Saturday, November 16, 2013

That Strange Word Which Means Its Opposite

Cambridge, January 2001
by Sally Thomas

Seagulls surf the wet
Updrafts over roofs
 A hundred miles inland. 

Every weather's a weather
 Of gulls, a scream against
The bottle-blue or cloud-

 Mottled sky, the one
Constant besides rain
 Spittling the window: 
These birds who revel in being
 Blown off-course. If
They had any idea,

 That is, where they meant
To go in the first place.

 I was never a believer

In resolutions. What's resolve 
 But another word for wish? 
Ask the fisherman's wife

 How far she got on wishes. 
Would I resolve, say, to let
 A third child choose

Itself? What can I 
 Say I wish for? Just now
My two already-wished-for

 Children, resolved into flesh,
Gallop down the hall,
 Speaking in whinnies. 

I wrench the door open 
 And shout, Inside feet! 
What are inside feet? 

 They'd be justified in asking. 
We have the same feet
 Wherever we go. Instead

They say, Okay. They wait
 for the door to close. Gallop
gallop, neigh neigh. Does control

 End at conception? Or
Only our belief in it? 

 The rain's tsunami threatens

To wash the whole country
 Into its inhospitable
Hinterland, the sea. 

 We inhabit a culture of rain,
Learn to speak its commonplaces: 
 Wellieboots, waterproofs-as if

We needed to prove water's
 Existence. We think in a language
At once ours and not ours. 

 At breakfast, our son holds up
A spoon. What's the English
 Word for this? He won’t believe

That spoon could possibly be the answer. 

 Where does it come from, this desire
To shape-shift, to be, say, 

 A horse for the afternoon? 
Perhaps some memory
 Persists, of pre-life, 

Or not pre-life, but life
 Before it's named, flesh and blood, 
Yes, and also possibility. 
 Perhaps children remember 
Without knowing
 The call that makes them 

Step so fluidly out
 Of their bodies, though
They never entirely

 Leave-the body
Goes with them
 Through locked gates, 

Across snowy pastures
 Their hooves leave unprinted. 

Empty branches tap

 The leaded chapel window: 
Stainless daylight, white
 Walls, the unprompted

Revelation of the world
 Not watching us at prayer-
At the motions of prayer, our lips

 Moving over words
Which like our own names
 Begin to lose sense

When we overhear ourselves
 Whispering them-not watching
But with us, cold, 

 Immaculate, clear. 

We never imagined having 
 To say, Take your feet

Off the celery. Don't lick me. 
 The corkscrew is not a toy. 
What did we expect? 

 Amnesia, entropy
Extend their present-tense
 Mercies to our children who are

Not whatever we dreamed:  
 Vague, two-dimensional
Composites of our childhood

 Photographs. Quiet. Able
To play the piano. Sew. 
 Finish what they begin. 

Absolve us of ourselves. 

 After church, a friend
Offers her baby. She
 Drinks her coffee, grateful
For a minute, two hands free. 
 The baby snuffles, exhales

Warmly into my neck,
 And I think, Oh, 
It didn't hurt so much. 

 And other lies, as if I thought
Nothing of having hands
 Open to take the weight

Of a child who won't wake me
 From an hour's sleep. This
Can pass for a decision. 

 My translation of a word
Like goal. Or sane. 
 I could fit a travel cot

Between my bed and desk-
 Anything's possible. Or if
Impossible, still possibly worth doing. 

 Cot:  what the baby
Sleeps in. Crib:  what
 The manger becomes when surrounded

By plaster statuettes wearing painted
 Looks of reverence or weariness-never
Surprise, though you would think

 Someone might have been surprised. 

In bed, in the borrowed
 Time before the alarm,  

We hold each other, hoping 
 Maybe this time it won't 
Happen, the day will hang

 Back shyly at its own
Threshold. Even now
 The sky is paling, a white

Sliver between the curtains. 
 Eleven years married, are we
Any closer to knowing

 What we want? Our wedding
Vows told us precious
  Little. Not what to

Expect, only to cleave, 
 That strange word which means
Its opposite. I close

 My eyes. This could be
A stranger's body my hands

 Move across, mapping again
Desire's universal, alien terrain. 

 O for the wings-but where
Would I go? Where are you not? 

 All of you, husband, children, 
Calling my name, calling me
 Back from myself, back into

Myself. Erasable
 Only by death. This
Must be what it means,

 One flesh. I carry
Your voices in the pocket
 Of my ear. We speak

Of making vows, lovemaking, 
 As if such things didn't exist
Until we think. 

 And they occur to us. 

Morning wind hurls itself 
 Against the house, forces rain
In through the absence

 Of caulking. In watery daylight
Beached raindrops glint
 Like jellyfish along
The windowsill. Outside, 
 Birds are still free-falling
Like leaves across the housetops, 

 Blown away but never out of the sky.

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