The June sun slants through the stairwell
window, lays a bright bar on the pine floor.
Just turned one, the child sits flat, feet out
in a V, facing away from the stairwell,
into the broad bottom shelf of the big thing
stuck to the wall, full of tall flat things.
She pulls out one, stares at it, drops it carefully
upside down, tugs at another until it gives.
She hoists it in both hands close to her eyes,
puts out her tongue: old cloth, soft paper,
some dust, and under the dust, mystery,
what her mother’s voice pulls out of the air
while she holds this thing. Its lid lifts up
like beehive’s top, a box of sound
and sweetness. She doesn’t know it yet,
but what she tastes is coming
decades of raising those lids and swimming
down in through the sticky gold.
This is her life in her soft weak hands
and she clutches it close as if she knew:
the barbed feet and the hot stings,
the endless cells, the humming and the honey.
The man on the five-thirty train
began to speak. I tried to look polite.
He said he had been born
with a hole in his heart.
Mm-hmm, I said, regarding my book
with longing. They sewed it up,
he said, when I was a baby.
But now it’s back.
Why aren’t you dead, I thought
but didn’t say. Everything
falls down it, he said.
Blood slips down there
and leaves me trembling.
Sometimes I can hardly stand.
I lost my wife down there,
and she was a big woman,
tall and warm. I edged away.
He didn’t follow, just kept on.
My keys, of course, everyone
loses keys, contracts, things you want
to know where they are. But she
went through and never came back,
like The Twilight Zone, that girl
who falls into the wall,
and on the other side nothing
is right. That’s some hole, I said
against my will, closing
the book on my finger.
Are you saying your wife
is down by your appendix?
I don’t know, he said. But it takes
everything. My aunt said
turn to Jesus, but I think even Jesus
couldn’t patch that thing.
Why aren’t you dead?
I said it this time.
I don’t know, he said
again. I ought to be.
But since I’m not, I get to work
early. The black tunnel
roared outside the rocking train.
Aren’t you afraid it’ll take
your job too? I asked.
Yes, he said. But it hasn’t yet.
There are those travel forms
in triplicate, the expense accounts,
the grant requests. There are so many,
they take up so much time,
it’s like they spackle it over.
There are more than anyone could finish.
There are enough for a thousand
people with holes in their hearts,
or a million. Why else
would they have all those forms?
The tube lights shone like gas.
Listen, I said.
Why are you talking to me?
I don’t know you.
I don’t need this.
No, he said, nobody does.
noon, everything still but the flicker
of wind, the soft roar
from the chilling buildings.
Sun hot at my back, shade
a short bar thrown forward
from my feet. The white
birch, slimmer than any
girl I was, scatters single brown
coins, oblong, thin. The willow’s
yellow leaves, sparse among
the green, are twisted
like carnival ribbons;
when they fall, they flutter
wildly: sudden fevers,
generator throbs. The green
birch leaves glitter.
I sit a second longer
in the middle, fallow,
here at the center, heat
beating up from the earth, summer
wind going toward winter.
Photograph by Terri Clark