Speaking of marvels, I am alive
together with you, when I might have been
alive with anyone under the sun,
when I might have been Abélard’s woman
or the whore of a Renaissance pope
or a peasant wife with not enough food
and not enough love, with my children
dead of the plague. I might have slept
in an alcove next to the man
with the golden nose, who poked it
into the business of stars,
or sewn a starry flag
for a general with wooden teeth.
I might have been the exemplary Pocahontas
or a woman without a name
weeping in Master’s bed
for my husband, exchanged for a mule,
my daughter, lost in a drunken bet.
I might have been stretched on a totem pole
to appease a vindictive god
or left, a useless girl-child,
to die on a cliff. I like to think
I might have been Mary Shelley
in love with a wrongheaded angel,
or Mary’s friend. I might have been you.
This poem is endless, the odds against us are endless,
our chances of being alive together
still we have made it, alive in a time
when rationalists in square hats
and hatless Jehovah’s Witnesses
agree it is almost over,
alive with our lively children
who—but for endless ifs—
might have missed out on being alive
together with marvels and follies
and longings and lies and wishes
and error and humor and mercy
and journeys and voices and faces
and colors and summers and mornings
and knowledge and tears and chance.
What The Living Do
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some
utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the
crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the
everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep headstrong blue, and the
sunlight pours through
the open living room windows because the heat’s on too high
in here, and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the
street, the bag breaking.
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday,
hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee
down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush:
This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you
called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and
the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and
more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of
myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by
a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat
that I’m speechless:
I am living, I remember you.