We've lived this way too long.
There's no going back
as camels might cross a desert
to get to the other side.
I'm not keeping the door open
unless you'd like to reconfigure
the guilty pleasures you loaned me
as we came from afar, singing.
There are people we could name
who would like this better than we do
and others who would scale sheer cliffs
to avoid it. Never return to sender,
that's too easy. And no dismal rain
with its hoarse voice of wavering grief
could sum up the reasons you won't answer,
won't be there, as I weady my twaps,
my blunderbuss and Easter ham,
glad you remembered to feed the cat
some little token of your esteem
gleaned from cupboards aglow
with fresh polish, honeyed
as old oak left to soak up the sun.
You were always reminding me
you don't know my name—
trying to fit in anywhere
to shorten my stay here
to relieve me of the odd commands
the boss left behind in her rage.
She was like a big sister to me
till I aged, then she gathered
flowers where she found them, tried
to repeat the spell she'd only heard
but once. Dejected, she said,
at the sound of her own voice
and what else was there to hear
in the wind that knew perfectly well
it was leaving and never coming back?
It's not yet clear who took the money
and why they felt they had to,
as our Lord, who cares less for pests
than plagues, has never refused
to hold up the hem of his apron
that all might climb aboard.
We sometimes stop in the shadow
of that reticulated façade
to light a smoke or tap a flask
and as we turn to gaze at last
at the fine clouds barely masking
the blue approach to the summit
we smile to think of lives lost
pursuing some trivial end.
Our children's children may forget
with impunity that we ever walked
in scuffed shoes these streets
that bear repeating until our clothes
reappear on some far horizon
where daylight sheds its sullen livery
and disports itself like a harlot,
so to speak. Have you ever
tried to spread your mouth to hold
your hand, or ever caught a turtle
and kept it, watching each contraction
as though it were your soul
striving to find comfort in liquid?
All the people we used to know
have embarked on ships
that don't include us, and so
we grasp the final report
a mere season before we'd go anyway,
but oh how wearisome to plot
little tasks like a teacher
accustomed to late assignments,
gradually learning to accept
large margins of error. Modus
ponens and other useful formulas
lead us back here eventually
if only to cross out another path
not taken or taken too soon,
when there was still time to revise
our simple pilgrimage and gain,
at last, that foolproof annuity
most desired. Unlikely.
In this town things move too fast
and most have forgotten it was ever
any different. They believe
that barber poles and lunch buffets
shopping malls and sales tax
suffer from a lex aeternitas
and can only be cleared away
by foreign invasion or hostile takeover,
otherwise life is fixed, simply
a painted moon over a painted sea,
something for daws to peck at
and for little boys to smudge
and girls to sigh at the sight of
because it's as old as grandparents
and twice as salty. Inside,
his heart does cartwheels
at the sight of her breasts,
and she does too, literally.
I'm not making this up.
They told me to say it
and if that's not reason enough to ignore me
find others. Across the sea
the castle will be there till you come,
I hope, and all will be in readiness
for the long, dark night of no stars
and only the nightjars for company.
Ask for Adam, tell him you can make him
an offer, then step back and mark
how his contortions become
quite rhythmic, able to be imitated
by advanced students of the dance.
History shows all innovators
become rainwater in the end, swelling
the gutters, gone when the sun returns.
I don't know if that’s right, but
sometimes, in the dark, my hands
contact each other, and for a moment
I can believe we all thrive on the illusion
of marionettes enacting passion
in Victorian costumes, accompanied
by the cloying tones of a toy piano,
offered to hearts eager to appear
frivolous and appealing. Now hush.
© Donald Brown, 2010/2013