Audio: Read by the author.
In that finer time of day. In the essence, not the mode.
—Jack Gilbert, “Remembering My Wife”
A rope has memory—it wants its own
length. To hoist up on block and tackle
pull down. To go up. Upward
movement of us is vain, said Simone
Weil, if it doesn’t come from a downward
movement. Go down to the river.
The counterweight. Down
without talking with father, mother,
brother, sister, bamboo poles touching
trees. Give me a lever, said Archimedes,
and I’ll move the world. The motor
hangs in the garage. Light leaks out.
Rope remembers the pulley, lever
grooved in iron. Lower to lift.
High up it tacks to the thing it is.
We always took the bus. Walked past
laundry sailing somewhere else.
Cussing, finding ways to say,
waiting for it, where we’d stand, hold on,
look at what we passed every day,
watch the smoke, places we’d become,
nervous laughter in the street, yellow
with a sound of hydraulics, starts
to make a surf we rode to school.
We’d walk steps past chained-up bikes
to cursive writing, learn ostensibly
to pass or fail, to be present, to take
the bus again, take it to a time of
quarreling wind when home was there,
houses lit by our arrival. The smell
of food stuck to walls walked through,
hung upon, mirrored. But we
never saw ourselves. That hangdog
exhausted look at the floor, cigarette
in one hand, beer the other, whose
picture stays. The window unit had just
gone out. You would say dinner. We said
supper. Like the Lord’s just before he
got his. When one sought distance like
I do now. Wind on the curtain, thick
green to block heat. Grandparents
pulling up. Surprise. They’re here to
take their son aside, back out near their car,
a white DeSoto with plastic-covered seats,
which would pass under sparse shadows,
past a silo and a windmill, a derrick yellow,
too; they took him out to talk, to make
him listen, put his drink down, stop doing
what he did, go back in and say he’s sorry.
And he was for all the things he did.
Just like everybody sitting on the rocks
when they came through and took him,
whose picture adorned our table, long hair
and angels, a crescent where the brain was,
all kinds of figures waiting on a bus.
I see it now through sheets coming to a curb,
step up and sit because they let me, being old.
Leonardo hid music and salt, lines, corners
he drew from a nail on string. Near
a window. He hammered into wet plaster.
Things like herring on a table being spilled.
Ralph Burns has recent poems in Georgia Review, Cimarron Review, and Crazyhorse. His latest book is But Not Yet (Lynx House).