May you fall into it
groggy and disheveled as a baby
who lets go of his mother’s
nipple with a thwuck—head lolling,
cowlicks sticking up,
lips open and glistening.
May you fall into it
like a drunk keeling
over onto his own stoop,
having staggered the last possible
step on his slog from the bar.
May you not stand alone
on the shore at 3 A.M.,
longing to extricate yourself
from the gritty sand
of consciousness, when everyone
you know has been swept out
by the sea of sleep.
May you reclaim once or twice
the gauze-fine sleep of childhood—
calmly gliding from flickering shadow
to light, from flickering light
to shadow, like a punt
on a tree-lined river.
And may your last be utterly
black and quiet,
and last forever.
You think time should flood,
or swerve, or dry up,
but time—like the metronome clicking
while the poor music student struggles—
does nothing unusual
at all. At this milli-second
when you think this rock dropped
in time’s river will break
its arrow, the instant is already sliding
downstream like a froth
of bubbles vanishing in after
and after and after, though you lie at the spot
on the shore—stranded
and despoiled, like a homestead
through which an army has stomped
to the beat of trumpets and drums.
Ahead of me, on line in the jammed
food-court, where the air is salted
and oily, a boy almost too big
for a man’s arms—maybe three
or four—caresses the man’s cheeks
with both slow, soft hands, whispering
worshipping words, as if he were kneeling
before an icon in church. The holiness
is almost embarrassing; there’s something
pleading and beyond his age, something designed
in the boy’s repetitive petting, as if he were
pressing the man into place. And the man
accepts the adoration as coolly as a saint.
How early we learn touch is love: when I held
my two-year-old granddaughter in my arms
to say good-bye for a long time and whispered
“I love you,” she stroked my breast twice,
her eyes filling with prescient light.
But this boy—is he trying to bribe
his dad, or step-dad, out of sheer
need, willing him to love him,
or to stay, the way kids bend their parents
at the elbows, hips and knees in the doll houses
of their minds, so no matter how much
the two hate each other, they sit arm-in-arm?
Almost my turn at the counter now;
the man has set the child
down, and he monkey-wraps
around a stalwart jean-clad calf.
I force my eyes away.