A man stoops on the sidewalk to pluck up
a wedding band. “Is this your ring?” he calls.
“No,” I say. I head down the Rue Royale.
That’s the third ring I’ve been offered today.
Paris is rich in rings—somebody’s sure
to find one on the pavement at your feet.
You’re meant to think it’s valuable and claim it,
then pay a small “reward” to the finder.
Rings are on my mind when I reach the church
of the Madeleine, and climb the crowded steps
looking for the spot where my parents poised
for their wedding photo after the war.
New rings gleamed on their joined hands
as they stood smiling in army uniforms.
My father’s ring was a plain gold band,
my mother’s sparkled with a small diamond.
Her ring slipped off her finger in her eighties
when she was shopping. She never found it.
My father’s? Buried with him? Given away?
A red-haired woman jostles me, then kneels,
pretending to find something. “Is this yours?”
she cries out. She holds up a shiny ring.
I should just laugh--but it feels uncanny.
My heart skips, as if she’d somehow conned
these atoms out of invisibility
after their perilous trip through a time machine.
Are my parents here, too, just out of sight?
The woman’s palm trembles as she shows me
the golden bait. Will I take it? “No, no, no.”
Funny—to stand in my yard,
hose pointed at the ground.
I don’t want to wet the man
who’s stopped to talk to me,
claiming he owned my house
decades ago. He tilts his cap
to view the Norway pine
grown tall as a steeple.
“I loved this house!” he says.
Turns out he had children here,
two dogs, a cat named Fetch.
He adores the gambrel roof,
grey clapboards, red shutters.
He remembers the floor plan,
the easy slant of the staircase,
how the morning sun
splashes the front bedroom.
There’s a new deck, I say,
but your old boiler still spits
steam through baseboard pipes.
He laughs. Says he watched
possums courting at night
from the kitchen nook.
Meanwhile the house eyes us—
so many glittering windows,
indifferent to our human rights.
We might be a pair of crows
flapping about as we peck
bits of trash from the mud.
No, he won’t come in—that’s all.
He limps away—goodbye again.
I’ve walked around this lake for fifty years
always turning right through the dry wetlands
near the Cedar bridge. Flocks of wild geese
feed on the meadow now, each with a sentinel
craning its long neck to watch my progress,
and warn the others if I leave the sidewalk.
Strange, I’ve wandered longer here than the geese
who never came here when I was a girl.
I guess they’ve learned to avoid the countryside
on their migrations south. Here in the city
guns are for other people, so the geese
can rest their turbulent wings on leafy lawns,
while I’ve got my cell phone, just in case
somebody’s lurking behind that wall of willows—
and there’s the bench where my mother sat
back when she could walk, and there’s the field
returned to swaying wildflowers and bird calls
where my brothers practiced with their new bows
shooting arrows into bales of yellow hay.
In winter the city built a warming shed.
Wobbly in stiff white figure-skates, I’d totter
down the ramp on freezing nights and glide out
past hockey players to the cloudy patch
closer to the bridge, smooth but dangerous,
hoping my clawed toes wouldn’t catch the ice.
Now here’s Cedar, where I wait for the light,
with dog walkers and Moms with strollers,
letting them leave me behind as I dawdle
half in the present, half in the past,
able to hear the roar of the airplanes
flying low over the lake as they approach runways
only if I make an effort, the noise so familiar
it might be thirty years ago or now.
I follow the path up the only hill to a spot
where I can see the whole footprint-shaped lake
with the crown of downtown skyscrapers
hovering like Oz on the horizon,
then down again to a hidden spit of beach
where the wind whips up some waves into froth
imitating the ocean I once longed to cross,
and did, again and again—but now I’m back.
A wild gabbling startles me. I look up.
Geese fill the air. Today’s flocks, having rested,
are heading down to their winter demesnes,
preparing to cross the miles of America
south of here, the wet lands and state parks
where it’s true, hunters doze with binoculars
in the woods, but where others, like you,
looking out your kitchen window at dawn,
thrill to the vast deep moan of their migration.