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“But it should be quite a sight
the going under of the evening land...
And I can tell you my young friend,
it is evening. It is very late.”
Walker Percy “The Moviegoer”
Late in the afternoon
the older folk gather on the porch
to drink and talk
until the sun goes down
until fireflies deck the evening
with their ephemeral jewels
and cicadas scream in the long grass.
The children play and shout from tree forts
and hidden places behind the house.
Teenagers swim, naked, together,
and neck, not-quite-making-love
in the tall reeds by the river. At this hour
evening land is something no one speaks of.
I am twelve, not quite a teenager
and fearful of becoming one
not quite a child.
I sit inside alone
and loaf my way through the summer night
glancing through photograph albums.
They are all there, the older folk,
but younger, unreal in their unlined faces
their trim, youthful, curiously hopeful bodies.
There is one photo of my mother
holding a dripping ice cream cone at the beach.
My father, who must have taken the picture,
is laughing at her or so I imagine
for the picture is tilted slightly
as if he shakes with mirth
while capturing the moment.
A finger has been caught on the lens,
a dark blur on the side.
My mother looks so young, so -- and I admit
this without seeing it in her now --
so very beautiful. Her belly bulges
under her bathing suit: me.
There is an old Zen koan that asks:
What is your face, your true face,
before your parents gave birth to you?
And this is my question even now
as I gaze at her stomach, that sweet swelling,
and see myself as yet unborn.
I wonder if she wants me
in the picture -- me, a girl --
or is she hoping
for her first son?
The adults are quiet now.
Ice settles in someone’s glass, its clink comforting.
Even the children are no longer shouting
from fortress to fort, and the teenagers
are long departed to their netherworld of dance
and electric music downtown.
It is evening land all over the house.
The old clock on the wall ticks time away.
It is very late and all that is left is the going under
POEM WRITTEN WHILE THE REFRIGERATOR DEFROSTS...
and autumn throws its frail bones about the house
and the phone is silent all day.
This poem breaks out of nowhere
under the feeble old torture
of water drip dripping without rhythm,
without pattern, into a stained aluminum turkey pan
that has seen better days and all of them holidays.
I imagine callers, visitors, wrong numbers
struck into conversation
by husky male voices, men who must be
beautiful they are so welcome.
I tell them I am a poet.
I do not tell them I write only when lonly
or when the rotten ice drips softly into a pan.
I tell them all the secrets I’ve been sworn to
and I tell them jokes
just to hear the fine solid sound
of their laughter. I tell them my name
is Mabel Fitzwillow or Phoebe Sparrow.
I am, of course, too old for them
but they need not know it.
When I’m in a good mood I tell them
my aunt was Sarah Bernhardt,
that I, too, am a famous actress
when in fact both my legs are wood
and I have a terrible memory.
I do not recall everything they tell me.
Their stories vary and are not all pleasant.
But once I talked for two hours
with a man whose lover was his own sister.
His voice was sweet, gentle. He told me
he loved his sister more than any other
woman he’d ever met. When we said good-bye
he asked if he might call again -- he had
the number -- might meet, buy me coffee downtown
or take me to lunch at noon.
No -- the truth is that no one calls, no one
visits. All day long the ice melts into the turkey pan.
I write lonely poems of the worst sort
and set each one ablaze on the stove.
By nightfall the ice is gone, the pan full of frost-bitter water.
Carefully I drain it into the sink.
The pan is cold, flocked with bits of ice
and dead insects. I wipe away the grime,
dry all surfaces, then turn the power on once more
and close the door.
(my first published poem)