Beckian Fritz Goldberg

Henry’s Song
April 13, 2012 Goldberg Beckian Fritz

Henry’s Song

–for Nancy and Bill


Sometimes sitting in a friend’s backyard on a fall evening

a thing comes to you.  But then you second guess yourself.

You second guess yourself, and your grace is gone.

The cat dish is there by the step, overturned in the dry leaves,

the trees here taller than any trees in your dreams. You’re afraid

if you stay here they might talk.  And these nights

you only want to hear someone say, Yes,

I think of these things too… Nine o’clock, cold,

I couldn’t see the stars for the trees, only the yellow light

of the back window doubled over on the ground.  In it,

leaves laid with the kitchen. Then a figure passed:

My friend reaching up into the cupboard and looking lost

a little while.  His wife bringing in a cup and dish.  Both of them

standing by the sink talking maybe about buying apples tomorrow

or what movie or the jacket no one can find.  Her hair

was still damp from the shower and haloed in the kitchen light

as he crossed into the next room blue with the blink of the TV.

That afternoon my friend had thought his cat was lost and we

searched for an hour but the cat had sunk into a deep pile of leaves,

lay half-covered and asleep.  The cat who was not lost was named

Henry and he was dead a few weeks later of old age.  At night

he’d come in the room where I was slept and sit

staring down at the heating vent and, hours later, if I rose to pee,

he’d still be there as if waiting for something specific to rise

through the floor.  But life inside the house that night was golden,

though then the kitchen was lonely, the cereal boxes misaligned

on the shelf, a nest of white bowls, mugs upside down in a row.

I thought someone will be left to open the cupboards after

we are dead and there see everything has stayed the way

we left it.  Say yes, you think of these things too.  And that’s

when the thing that came to me came to me and when I

second guessed myself I lost what the thing was.  Sometime

it might return, but for now I’ll say it was nothing.  It was nothing.

Inside the house someone was asking, Did you take Avantix

and suffer heart failure?  Do you live alone?  Are you tired of carpet stains?

Do you need a loan fast? Yes.  And yes and yes and yes.

I’ve thought of these things, too–standing at the window while skeletons

on TV marched toward a cartoon cowboy.  It was even stranger

in the silence of early November, away from home.  But life was gorgeous

in the house. The glazed red sugar bowl gleamed. Months

later, my friend told me sometimes he’d still mistake

the shadow, the wool scarf bunched on the chair, and think

it’s Henry.  As if the mind believed absence is a trick.  For it

can still see everything.  But the world asks,  Do you have crow’s feet?

Do you have enough to cover your funeral costs?  Ever feel irregular?


Do you have trouble sleeping? That night the wind blowing

dead leaves sounded like a distant ocean, my fingertips

numbed with cold & the lit window held everything sacred

in its church. I saw that light the next day slanting as we walked

through an apple orchard and stopped at the mill for cider.

Farther on, we came to a large pond where pike and recluse sturgeon

lurked beneath the surface.  On the bridge was a machine you’d put

a quarter in for a handful of food for the fish.  I watched my friend

toss some in the water and the pond became alive with thrashing

bodies, the surface almost writhing with their gleams, the sound

of water laughing all around, and then they disappeared again,

the water like a shadow, deep, blue-green.  And quiet.  There was

a small breeze, an open field, a white clapboard building

on one side.   Things are simple, that’s what we forget.

When I slept that night I left the door ajar for Henry

who would come upstairs late for his vigil, the warm air

floating above the vent from some underworld

benevolent beyond his dreams.  And when I woke later in the dark

as sometimes you do in a strange bed away from home

in a strange town with a moon and trees, I could feel he was there

long before I could distinguish his shape, before I could remember

exactly where I was. It came to me this loneliness is something we take

with us anywhere and not that we aren’t loved, but that we aren’t

loved forever.  Life demands much less.  The fish is purely

fish and that’s enough. An apple wholly apple. Maybe it’s enough

to be human, leave the door open, wait for a soul–which, if it comes, comes

like the half of the conversation we imagined because we

can’t imagine that speaking is only speaking, even to the night,

the way we can’t believe death is only death, the way we can’t

stand outside a window on a fall evening in a pile of leaves in Kalamazoo

and not count ourselves among the missing. Are you single and looking

for your soul mate? Are you drowning in credit card debt?

Do you want more hair? Do you have trouble sleeping?  Yes,

I have trouble sleeping. But, when it was my turn, I cupped my hand

and the machine filled it with food for the fish I scattered

over the water and they came like the rush of fat rain up

from the deep, glittering, swarming over nothing.  It made me happy.

Then the green silence closing over them again.  The little cat

waiting faithfully in the dark for his death and not complaining.

And us, knowing it is already a world without us, already a pond,

a cat, an orchard stuck with swords of light–

but the heart needs no reason for the belovéd.

Beckian Fritz Goldberg received her M.F.A. in 1985 from Vermont College and is the author of seven volumes of poetry, Body Betrayer (Cleveland State University Press, l99l,) In the Badlands of  Desire (Cleveland State University, l993,) Never Be the Horse, winner of the University of Akron Poetry Prize (University of Akron Press, l999), Twentieth Century Children, a limited edition chapbook, winner of the Indiana Review chapbook prize (Graphic Design Press, Indiana University, l999), Lie Awake Lake, winner of the 2004 Field Poetry Prize (Oberlin College Press, 2005, ) The Book of Accident (University of Akron Press, 2006,)  Reliquary Fever: New and Selected Poems (New Issues Press, 2010) and Egypt From Space (Oberlin, 2013.)  Goldberg has been awarded the Theodore Roethke Poetry Prize from Poetry Northwest, The Gettysburg Review Annual Poetry Prize, two Arizona Commission on the Arts Poetry Fellowships (1993, 2001) and two Pushcart Prizes.  Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies such as New American Poets of the 90’s, Best American Poetry 1995, American Alphabets:25 Contemporary Poets, Best American Poetry 2011,Best American Poetry 2013 and in journals, including The American Poetry Review, Field, The Gettysburg Review, Harper’s, The Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, and many others.  She currently lives in California.