You can't have it any way you want it,
that much is true. We must
make allowances for what people think.
After all, they control the scope of things,
the major devices, the sump pump,
the baccarat table, even.
No one gets anywhere believing in maps,
for they long ago left us indifferent,
commanding new roads, exploits
we hadn't time to invent or dispel,
jettisoned somewhere near St. Louis.
When you come in from the cold,
she'll be there with a soft pillow,
ready to tell you Bible stories
by the hour, show you photos
of ancestors in strange get-ups,
give you milk with a straw and say
she saw you crossing a wide field
with no one around, just you
and the neighbor's dog or a lamb,
and you'll know at once, beyond doubt,
that you've come at last to the wrong house.
In the time it takes to think about doing it,
it could be done, then you could put away
everything that distracts you,
the new shelves and I-beams, diagrams,
factory-sealed packets of glue,
could open your own Rest Stop,
let people drop by and stare at you,
and you with always the name of a fallen mentor
on the tip of your tongue or under
your breath, wherever it would do
most good. “Let's wrap this up,”
someone said, and you couldn't tell
if he meant the loose wires or the discussion,
in the hushed pause before the storm
was upon us, its torrents like paint,
its winds like a milkshake mixer,
churning and churning, leaving us
sitting ducks for another wet apocalypse.
Whenever this period ends, I'll be gone,
I hope. As if I could find somewhere else
more comfortable or defensible.
Not likely at these prices. Anchor me
to this barstool, Sea Hag. I'll be
a monkey's uncle, the doting owner
of a brace of chargers or maybe a lost
masterpiece. You told me once
you liked the competition in the after hours
and I believed you because why wouldn't I,
you never played me false that I know of.
I seem to recall you once steered me
toward the low-lying coastal cities
and the grander cathedrals, sometimes
the cotton wool weavers came along,
and we were soon distributing souvenirs
to all the townsfolk at the parade,
even the ones who seemed they'd been there before.
I'm wondering now where they've gone,
there were so many, so varied in size,
so plausibly ready for prizes—sure,
some had plans they gladly divulged,
others had rides waiting, and some knew
how to talk their way into anything, but
it wasn't as if we ever knew their names.
They ignored us and we them. We'd
already lost our bearings, let the world
become mere scenery, were focused
on long out-dated champions and dancers,
hoping a solitary harmonica might be
piercing enough to bring down the house.
Meanwhile most of our guests decamped,
departed for other shores, some in gowns,
some in loose sweatpants, others
in Bermuda shorts or bathing suits.
They never asked where they were going,
just went. Along the tracks
through the ravine the train would pass
seeming to take all the future with it
as it slid out of sight. A balloon
might cross the sun, or a loud crack
might sound like thunder, a voice
you had become accustomed to
would speak from the dark to you alone
and you might trust it just this once.
There always was too much space
and bad directions, not enough sleep
on the eve of the journey, too many know-it-alls
jockeying for attention, secret advice
to be had for the asking, and lost
opportunities again and again and again,
following you around like a servant
hired to cover your tracks. Postcards
have gone missing, and invitations,
and all the yearbooks you wrote your name in
as well. What you have left won't feed you
because it's made of words, lighter than air,
and only in your head, or mouth, or ear.
You can be an exile at home, native abroad,
and a recluse in the midst of the multitude.
Every role shaped for you is one you avoid
for the sake of something not known,
not available or recommendable,
but yours like the clothes you'll wear
till you die, which is to say, not yours at all.