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After the Bear Incident

 

 

 

Goldilocks never ate porridge again,

nor did she sit in wooden chairs,

but she spent the rest of her life

looking for another bed

that was just right—

damn perfection, the way

it always makes the rest of the world

so hard, so cold, so not enough.

Muse

Muse

 

 

It’s like the absence

where the cat used to come

and rub against your leg

 

and you had some hope

there was real affection,

perhaps she even favored you,

 

you were, after all,

the one who fed her—

no wonder she nuzzled your shins—

 

but that was before you tried

to pick her up and rub

her belly. Eager fool.

 

It was days before the cat

let herself be seen again,

though you set out cream,

 

though you promised loudly

not to pick her up.

God, just to feel her

 

rub against your leg.

That would be enough, you

tell yourself, but you

 

and the cat both know you’ll try

to pick her up again, your hands

desperate as a blank page.

A Lesson in Metaphor

 

 

 

The stone, the couch,

the sink, the tea,

the broken glass,

the garden peas,

 

the knife, the cloud,

the thick red clay,

the ant, the weed,

the wheel, the cage,

 

the whale, the weed,

the scorpion’s sting—

we are the same

as everything.

 

Return from Summer Camp

 

 

 

The boy who has been gone for a week

approaches his mother at the curb

 

outside the school. Did you have fun?

she asks, and he gives her a lopsided

 

smile that doesn’t even pretend to be cool.

His cheeks are sunburned and his hair

 

is sun drenched and his shoes are mismatched

and dusty. He is happy. Oh yes, mom, he says,

 

and he falls in her arms and she holds up

his tired weight. It is August and the leaves

 

have already begun to yellow on the hill.

He tells her of herons, how they flew at sunset,

 

their wings backlit and shining. Then he reaches

in his backpack to pull out a rock, a gray flint

 

in the shape of a heart. He slips it in her hand

and doesn’t move to leave her. They stand

 

on the curb long after all the other campers

have left with their families. All around them,

 

the scent of rain about to come, the sound

of men with their hammers building

 

something new.

 

 

 

 

 

One Eventually

 

 

those thorns in my pocket

surprised to find I have rubbed them

dull, smooth

 

 

 

Don’t move. You don’t want to wake

the person next to you. Don’t sing.

Watch the clouds as they transform

form gray to gold to pink to white.

Fight with yourself about what to do first

when you rise. Count the leaves

on the philodendron. Follow

with your eyes the cracks in the ceiling

and imagine travelling in there. Lose

track of the path that brought you here.

Remember the day in second grade

when you knew you would never be loved.

Try to quiet that bouncy pop song lyric

that will not leave you alone. Don’t hum.

Beat yourself up for not being more courageous.

Tell yourself you shouldn’t beat yourself up.

Give up. Notice the way that the sheet

is so thin and still somehow warm enough.

 

 

 

Long before we could see

the smokestacks rising above

the rooftops of Madison,

my brother and I would shout

from the backseat,

“I see Oscar Mayer!”

 

Though we had never been in,

it was the building where

our grandfather worked

and its gray flues meant

we were close to Papa’s home.

I remember wanting it

bad enough to create

the vision in the distance.

“I see Oscar Mayer,”

I’d say, and my brother

would say he saw it, too,

and my mother or father would

explain it was still an hour away.

 

Five minutes later,

my brother would insist

he could see it for sure,

and then I’d see it again,

and an hour would pass this way

until finally the dark smoke

rose on the horizon

and we’d shout in unison,

“I see Oscar Mayer!”

 

It still happens sometimes,

I want to arrive somewhere

so badly I can see it

though it isn’t there,

or more likely I have no idea

how the destination will appear and so

I declare myself far away,

though I don’t really know.

 

Decades ago the Madison

plant was closed,

though my brother still writes

sometimes to tell me he can see it.

It was easier then—

we knew exactly

what we were looking for,

knew it so well that

I almost think

I can see it from here.

 

 

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