After The Cocktail Hours
You left me to clean up the assorted messes
we'd both made, but I don't resent it,
even while I remember how dustpans
of Cheerios and brooms of webs
appeared in my hands like debt.
I don't blame you. It's nearly evening
and the sky is turning down its light.
I know you are waiting at the switch,
your hands full of shot-glass and bottle
for the all-clear. You've made it
past five o'clock. Another cruelty:
your eyes, with their stirrings
and wanderings. I wanted to lie down
in them and pull your lids over me.
I wanted, forgive me, to drown in them.
What's left is one gardenia and a
watering can filled with silk.
I don't resent holding your hair
behind you. I don't resent the moon
when it makes its slow passes.
There's something about light
and whiskey and pine trees
that clarify the night, as if we'd left it
boiling on the stove. I didn't know
you were a desert. I didn't know I was
a nomad. Some things can't be
helped: they'll pull an arm
behind your back and whisper,
your money or your life, and by god,
sometimes the money's worth more.
For The Cormorants
Whose Necks Are
Loosely Tied With String
So They May Not Swallow Their Catch
It must disappoint them to find
the fish will not go smoothly
down the throat, will not go down
at all, even after the glare on the water
softens to reveal what looks like dinner
moving beneath the surface, even
after the bill is full, the weight expanding
the pouch like the loose upper arms
of a grandmother on a farm near Wichita.
She reaches under the hens each day, walks
back to the house with a basket
of white sunrise. The planet revolves.
Cooks tie kerchiefs under their chins.
A million skillets crackle under bacon
and eggs. A continent away, the refuge
attracts a third-grade class. They wing
it across the preserve's dry flats and yell
when they spot a new species, tell-tale
markings the code to distinguishing
between—what? Between two birds
whose genetic material is so close
that their body shapes, their wingspans,
their very swallowness or kildeerness
depends a little on perception and longing.
A yellow-headed blackbird lifts
above the reeds, startles a boy into turning
his head. And it's enough—it's that
astonishing—that small change in trajectory
that will remind him all his life
how insignificant his decisions—to the planet,
to the mountains and estuaries and oceans,
to migratory and mating rituals—he's not
responsible for changing anything but himself,
not ever, even though in this, his one life,
he's never approached the bird and snugged
the string. He hasn't untied it, either, and
when the birds travel low, ripples spread over
the surface of the water in some sympathetic
pantomime of the vibrations the strings make
around the cormorants' necks each time they
find, once again, that their lives have turned into
someone else's dinner, someone else's flight.