Sometimes my mind goes back to certain things.
Like to the woman who asked me
What keeps you awake at night?
She wanted a writerly, magical answer.
A black forest, a shining maid walking through it.
The woman—she was a guest, a visiting artist.
I was a guest to her visitingness: polite guest
at an affable table.
My neck, I said, meaning pain
of the basest physical kind. Meaning also
sadness and worry—though I didn’t float
those softer candles.
I’d done enough; I’d said the neck thing
as if I were snapping a chicken for supper.
The woman smiled through it, a pro.
Oh, I’m sorry, she said, pushing the shining maid
into a closet and shutting the door in a hushed
and magical way.
I wanted to bind her with rope.
I wanted to watch her struggle, if just for a minute.
The mind goes back, the heart goes with it,
the forest whirls all around. Instead
I was kind to her husband, whose life
had had something to do with flight.
He was quiet, the husband. Like someone
whose part in the world was done.
He seemed to expect
nothing, and no one.
He was the husband.
He was like light on the leaves of night.
My mother’s father was cruel to my mother’s mother.
I know this, but knowing means nearly nothing; the man,
seen by me, was a tall man who beautifully wore
a hat, in the old way, standing beside the door of a car
on a dust road.
Like a sentence, the poem is half
in sunlight, half in shadow; sometimes cloaked
in a dark night: my grandfather driving,
Nat King Cole on the radio and
my grandmother humming along.
I’m in the back, little, and deeply in love
with him, and with her, and the pines rising
up and away from the world on either side
of the car, and how he would say as we rode through the dark
a wolf is going to come out of those trees and eat you. I know
that is a story for children; I know my grandmother
hummed like a warbler, yellow glow
in the deep wood, for most of her life. The poem,
like a sentence, is sometimes in sunlight.
Even at night: the bird will sing.