By the front desk at the visitor center
encased in glass there is a river otter,
stuffed, that my one-year-old daughter
knows how to talk to. She kneels there,
hands pressed to the glass, and the otter
listens to her handful of syllables. I want her
to be asking the otter, “who brought your
face back to life, how do you look forever
up at lights like that?” But she can’t say “er”
or any sound with “r,” and she doesn’t wonder
what I like to think she wonders. The otter
and she understand each other,
they both look up as I say their names, their
mouths opening, right on the verge of words.
drawn for Carrie
Impatient in the room where they slept,
waiting for him to retire, her eyes open
to the dark, she followed the right angle
of wall and ceiling. They had years
A couple takes a box (we must fill and fill
with endless longing). She could hear
herself engaging those words with him,
long after the proposition lost its appeal.
Upon first meeting, he looked at her
practically. Hers was an unusual thirst
he explained willingly, effectively. Together
they excelled. They surprised each other
with stories, sketches of the people
around them, people walking in the park
and through the museum and restaurants.
In his study down the hall, Sundays especially
he belonged to the biography unfinished
at work, refusing supper. To her his dedication
seemed one-sided, unreasonably withheld,
like a psalm sung under one’s breath.
She pictured them in Phrygia, aging
husband and wife hosting discreet gods,
incapable of outliving each other…wary
of that joint sting: bluff and abandonment.
He had shown her how to be circumspect
and critical. His version. Told her how
to invent a past irrefutable to most anyone.
He confirmed each significant anniversary
of his subject—between the two of them
only she could detail their first afternoon
He came in late. She wanted to touch him
where he had no choice, but he turned away,
preoccupied. She whispered, History’s more
an iceberg: stark, cyclopean. The dark mass
of his shirt, pressed for the morning, hanging
on a chair, startled her for a second.
I woke up this morning
to Spanish moss hanging from the chandelier.
While I’d been asleep
pepper vines had snuck in the back window
headed for the library,
and scarlet larkspur gathered around
to mourn your old shoes
in the closet.
The outside became curious of the inside.
What do humans do in these houses?
Downstairs, bushes of coyote mint
found the light switch,
and terrorized circuitry
like a club in Dublin.
Hummingbird sage guarded the fire place
while a cluster of trembling poppies
tried to strike a match
like a skinny lot of librarians
having a go at a criminal record.
And there I was scolding plants
in my pajamas before 8 a.m.
or a proper cup of coffee.
Is this what happens to me without a dog
The wilderness invites itself in
to play with matches,
while I frantically decide which
item of furniture I don’t mind
having covered in foliage, flowers,
roots, shoots, and dirt
and renamed as the Time Out Chair.