On Meeting a Poet


The single chime of a bell quivers in the air
and then dies. But if sound is the movement
of air molecules, then I think the air is not the same
after the sound is gone. It's gone now,
but the air knows that the sound was there.


His voice took up all the space in the little village arena,
the triangular gaps between the rafters, even under the chairs.
Some listeners opened their books to the right page;
others had no need for they knew the words he spoke
before he spoke them. Ignorant, I closed my eyes
and listened until tears tracked down my face,
his voice both the storm and the eye of the storm.

Later I sat at a table with him and a few others,
everyone polite and respectful, the shadow of his fame
darkening the talk until I made a joke about his nose.
It was a fine nose, big and hooked and it fit his face well,
with his woodsman's build and his iron-gray hair,
but I made fun of it anyway because I wanted to know
how it would sound, that voice in laughter.

Now that he's gone I cannot remember the poems
he read that night or what he wore, but sometimes
for a moment or two his voice, that laugh, resound
unbidden to fill the ordinary corners of my day.

Changing the Sheets

I pull off one corner to reveal the map
of other lives, pick up the child and put it
on the bare spot. Now the sheet is gathered
into an armful and placed in the bin. The child
waits. If it rains, she will wait until the next day.
Next I pass out bowls of rice to those who can eat
with their hands. The ones who can't get broth,
cabbage boiled away, the bottles propped up
between the crib slats. The rice children
have such finger control, precise and delicate
as tweezers, not a grain left, never a mess,
if there is we know that the child is ill. The third
from the left, I lift and place on the floor.
She must learn to crawl. Her new parents
will be here soon, their faces exhausted, eager;
to cry, the floor too vast, her muscles slack
from lack of use. I scold her, but gently. I tell her
how pleased they will be at how neatly she eats,
that they will call her by a name chosen weeks
or months before on a faraway sofa, Lily, Sarah,
Sophie, Elizabeth, names from a book always
sheathed in pink. One eye on the child, I return
to my work, counting the sheets worn thin
in the middle, almost but not quite rags.