I remember Indiana, and riding with my grandmother
in her ’57 Ford on the road to Lowell,
asking why the barns had names on them,
those sturdy gray bodies
rising through golden looms
of corn, the slow shuttle
of cattle lowing outside the open doors.

And that barn across the field
from the grammar school where we played
ball at recess, how sometimes
I’d go off alone, lean on the fence
and stare, Arthur’s Knights and Vikings of the north
fighting it out in castles of hay.

That rule the teachers had
about never crossing the fence, the barn
always there, always outside
my reach.

It builds itself
now, as it has before,
in the shadows between things,

like the night in the cabin
in northern Colorado, rising there
in the scent of wet pine, the wooden silence
of water under the bridge, building
on the flat of a stone that split the river
as it crossed into two paths,

like so many graveyard shifts
at the brickyard in East Chicago,
calloused hands of press operators, sweat
seeping through blue workshirts
into the 3 a.m. lunchroom, their tired smiles
over coffee in the silence that hummed
inside steam drifting like small fragments
of some larger breath we all shared,

like that afternoon last fall, the tall
African student with that bulky fur coat
and white stocking cap, frightened
in the shuffle between classes,
how I wanted to reach out,
hold him, how I even dreamed about him,
and when I turned the next day
in the lunch line to tell Jim, he was there
again, behind him, holding a bowl of lettuce
and a soup spoon,
same coat and hat . . .

Out of the tall grass
the barn rises, rises beneath the maples,
within the solitude of shade, between
each worm-chewed leaf.

But the barn rises and falls
as we move.

Because we rarely know
the right words, because touching
only brings us just outside
our reach, because
we are only shadows drifting
beneath broad maple leaves
when the butterfly begins to sing us
in its sleep,

the barn shifts its tired feet
and sinks slowly
into layers
of phlox and maple.