–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.