After vespers, after the first snow
has fallen to its squalls, after New Wave,
after the anorexics have curled
into their geometric forms,
after the man with the apparition
in his one bad eye has done red things
behind the curtain of the lid & sleeps,
after the fallout shelter in the elementary school
has been packed with tins & other tangibles,
after the barn boys have woken, startled
by foxes & fire, warm in their hay, every part
of them blithe & smooth & touchable,
after the little vandals have tilted
toward the impossible seduction
to smash glass in the dark, getting away
with the most lethal pieces, leaving
the shards which travel most easily
through flesh as message
on the bathroom floor, the parking lots,
the irresistible debris of the neighbor's yard
where he's been constructing all winter long.
After the pain has become an old known
friend, repeating itself, you can hold on to it.
The power of fright, I think, is as much
as magnetic heat or gravity.
After what is boundless: wind chimes,
fertile patches of the land,
the ochre symmetry of fields in fall,
the end of breath, the beginning
of shadow, the shadow of heat as it moves
the way the night heads west,
I take this road to arrive at its end
where the toll taker passes the night, reading.
I feel the cupped heat
of his left hand as he inherits
change; on the road that is not his road
anymore I belong to whatever it is
which will happen to me.
When I left this city I gave back
the metallic waking in the night, the signals
of barges moving coal up a slow river north,
the movement of trains, each whistle
like a woodwind song of another age
passing, each ambulance would split a night
in two, lying in bed as a little girl,
a fear of being taken with the sirens
as they lit the neighborhood in neon, quick
as the fire as it takes fire
& our house goes up in night.
After what is arbitrary: the hand grazing
something too sharp or fine, the word spoken
out of sleep, the buckling of the knees to cold,
the melting of the parts to want,
the design of the moon to cast
unfriendly light, the dazed shadow
of the self as it follows the self,
the toll taker's sorrow
that we couldn't have been more intimate.
Which leads me back to the land,
the old wolves which used to roam on it,
the one light left on the small far hill
where someone must be living still.
After life there must be life.