Stopping At Whole Foods on a Snowy Evening

If commerce, too, has its music, then it’s in kumquat, pine nut, Arctic char,

it’s the squeaky front wheel of my little cart, which seems to know the way

between the dry goods and the winter greens, and how my son says “cookie”

 

as he kicks me from his barred-in seat. All he craves these early days

is sugar, fat, the dark sweet mysteries of a chocolate chip. Outside, the snow

does whatever it is snow does. Banks, I suppose, drifts, and perhaps swirls.

 

Throws a fresh sheet over the asphalt and the cars. Stretch out here, it seems

to say. Lay down and make a pillow with your hands. And stopped forever

in those four quatrains, Frost’s horse, his man, stand still and watch it fall

 

between the pines, one seeing perhaps the rag tooth of his own gravestone,

the other winter with a bridle in its hand. The bell a Salvation Army worker

rings has me thinking of them, the horse’s nostrils steaming like a wet engine,

 

his master lost in his reverie, his swoon, and nothing to be done. His eyes

on the snow, my eyes on him, like the eyes of the cameraman, who can’t seem

to drag his gaze away from those souls who, forsaken, climb the rails.

 

We’re in San Francisco now and not this New England. Frost’s hometown

until his father, a newspaperman, succumbs to the black lung. The bridge

between the city and the bends of highway one, pressing north towards

 

Stinson Beach and Oregon. And it’s here they come to jump—one buck-

toothed in an early photograph who, a friend explains, was born an old man.

Black his clothes. Black his hair. Black his curtains. Black his plunge

 

into the black of the ocean. One who, mid-fall, changes his mind and survives

black-boned, kept alive he says by a seal until the Coast Guard comes, deed

he claims as proof of God’s omnipotence. Sometimes I think the snow

 

is its own snuff movie, white of the mind after the world caves in. Lear

on his heath charging not you elements. Our traveler weary and wanting

to lie down. Sometimes I think it’s a wedding dress, taken off, put on,

 

raised from its sailor trunk in the attic, where the moths have gotten in,

and where it sallows like old paper or old skin. The skin, let’s imagine,

about the bones of Frost’s father as he swims towards the bell buoy at Pier 24,

 

leaving his son behind to mind his clothes. Now he turns to wave, and now

he changes stroke. Later at The Evening Post, the boy will find,

in his old man’s desk drawer, bullets and a bottle of bourbon two thirds consumed.

 

“I know San Francisco like the back of my hand,” he’ll tell an audience.

And of his father? “I trailed him everywhere, in the way a boy does.”

Who’s to say, out of such loss, you might not conjure a horse, a man gazing

 

into the snow, as though it were nakedness, or the broken line down the middle

of a midnight road? Who’s to say you might not conjure a man seeking cake flour

and marshmallows before the first plough lowers the rupture of its blade?

 

Have you ever felt your life become a film you are making, and you unable

to step out from behind the lens? Have you ever felt the cold gnaw at your bones

knowing where your mind goes and what your hand has done? Before launching

 

his body waterward, our saved boy downs a final meal of Starburst and Skittles,

the colors making a sticky rainbow in his palm. A suspension bridge needs gravity

to stand, I’ve read somewhere. We hover between anchorage and midspan.

 

 

 

Ciaran Berry’s most recent book is The Dead Zoo.  His  poems have been widely published in American and Irish journals and selected for Best New Poets 2006 and Best American Poetry 2008The Sphere of Birds, won the Crab Orchard Series Award of Southern Illinois University Press, the 2008 Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize and the inaugural Michael Murphy Memorial Award, 2011. In 2012 he received a Whiting Writers’ Award for poetry.

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