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Strangers in the Night (Written April 6, 2018)

Strangers in the Night

It’s not the first time she’s told me
the story of her life,
and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
“You don’t have to listen to this,”

She says, not sure whether or not
I’ve heard it before.
After twenty-five years together,
we still feel, at times, like strangers,

Who have just met and are trying,
to get to know each other. I take
whatever I can from her story,
whatever strikes me, and I feel less

Distant from her, though I know there are
vast areas
where neither one of us wants to go.
We are passengers on a bus, travelling
to a place we’ve never been, excited,

In a heightened state of awareness,
but at the same time
wary of what awaits us, unsure
if we will be able to tell the difference
between what is real and what is not real.

She had a full, rich life before we met,
most of which
I know nothing about and never will.
So who is she? My wife, but that’s just
a cold fact. Inside her head, where she lives,

Who is she? It’s not her intention,
I’m sure,
to shut me out, but every day
she remembers less and less.

Don’t Even Ask (Written March 30, 2018)

Don’t Even Ask

This could mean two things.
A friend might have called
and invited her out for a cup of coffee,
and she said yes, because she’s been feeling

Isolated and depressed. Or she might have had
another angina attack,
more severe than usual, and called an ambulance.
I was only gone an hour, running a few errands,
because we were out of some essentials,

Such as milk, bread, butter, eggs, bird feed,
and some kind of protein.
The cat was waiting for me when I opened the door
and gave me an openly defiant look, as if to say,
I don’t know where she went, don’t even ask.

I looked upstairs, in both bedrooms, searched
the basement,
in case she might have fallen down the stairs,
but it was obvious the house was empty.
It felt empty. All the energy was drained out of it,

Like an empty, upside-down water bottle.
I would have thought
that she would leave a note, or something,
telling me where she was, if she was going to go
away like that. But I suppose, if it was an emergency,

She might not have had time. So here I am,
not sure what to do.
Maybe she’s in the studio, but that’s not likely,
with the path still covered in ice and a dusting of snow.
She hasn’t been to the studio for weeks, for months,

So why today of all days would she decide to wander
out back?
It’s not as if she’s run out of ideas, and can’t think
what she wants to do next. She just doesn’t have
the strength she used to have. For a long time

She worked in oil pastels but now she “inhabits boxes,”
as she describes it.
I liked the oil pastels, because of the way she could create
such deep, rich colors and such interesting textures.
The trouble is that oil pastels, like spray paints,

Can be hazardous to the health, so I don’t blame her.
It’s true no doubt
that her confusion stems in part from inhaling noxious
chemicals. If she’s not in the studio, I’ll call the hospital.

A Mistake (Written March 23, 2018)

A Mistake

The whole thing’s a mistake,
a trick.
If only she had died that time
in hospital, when she was sick,

She wanted to, she had seen
what it was like,
she was ready, a little nudge
was all she would need,
she said, to tip her over the edge.

When it didn’t happen, as desired,
she wept.
It took courage to go on, not to die.
Life, lived well, might promise
some sort of wisdom, some vision,

But she isn’t holding her breath.
A gray mist,
as thick as any on the high seas,
obscures the path she has chosen.
Her mind, once vibrant, has become

Less reliable. Her body, once active,
has begun to break down.
So many things she’d been able to do
she can no longer do. Worst of all
is the feeling of isolation.

She will have to wait it out,
get used to it,
and remember she is not in command,
but something wholly other.

Chance Stars (Written March 16, 2018)

Chance Stars

To get them set up the way she wants
takes forever.
The gaps in her thinking are like
the gaps in clouds, through which

Chance stars appear briefly, and are gone.
It’s no use
trying to get them back. Might as well
try to stop the earth from rotating.
Some last longer than others,

For example, her father, who stands out
most brightly,
with his happy smile, sitting in a lawn chair
at the cabin by the lake, dressed in
high leather boots, white trousers,

A black cardigan, and an old fedora,
with his fishing license
stuck to the hat band. But she forgets
the names of my father and my mother,
shown together on the middle shelf,

In the early days of their marriage,
dressed shabbily,
but happy looking, in love.
She takes down the photo of my son
and myself on the streets of Philadelphia,

The year he graduated from Wharton,
gives it a dusting,
and puts it back. She does the same
with the photo of my daughter,
taken at the time of her graduation

From high school, before she went away
to university
and disappeared from my life.
She remembers her name but not
where the photo was taken.

On the bottom shelf, to the right of center,
her own daughter
sits in a folding chair, some forty years ago,
with her husband in a chair next to her,
and their two children, one sitting, one standing,

In sturdy galvanized-zinc tubs,
and behind them
a picket fence painted brown, and
thick maple trees providing ample shade.

Her Smile (Written March 9, 2018)

Her Smile

When the talk turns to sex and politics,
when the jokes become crude,
when she gets tired and her thoughts
begin to shoot off in all directions,

When the children who’ve been sitting
so quietly beside her on the bench
suddenly get up and run into the next room,
when she doesn’t hear or understand
what someone has said,

She smiles her beautiful smile
and they think she knows more
than she lets on. They think
she possesses the wisdom
that comes with age.

Who can resist her smile?
The way the lip curls in and back,
revealing the small, even teeth,
which she has cared for, faithfully,
all the years of her life. Friends

And strangers want to photograph her,
just to capture her perfect smile.
There’s nothing fake about her smile,
nothing put on. Her smile is never
at someone’s expense, to hurt.

Her smile means she’s happy
to be where she is, with the people
she’s with, even if sometimes
she doesn’t understand them,
and they don’t understand her.

