If it’s the title of a movie you expect
everything to become important—a kiss,
a shrug, a glass of wine, a walk with the dog.
But if the day is real, life is only
as significant as yesterday—the kiss
hurried, the shrug forgotten, and now,
on the path by the river, you don’t notice
the sky darkening beyond the pines because
you’re imagining what you’ll say at dinner,
swirling the wine in your glass.
You don’t notice the birds growing silent
or the cold towers of clouds moving in,
because you’re explaining how lovely
and cool it was in the woods. And the dog
had stopped limping!—she seemed
her old self again, sniffing the air and alert,
the way dogs are to whatever we can’t see.
And I was happy, you hear yourself saying,
because it felt as if I’d been allowed
to choose my last day on earth,
and this was the one I chose.
“The absence of God,” wrote George Bataille,
“is greater, and more divine, than God.”
Which is an idea God might have come up with
if he’d been French and worried
about how to make it through
the twentieth century. Do you want this?
If I take it away, will you want it more?
Or will you forget? That’s the problem
with absence, it leave itself open
to so much. Supernatural forces,
for example. Glowing lights,
out of which aliens appear
like anorexic children. Let us help you,
they say, although of course they never speak.
Once they just wanted to take over the planet.
Now they feel sorry for us,
the way God must have felt when he chose
to retire into his silence.
No more threats. No more angels, either.
Only these lost children, come back
to startle us, and vanish.
Nine month to a year
was what the doctors gave my friend.
All summer he said he felt ecstatic.
That was his word. No, he hadn’t
fallen in love with death.
Ecstatic was the way he thought
the world wanted him to feel —
trees swaying as he sat on his deck,
crickets in the grass, then the moon
coming out. They were all part of how
this was happening. Two months later,
when the serious pain set in,
he said he’d been wrong. Deluded
was his word. But why shouldn’t
a man who knows he’s going
to die believe he’s found
some new kind of truth?
Then pain makes itself the truth.
‘Try to fool yourself now’, it says.
‘Try to believe in anything but me.’
Think of it and it won’t happen,
I’ve often thought. Too unlikely
to imagine the accident — you
in the car in the rain — then receive
the call. Too uncanny,
too much like a book.
In life, almost no one
recognizes what’s important
when it’s beginning — the comical bully
on his way to power, the shy boy
next door loading his gun, or the baby
in the barn, only the animals watching.
Then a few travelers arrive in the night.
Later, we can see the shape of the story,
or make one up, if we have to.
So you’re driving home in a terrible storm.
Rain lashes the windshield, great trees
are collapsing, but you’re safe
because the scene I’m picturing
won’t happen if I think of it first.
That’s what I keep telling myself
until the storm is over —
challenging the order of things
to show its hand, betting it won’t.
He follows us, he keeps track.
Each day his lists are longer.
Here, death. And here,
something like it.
Mr. Fear, we say in our dreams,
what do you have for me tonight?
And he looks through his sack,
his black sack of troubles.
Maybe he smiles when he finds
the right one. Maybe he’s sorry.
Tell me, Mr. Fear,
what must I carry
away from your dream?
Make it small, please.
Let it fit in my pocket,
let it fall through
the hole in my pocket.
Fear, let me have
a small brown bat
and a purse of crickets
like the ones I heard
singing last night
out there in the stubbly field
before I slept, and met you.
Lucky for us things know what they know.
Most books say the earth is round,
but it knows how to be flat when it has to.
And when I drive over to your house,
I’m not afraid of planets or stars
crashing into me, because there are laws
that say they can’t. Thanks to gravity
we don’t spin out of control, rise into
the air, or just float away. No fair
jumping up, gravity says, without coming down.
No fair running without getting tired,
or knowing how you feel without saying it.
There are laws for every part of the day —
invisible laws for what we can’t touch,
laws for the night. Look at the clouds —
what are they up to? Just circling the earth,
blocking the light, making us all tired and low.
Why does anything need more than just one name?
We don’t have to think about breathing to breathe,
it’s one of the smart things our bodies do
without being asked. Most books
will tell you this, if you have to read it:
Before Copernicus, the sun wasn’t even a star.
Before Galileo, no one could see the moon.
Before I met you, I was blind.
Years later they find themselves talking
about chances, moments when their lives
might have swerved off
for the smallest reason.
I hadn’t phoned, he says, that morning?
What if you’d been out,
as you were when I tried three times
the night before?
Then she tells him a secret.
She’d been there all evening, and she knew
he was the one calling, which was why
she hadn’t answered.
Because she felt—
because she was certain—her life would change
if she picked up the phone, said hello,
said, I was just thinking
I was afraid,
she tells him. And in the morning
I also knew it was you, but I just
answered the phone
the way anyone
answers a phone when it starts to ring,
not thinking you have a choice.
A woman tries to saw her leg off.
Before she can finish, she passes out.
She wakes up in the hospital, discovers
the leg’s still there, makes
her next plan: railroad tracks, a train.
She doesn’t want to die,
she wants to get rid of the leg,
which she hates. Nothing’s wrong with it,
but when she looks in a mirror
the woman she sees has only one leg.
Nobody’s shocked anymore to hear
about men who believe they’re women,
women who need to be men.
Some people dream of themselves
without legs or arms. Some dream
of making love to those without legs
or arms. Some dream of watching.
Are these arguments against
the existence of God? Not if this
is what God likes to do-experiment
with the endless ways desire
can make us crazy. How easy it must be
to do that to people. Is there anything
someone hasn’t wanted? So the woman
is happy to lie down in the dark
on the cold tracks, the train
blindly approaching-and then
the thought that really
this isn’t going to work, and then
the voice she’s heard once or twice before
tells her to be still, tells her
not to be afraid,
tells her she can hardly imagine
how beautiful she will be.
I wasn’t thinking of you.
But so much stays the same.
Even a room resists our efforts.
The old things are taken away,
given away, lost. A different
picture then, a new chair.
Entering, I expect you to be there.
These are the inescapable
phrases that hope for more:
something about the weather,
and all that can and cannot
be healed, and how, and how long.
Time passes and it reminds us
of everything we happen to remember.
Then we return to the same
few objects, few events. The house
darkens, and the lights come on.
And even this room
changes to fit your absence,
no matter what we say or how
we choose to think about it.
It is night. For hours I have been walking,
wanting to see you, hoping you might
appear suddenly by the side of the road,
on a bridge, or in the arc of headlights
bending toward me. I have continued
beyond any place you might conceivably be.
Sunk into a dark hollow, between trees
and stone, the river goes where it has to go.
In the cold air I construct long conversations:
whatever we wouldn’t say if you were here.
I recite poems. I return home and write more.
You are, of course, attending within them,
or by a bridge before winter. I fix you
safely, where we might find each other.
But something comes between us, like glass
or water: a distance I cannot avoid.
We meet by accident and fall away.
I come back here, compose another poem,
and walk about at night reciting it to you.
Everything I conceive as possible returns
to an ordered page. I wish I were blind!
I wish my fingers would drop off!
What are they doing, writing all this again?