Water
That’s what a life is,
my mother told me when I was little
and helped her make milk for calves.
You stir and stir and stir the water
and then you stop,
the ripples circling a little while longer.
That’s your life, she said,
as I broke up the lumps of milk mix,
fingers swimming in the silky cream.
How warm, lovely warm, this winter chore
in the old barn crowded with animals,
roosters, rabbits, cattle and cats.
I’d stand in straw and lead the calf to drink,
taking my hand from the full pail
to its mouth, its hard spiny palate,
the slobber and urgent suck, I’d draw the calf
down and into its banquet, oh, how it bucked
when the milk was gone, always wanting more.
Along the Fens
The river steps out from ice,
shivers its long throat
beside shoulders of old snow.
One wedge of white splits
the river-dark, lifts into a swan
alone trolling shallows.
we are barely even here.
The guards at the museum door—
two ancient marble lions,
a shrug of green
troubling their manes—
grow more gaunt,
as their stone sugars down.