Her smile opens the way for her
into almost any room where people
have gathered. Everyone loves her smile,
because it is free of all pretense.

Perhaps (Written March 2, 2018)


She could easily have fallen on the steps
coming out of Artemis’s house.
She could be on the way to the hospital
this very moment. Somebody, eventually,

Will think of contacting me.
She’s never been this late before.
She was supposed to call me at four
and let me know when
to pick her up. Something

Must have happened and I can only
imagine the worst. Perhaps she had a heart attack
and she’s lying on the floor in the livingroom
and the ambulance is on the way
and nobody knows if she’ll live or die.

Perhaps she hitched a ride with Lucy
and they were talking and Lucy
ran a red light and hit a brand-new
Lexus GX or a Land Rover
and threw her against the windshield

Because she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt,
which would not have been like her,
although recently, it’s true, she’s been very
forgetful. Perhaps fatigue
overtook her and she stretched out

On the bed in Artemis’s spare
bedroom, in the basement, and fell asleep.
I pace back and forth in the hallway,
glancing out the window every so often.
I sit at a table in the sun porch

And wait. Perhaps something she ate
disagreed with her and she vomited
on the black pleated skirt
we had washed just yesterday.
It’s five o’clock and she still hasn’t called,

I don’t know what to do with myself.
I’m too on edge to read or watch TV.
I should call Artemis
but just then a car pulls into the driveway
and Lucy gets out and helps my wife

Out of the car, onto the sidewalk. “We talked
a long time,” she smiles, as she brushes
past me, takes hold of the railing,
and climbs the stairs into the house.
Lucy grabs three old beat-up picture frames

From the back seat and wants to give them
to me. Perhaps we can find a use for them.
If we had a fireplace, I think,
I’m sure we would have no trouble.

Ode to Hands (Written February 23, 2018)

Ode to Hands

With hands like this she could be an artist.
The thumb small,
with wrinkled knuckle and cracked nail.
The fingers long, thick, hairless.

The skin on the back of the hand
crisscrossed with fine lines,
old scars, and dark squiggles of blood
as they go down to do their work.

These hands have an energy,
a vitality,
that flows into them and through them
to whatever they touch, a piece of clay
to be shaped, a canvas to be painted,

A print to be pressed, or someone
to be loved.
Small hands are made for reaching
into the cookie jar. Big hands
are for chopping wood, painting houses,

Milking cows, shooting basketballs,
and the like.
A helping hand is what anyone
would hope for, in times of trouble.
The thought of her, beaten down

By life, makes my hand tremble.
A drowning man,
to save himself, might reach his hand
towards an imagined rescue,
before going down for good.

In the painting the man lays his hand,
ever so lightly,
on the breast of his wife,
while she rests her hand on his.

The Last Thing She Wants (Written February 16, 2018)

The Last Thing She Wants

She doesn’t growl at me any more than usual.
Hardly at all.
A gentle – or not so gentle – reminder
that it has been how many days now

Since I last did the laundry.
The basket’s full
and smells when she opens it.
She has nothing to wear, not even
a bra, on the off chance that she might

Want to go out. There’s dirt everywhere,
dustballs on the stairs,
cat hairs floating in the rays of the sun,
and she has trouble breathing.
When was the last time I vacuumed?

She can’t remember, nor can I.
A week, at least.
And why do I cook the same thing
night after night when I know
she has no appetite. If only

She would tell me what she likes.
But no,
it’s either too dry or too oily, seldom
the right mix. Maybe, she thinks,
we should call Meals on Wheels.

Give ourselves a break. She appreciates
everything I do,
but it’s too much for one person,
as witness the house crumbling,
and the last thing she wants,

She says, is to live (or die) in squalor.
I can deny
the obvious, if I want, that’s my
business. Life is what happens when
we look the other way, or something

Like that. In the kitchen window, under
the spruce tree,
six female pheasants are digging
and digging for yesterday’s seeds.

Ode to Ice (Written February 9, 2018)

Ode to Ice

The man thinks of stepping on the ice.
He thinks of falling.
The woman thinks of calling a friend.
She thinks of the burden she will carry.

Ice covers the ground but does not
protect what’s already in the ground,
the way snowfall protects.
Ice makes venturing forth less
tempting; breeds stasis.

Under the ice the earth turns
in on itself. Things look dead,
but somehow, for the most part,
live on. Birds die when
they don’t get enough to eat.

Plants die when they are left
unprotected and unloved. Hold
my arm; if one falls, both fall.
The distance from the house to the car
seems as far as the nearest star.

The promise of spring, slowly
awakening, is an invitation
to dream. The days grow longer,
the sun shines more brightly,
the ice melts. The future, she thinks,

Begins any time now. It’s always
possible, he thinks, notwithstanding
appearances. The cracks in the tips
of his fingers start to heal.

The Art of Camouflage (Written February 2, 2018)

The Art of Camouflage

I will change names, places, dates,
I will change tenses, persons, voices,
I will change genders,
I will change days of the week,

I will change months of the year,
I will change seasons if need be,
I will conceal my sources,
I will become an expert
in the art of camouflage.

No one but myself will know
the words I have been given,
in the beginning, to look at,
to interrogate, and to find
the story they hide,

Which is there for me and me alone,
the story I want to tell, about her,
about us, about our life together,
about how we look after each other.
Although it starts with someone else,

The story will be my own.
I will tell it the way I see it
and the way I feel it. No one
has heard it before, or suspected
that it could be so. I will say

What I have to say, even if I expose
myself, or her, like the pheasant
behind the japonica bush, hiding among
bare branches, in plain sight, visible to all.