How Fragile Is the Peace
If somehow I have managed
to focus my philanthropy
on creatures that get stepped on,
shot at, struck by someone
speeding to the package store
before it closes with a sign flip
for the night, which draws
the deer down to the yard’s edge
where I pile cracked corn
like a traitor to a cause
my kind has championed
as necessary for the good,
I do not mean to seem unneighborly.
I wave before I’m waved to,
and I only use the chainsaw
to make cordwood after leaves flare
in what light is left these afternoons,
although there is an ordinance
that says we’re not allowed
to leave out food for animals
we do not formally tend,
and this I have ignored
with an insurgent regularity,
which bothers Henry, I suspect,
although he has not hailed me over
to the shrub- and pine-lined boundary
where such matters in the past
have had their airing
in the small talk that we speak,
like diplomats, in code, aware
how fragile is the peace.
From Isn't It Romantic?
Originally appeared in New South
Sitting in the evening at his desk,
the first Victorians not born yet,
Thomas Bowdler expurgates another
Shakespeare play and rolls his eyes
to indicate such genius should have been above
such double meanings and such expletives.
He does not countenance the groundlings,
grinning skeletons in common graves,
who used to hurl their rotten vegetables
upon the stage when unamused,
demanding their diversion in the style
they had long since grown accustomed to.
His audience does not weather plague
as often, does not need the theater
quite as dearly for catharsis,
does not crave Elizabethan bawdiness
to mitigate Elizabethan woe,
which ceased two centuries ago.
It wants the rough-hewn edges of the world
smoothed down by men like Bowdler,
perched by well-snuffed candlelight, a scribe
with an agenda, patiently rewriting
what is vulgar in the record, mortified
by how much dirty work there is to do.
From O, Captain (The Ledge Press--Out of print)
Originally appeared in The Ontario Review
The romantic business of entwining two lives
seasoned by two very different places
and by probably unlimited dissimilarities
between the catalogs of their experience
can catch the ardent realist off guard,
convincing him he wasn't meant to be
a solitary bachelor in a world
in which connection figures prominently.
In parks, in bars, in markets he is one-
half of a metaphysical equation
that he fears will not be solved
and so tries everything to find the variable
that he has no distinct conception of
and must rely on intuition to discern.
As justifiable as reason, it will lead him
to the one that he will love
as absolutely as himself and he will feel
that long odds have been beaten,
that a new law has been proven
to invalidate the old.
The sticky subject of possession
is eliminated with a platitude:
What's mine is yours.
His clothes and toiletries accrue
in her place, hers accrue in his,
a more or less commensurate exchange
implying the irrelevance of place
as long as they are linked together.
Whether it is the eroding force of time
that splits them or a comely other
introduced by an acquaintance
in observance of a moment ruled by etiquette,
they will at some point be impressed
by the relentlessness of frailty.
He may find himself supine
in his recliner, gazing
on an article left uncollected
for a reason he tries vainly to divine,
or she may find herself
before a tombstone with an epitaph
that she picked out herself,
the dutiful tears like paratroopers
on their way to scout the new terrain.
From A Brief Eureka for the Alchemists of Peace
Originally appeared in The Louisville Review
Apparently left fallow by a man
purporting to have been
an obstetrician for about a year
before resigning to become
a meter reader for the water company,
my mother didn't know exactly
what to make of my conception.
In the battle to distinguish
inner peace from outer,
she had let him hold her hand
as he explained that to reduce
her water bill by up to
twenty-five percent she should
replace the washers
on her leaky taps like so.
Because he wasn't like the cable man,
who said that the imagined life
was one big pornographic film,
or like the telephone repair man,
who insinuated that
my mother's voice was tailor-made
for phone sex, she just fell in love
with this conservator of water,
who confessed to her that he could never
father children, which was why
he left obstetrics in the first place.
I cannot bear the thought
of making love when I am sure
that it will come to nothing
I can cradle in my arms or coach,
he sobbed. My mother said, Please try.
When her conservator of water
left her for a motorman
position on the New York City subway,
mother never let another man
restrict the dripping of her faucets.
It is easy, then, to see
why I have always thought the washer
more symbolic of eternal union
than the wedding ring and why
I spend my middle age surrounded
by my train set in her basement.
From Contemporary Martyrdom
Originally appeared in 5 AM