Mark Doty |
Because the road to our house
is a back road, meadowlands punctuated
by gravel quarry and lumberyard,
there are unexpected travelers
some nights on our way home from work.
Once, on the lawn of the Tool
and Die Company, a swan;
the word doesn't convey the shock
of the thing, white architecture
rippling like a pond's rain-pocked skin,
beak lifting to hiss at my approach.
Magisterial, set down in elegant authority,
he let us know exactly how close we might come.
After a week of long rains
that filled the marsh until it poured
across the road to make in low woods
a new heaven for toads,
a snapping turtle lumbered down the center
of the asphalt like an ambulatory helmet.
His long tail dragged, blunt head jutting out
of the lapidary prehistoric sleep of shell.
We'd have lifted him from the road
but thought he might bend his long neck back
I tried herding him; he rushed,
though we didn't think those blocky legs
could hurry-- then ambled back
to the center of the road, a target
for kids who'd delight in the crush
of something slow with the look
of primeval invulnerability.
the blunt spear point of his jaws,
puffing his undermouth like a bullfrog,
and snapped at your shoe,
vising a beakful of-- thank God--
You had to shake him loose.
We left him
to his own devices, talked on the way home
of what must lead him to new marsh
or old home ground.
The next day you saw,
one town over, remains of shell
in front of the little liquor store.
it was too far from where we'd seen him,
too small to be his.
though who could tell
what the day's heat might have taken
from his body.
For days he became a stain,
a blotch that could have been merely
I did not want to believe that
was what we saw alive in the firm center
of his authority and right
to walk the center of the road,
head up like a missionary moving certainly
into the country of his hopes.
In the movies in this small town
I stopped for popcorn while you went ahead
to claim seats.
When I entered the cool dark
I saw straight couples everywhere,
no single silhouette who might be you.
I walked those two aisles too small
to lose anyone and thought of a book
I read in seventh grade, "Stranger Than Science,"
in which a man simply walked away,
at a picnic, and was,
in the act of striding forward
to examine a flower, gone.
By the time the previews ended
I was nearly in tears-- then realized
the head of one-half the couple in the first row
was only your leather jacket propped in the seat
that would be mine.
I don't think I remember
anything of the first half of the movie.
I don't know what happened to the swan.
every week of some man's lover showing
the first symptoms, the night sweat
or casual flu, and then the wasting begins
and the disappearance a day at a time.
I don't know what happened to the swan;
I don't know if the stain on the street
was our turtle or some other.
I don't know
where these things we meet and know briefly,
as well as we can or they will let us,
I only know that I do not want you
--you with your white and muscular wings
that rise and ripple beneath or above me,
your magnificent neck, eyes the deep mottled autumnal colors
of polished tortoise-- I do not want you ever to die.
Anne Sexton |
Jean, death comes close to us all,
flapping its awful wings at us
and the gluey wings crawl up our nose.
Our children tremble in their teen-age cribs,
whirling off on a thumb or a motorcycle,
mine pushed into gnawing a stilbestrol cancer
I passed on like hemophilia,
or yours in the seventh grade, with her spleen
smacked in by the balance beam.
And we, mothers, crumpled, and flyspotted
with bringing them this far
can do nothing now but pray.
Let us put your three children
and my two children,
ages ranging from eleven to twenty-one,
and send them in a large air net up to God,
with many stamps, real air mail,
and huge signs attached:
DO NOT STAPLE, FOLD OR MUTILATE!
And perhaps He will notice
and pass a psalm over them
for keeping safe for a whole,
for a whole God-damned life-span.
And not even a muddled angel will
peek down at us in our foxhole.
And He will not have time
to send down an eyedropper of prayer for us,
the mothering thing of us,
as we drip into the soup
in the worry festering inside us,
lest our children
go so fast