Would you let me tell you about the dream you had last night?
You were in a long hallway, swimming upstream, slight,
Pale women moving past, not meeting your eyes but
Muttering, blurry words, faded & slurred, the meaning shut
Behind the windbreak. & how did you feel about it?
Envious! The subtlety of those ladies!
You wish you could be so elusive, feeling as you do
That your own words always beam too bright, like new shoes,
Like the precocious kid who always knows the answer,
So clear, so concise, thus deficient & piteous, sure
To eventually be wilted like a paper flower
Under a 40,000 watt bulb.
Then morning comes, the kitchen & radio, the routine.
From the other room the click of an answering
Machine. (We still have an answering machine?) &
The little tape rolls, lapping up the thoughts of an
Unshaven man stationed in the outerboroughs, his prayerbook
Spread wide in his lap, the pages yellowed,
His collar yellowed, & you are heartened to consider
The physicality of them: his words, I mean, conserved
Forever on that little brown strip, written down
By a hulking specter who stands slightly shorter than
A grain of salt. But this mothering instinct some of us
Have: what does it look like?
A handkerchief to tie back her hair? A cigarette break
In the back parking lot of the hospital? An antique
Map of Ohio in the glove box? I’ve always known
This place was teeming with ghosts, but I feel way more alone
Now that they’ve occupied your frame, your taste, your visage, your
Chest a message from beyond, & the distance to the farthest star in the universe
Is only the prologue. That’s only just a place to start.
I’m sure you won’t believe this but I’ve spent almost every night
For the past forty years lying so still, quiet,
Eyes closed, a riot of sound in my skull, retired
School teachers, or my dad (this is my dream now) hired
By the administration to check & see if I’m OK.
If I’ve finally completed my work. I appreciate the gesture,
But no actual help has ever yet come. My granddad
Always drowned the whelps to keep the bitch from weaning, he said
It would hurt her hunt. All of them in a canvas sack
On the dinner table before he left for the lake.
Squirming, but cozy & warm. They did not whimper.
I almost said hideous. I almost told you my real name.