It was my father taught my mother
how to dance.
I never knew that.
I thought it was the other way.
Ballroom was their style,
a graceful twirling,
curved arms and fancy footwork,
a green-eyed radio.
There is always more than you know.
There are always boxes
put away in the cellar,
worn shoes and cherished pictures,
notes you find later,
sheet music you can’t play.
A woman came on Wednesdays
with tapes of waltzes.
She tried to make him shuffle
around the floor with her.
She said it would be good for him.
He didn’t want to.
When my nineteen-year-old son turns on the kitchen tap
and leans down over the sink and tilts his head sideways
to drink directly from the stream of cool water,
I think of my older brother, now almost ten years gone,
who used to do the same thing at that age;
and when he lifts his head back up and, satisfied,
wipes the water dripping from his cheek
with his shirtsleeve, it’s the same casual gesture
my brother used to make; and I don’t tell him
to use a glass, the way our father told my brother,
because I like remembering my brother
when he was young, decades before anything
went wrong, and I like the way my son
becomes a little more my brother for a moment
through this small habit born of a simple need,
which, natural and unprompted, ties them together
across the bounds of death, and across time …
as if the clear stream flowed between two worlds
and entered this one through the kitchen faucet,
my son and brother drinking the same water.
Over the back of the Florida basker,
over the froth of the Firth of Forth,
Up from Tahiti and Madagascar,
Lo, the sun walks north.
The first bright day makes sing the slackers
While leaves explode like firecrackers,
The duck flies forth to greet the spring
And sweetly municipal pigeons sing.
Where the duck quacks, where the bird sings,
We will speak of past things.
Come out with your marbles, come out with your Croup,
The grass is as green as a Girl Scout troop;
In the Mall the stone acoustics stand
Like a listening ear for the Goldman band.
At an outside table, where the sun’s bright glare is,
We will speak of darkened Paris.
Meanwhile, like attendants who hasten the hoofs
Of the ponies who trot in the shadow of roofs,
The sun, in his running, will hasten the plan
Of plants and fishes, beast and man.
We’ll turn our eyes to the sogging ground
And guess if the earth is cracked or round.
Over the plans of the parties at strife,
Over the planes in the waiting north,
Over the average man and his wife,
Lo, the sun walks forth!
– Robert Lax
A snail is climbing up the window-sill
into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see and I explain
that it would be unkind to leave it there:
it might crawl to the floor; we must take care
that no one squashes it. You understand,
and carry it outside, with careful hand,
to eat a daffodil.
I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
your gentleness is moulded still by words
from me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
from me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
your closest relatives and who purveyed
the harshest kind of truth to many another,
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
And we are kind to snails.
It’s so late I could cut my lights
and drive the next fifty miles
of empty interstate
flying along in a dream,
countryside alive with shapes and shadows,
but exit ramps lined
with eighteen wheelers
and truckers sleeping in their cabs
make me consider pulling into a rest stop
and closing my eyes. I’ve done it before,
parking next to a family sleeping in a Chevy,
mom and dad up front, three kids in the back,
the windows slightly misted by the sleepers’ breath.
But instead of resting, I’d smoke a cigarette,
play the radio low, and keep watch over
the wayfarers in the car next to me,
a strange paternal concern
and compassion for their well being
rising up inside me.
This was before
I had children of my own,
and had felt the sharp edge of love
and anxiety whenever I tiptoed
into darkened rooms of sleep
to study the small, peaceful faces
of my beloved darlings. Now,
the fatherly feelings are so strong
the snoring truckers are lucky
I’m not standing on the running board,
tapping on the window,
asking, Is everything okay?
But it is. Everything’s fine.
The trucks are all together, sleeping
on the gravel shoulders of exit ramps,
and the crowded rest stop I’m driving by
is a perfect oasis in the moonlight.
The way I see it, I’ve got a second wind
and on the radio an all-night country station.
Nothing for me to do on this road
but drive and give thanks:
I’ll be home by dawn.
this Valentine’s Day, I intend to stand
for as long as I can on a kitchen stool
and hold back the hands of the clock,
so that wherever you are, you may walk
even more lightly in your loveliness;
so that the weak, mid-February sun
(whose chill I will feel from the face
of the clock) cannot in any way
lessen the lights in your hair, and the wind
(whose subtle insistence I will feel
in the minute hand) cannot tighten
the corners of your smile. People
drearily walking the winter streets
will long remember this day:
how they glanced up to see you
there in a storefront window, glorious,
strolling along on the outside of time.
My father would lift me
to the ceiling in his big hands
and ask, How’s the weather up there?
And it was good, the weather
of being in his hands, his breath
of scotch and cigarettes, his face
smiling from the world below.
O daddy, was the lullaby I sang
back down to him as he stood on earth,
my great, white-shirted father, home
from work, his gold wristwatch
and wedding band gleaming
as he held me above him
for as long as he could,
before his strength failed
down there in the world I find myself
standing in tonight, my little boy
looking down from his flight
below the ceiling, cradled in my hands,
his eyes wide and already staring
into the distance beyond the man
asking him again and again,
How’s the weather up there?