THE SPIRIT SAYS, YOU ARE NOTHING:
Because you haven’t praised anything in months,
You walk down to the river and study one ripple
Above a dead tree
Until it is almost dark enough
For the moon to whiten it,
But it does not,
And so you put your hand out,
And then you feel, or you begin to feel,
A thin line of ants hesitate
Before running over it,
And you think how
The thread of worry running through a human voice
Halts when a syllable freezes, then goes on,
Alone. You remember
Overhearing two voices speak softly
In a motel room.
Outside, it was 1975,
And cars sighed past weeds, and fields.
You think now they were only
A man and a woman consoling each other
Because they had both
Lived out their lives, and there was no point
Anymore worth arguing, even if once
There was something, no money, or a daughter
Staying out all night even on the blackest night
Of summer, and coming home
Whitened and final as snow in the back seat
Of a convertible—
The car abandoned, by now, to the sky and the sun—
But no, they
Were just consoling each other
For being who they were,
And because they could not change,
Not now, into
And because one day one of them will simply look over
To see if the water on the stove
Is boiling, and if it is clear, finally
Of the gray, shifting sky it had reflected
A moment ago,
And then he, or she, will be alone—
Though the sun might move to illuminate
A spiked clematis on the windowsill,
Which will be too revealing.
And whoever is left
Will begin to know what it is like
To take one step slowly backward;
To be without a voice to sort the mind
As it begins, now, to flare like the horns
Of a marching band coming up the street under
To feel a slight wind stirring the hair at the back
Of the neck . . .
To stand there.
By now you are lying so still
You think you can rise up, as I can,
Without a body,
And go unseen over the still heads of grasses,
And enter the house
Where your wife will not look up from the letter
She is writing,
And your son goes on sleeping—
A thimble of light spilling into the darkness.
But you do not move. And this
Is about stillness, now:
How you remember strolling alone, at seventeen,
Through the dusk of each street,
How you liked the wind reddening the face
Of a drunk, who,
In the last days of his alcohol, reeled
And stared back at you,
And held your gaze.
How all you remember of New York is
Who would not have read this poem,
Or any poem,
And who once dreamed
That a speck of white paint on a subway platform
Everyone he knew.
But you were young, and you had
Plenty of time:
You slept on the train and did not smile.
Under you the plains widened, and turned silver.
You slept with your mouth open.
You were nothing,
You were snow falling through the ribs
Of the dead.
You were all I had.