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.