Badminton with a Boy; Dog Standing in as Net
This week light leaves the sky later and later,
and we are at it again, one more round,
plastic rackets in hand, soft swat answering
soft swat as we lob a mangled birdie across the lawn,
our collie mad with longing to catch the thing.
First serve and she rises, jaw thrust, torso
twisted in mid-air, then down, hard on her shoulder.
Second serve. She is up, up, and the missile—rent, bent—
is hers, her prize then dropped at your feet. World War II,
its Pacific theater, is your current obsession, son. We talk
Hickham Field, smashed beyond salvage; Leyte and Kamikaze;
enemies tunneling the volcano at Iwo Jima; then the cruel bomb.
Hirohito has collapsed, and we know that neither
ritual nor devotion can restore an empire or revive
the thousands who at Banzi Cliffs threw themselves
and their children over. It’s dark now, time to stop.
The birdie is lost in cold grass and the dog, hard-panting,
heart-pounding, seems spent at last.
Certain Days Are Set for Sighting
others you pass through as if asleep, attention
at half-mast, the whole day scumbled, a blur.
Watch those old ladies who fish the bridge.
From aluminum lawn chairs, they squint
into the distance, measure remaining light
against live bait—minnows and crickets—
against ebbing tide and hunger. Watch
them knot lengths of string around raw
chicken necks, lower them into the swell,
too poor for a crab pot, too poor for a boat.
Watch her, the quiet one. She’s got a seahorse
in a Dixie cup, an eye for what engrosses.
We are of one mind at the garden center and it is fixed
on fuchsia, on new blooms from old wood. Halfhearted
shoppers, we’ve fled beds half-dug at home for these orderly
rows of budding azaleas, dogwoods rooted in burlap, gazing
globes in bubble wrap—searching for what, in truth,
we cannot say. We’ve negotiated the merits of vinca
major and minor, discussed the habits of weeping
camellia and the gardenia’s tenderness, when the lone
clerk approaches, hands pocketed and bill-cap pulled
low. Morning, folks—he pauses—May I ask,
how long have you been married? What has he seen?
Will he offer advice, condolences, congratulations?
I want to answer, Spring tide, mystery box, storm-sprung—
but ask instead, “Are these all your perennials?”—
as if I had not heard or understood his question.
I hear my husband, always game, ask: “What about you,
you married?” as I slip into the hothouse where plants
I love most are sheltered. Beam-bridge, shadow mask, neap tide.
Behind me, the clerk shouts—
“Thank you for letting me be a part of your day.”
For the Woman I Met on the Train from Richmond
Aboard the north-bound Palmetto we traded
stories. She said her father had been one
incarnation of evil, a regular Simon Legree—
Archie Bunker on a bender: Nigger. Africoon.
Incog-negro. Niglet, for the babies.
The meanest man she ever knew, and it was
his ashes she had hauled in a rented two-door
to the Eastern Shore. In the humid hours
of Virginia dusk, she steered off the main
road until she found a family, spread agreeably
across the yard, sinking into webbed
lawn chairs beneath rustling oaks,
and visible from the blacktop, an outhouse
to the rear, with a fine view of the creek.
She pulled up, stepped out, asked,
And suspiciously, they had consented.
Thus, her father’s cold ashes, consigned
then to the john, the pit-privy:
So that family could shit on him forever.
We parted at Penn Station—me, fresh
from the shore, her, unburdened, alone.
From Rockaway Beach to that outhouse,
she’d made the astonished prayer
of a child left behind, porter of peculiar
baggage hauled to the end of the line.