The ox in his hickory yoke
drags the rest of future
toward me on a sledge.
His plod pulls slow sparks
off the schist in the paving
stones from the metal skids.
I’m trying to see what’s
on the sledge before
he gets here, what’s left
for me, as though knowing
makes any difference.
The squat drover wears
a black watch cap with ear flaps,
a long goad in his hand, speaks,
“Haw” softly in the ox’s ear
and turns into the courtyard
toward me on the stoop,
my glass of wine glows faint
in the last melon light of day.
There’s a woman on the sledge
sitting backwards in a Morris chair,
a dog asleep beside her. Hope
is the mallard duck, the mind
a willow switch. I can’t tell if
it’s pain or the heart in the wicker
basket she holds on her lap.
At a Certain Age
Easterly behind the neighbors
begins an Andrew Wyeth sky.
Their house and chimney, a black
crepe-paper cutout against the persimmon
wash, the filigree of the giant oak
to the left sicissored in. A few bird-things
leave the tree, the chimney, little parings
of paper against the watercolor wash.
The cold after the deeper cold is about.
Just the eyebrows, perhaps the nose
above the heft of blankets, the
little sleep sounds from the warm
quilt tunnel, the burgles and sniff,
little sinus whistle. This is the time
when hope haunts the house, stealing
into the room with its promise. Just
before the day arrives with its love
and lift and problem and solve.
For some of us at this age, it is
arriving at the station in the still dark,
muffler and warm overcoat, bags
a mound at our feet knowing those
we love will arrive in the black Humber
to pick us up.
The room phantasmagoricalices
from lumps to spindle back chair, armoire,
dog wound in a warm ball on the rag rug.
First I can make out the large letter H,
then the slope of the O, then the rest.
Reggie’s New Pet
A bandicoot lived in my mother’s closet along with an afghan
she bought in Tegucigalpa even though she’d never been south
of Boston. She didn’t show them to just anyone, especially
my father who wouldn’t eat a vegetable unless mashed.
Only she could see the bandicoot and Tegucigalpian afghan
but that didn’t stop her from showing them to me, the door
cracked only an inch or two, bandicoots being far too clever.
Six decades later my coatimundi drives the dog crazy
rattling around in the walk-in after midnight as I hold
the empty night back wrapped in a woolen frazada.
Once I have lain down with her and slept after,
the soul is a sop-rag dipped with the flume
that rises from me to fill what pitched room
is or was, whether on a cowed and oaked hillside,
two stories above the acqua alta in Piazza San Marcos
or this cramped dogey room late in my creation.
Knowing this I have not freely given, for what’s spent
is finite, only so much soul con be held in the peanut
at the base of the skull, Descartes thought; it’s not
a gangline hooking cod but the entomologist’s net,
stumbling up the steps to the lit porch at midnight
for hyalophora cecropia.
My father is inside the cloud asleep,
his head on the bar after two boilermakers,
after a double shift on the stamp press.
Mother sends me in to get him. I am eight
then and fifteen when he wakes and pats
my head with his hand, a half little finger
stamped off. His confusion in 1954 because
there was only cotton batting for his ears
on the stamp press stations; boilermaker sleep,
some peace for a man half-crazy earning
a paycheck of thin margin, just a slice
of bread above providing. No sick pay,
no medical. One week off in August, the tiny
cabin among nine others, dominos from
Swetts Pond to the pine woods behind,
a flinch every time the screen door bangs,
dish clatter, dog bark, skip rope chant,
the ghost of stamp press; there is no help.
Two metal faded-blue lawn chairs on
the dinky porch, smoke from his second
pack of Luckies today squints his eye.
Two loons at dusk, the water is the pewter
of a rifle barrel, of one more year.