I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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Here we are, I say to my dog,
who inclines his boxy head
then lowers himself to the unmown grass,
pointed tawny leaves scattered in heaps.
This is the white sky of morning,
birds writing their way across it.
What’s the difference if you’re disappointed?
A yellow garden spider strings up rigging
from the chair to the camellia.
A gray bird pecks in the red geraniums.
You know there’s lead in the shafts of his feathers.
Two shiny black beetles fall to the table,
sex to sex, antennae twitching.
The house needs painting.
The stucco’s blotched with trial and error:
pinks like Pepto-Bismol,
taupe that could pass for camouflage,
and a what-were-we-thinking royal blue.
The bamboo leaves susurrate in a breeze.
If you close your eyes, the sound could be the river
you find in dreams:
she kissed me
before she left for work in the rusted
blue pickup with the new seat covers.
Sometimes it seems like this
is what the rest of the day is made for.
Curled with my spine pressed to my lover’s breast,
my cold ass warmed by her generous thighs.
Whatever was going to happen today
has already happened. The dog’s asleep.
Lamplight pools on the page, making its own
small gold world, where the mountain climbers
switch on their headlamps, fasten crampons,
fix their ice claws and pickaxes and carabiners.
They melt snow for tea on a single burner
and start off in the ghostly moonlight.
Skulls throb, they’ve got wracking coughs,
their nostrils freeze with every breath
as they traverse fins of vertical ice, past hidden
crevasses and avalanche paths. The beast
of wind tears at their faces; waves
of powder pour down the slopes.
It’s almost midnight. The phone won’t ring.
My children aren’t going to ask for money.
No one’s car will run out of gas on the freeway.
I won’t get my mammogram results.
I slide my feet along the warm sheets.
There’s nothing like a little blood in my urine
to shed light on how slight is my spiritual progress.
I knew I’d never climb into thin air, sip
buttery tea in the smoky hut of enlightenment,
but I did hope to reach one more rung
on the ladder of acceptance,
though I have to talk myself up each galvanized step
like I do in the orchard harvesting plums.
Then the doctor calls, and my composure
bears as little resemblance to serenity
as a leopard-print bra to a leopard.
I go for a walk. The flowering trees loose
their blossoms the way they did the spring
my mother died: pink petals strewn
on the road, heaped in gutters, scraps of beauty.
I tell myself it might be okay to die.
I’m not that young, my children are grown.
But when I return, I’m love-struck,
enthralled again by the actual world,
the kitchen table littered with bills,
the flesh-and-blood woman I live with
microwaving leftover lasagna, washing lettuce,
rivulets running down the grooves of pale leaves.
So I pee again into a glass Pyrex container,
one of the new ones she just bought.
That’s when she says, You’re not taking that, are you?
And she picks up a plastic cup my student left behind,
an inch of once-iced-cappuccino
sludge in the bottom. Use this, she says.
And for a moment I think I might start to explain
why I can’t carry my beautiful, frightening
clean-catch urine in a used coffee cup
with a straw poking up through the hole in the lid.
But instead I take her shoulders and look into her
gray-blue eyes, set in their dark, crinkly bags.
You must really be worried, I say. And she stares
back at my own increasingly fallen face.
It’s how I cope, she says, dropping her head,
like our dog who sometimes bites
if a workman walks in the yard,
but bites as gently as he can.