When morning came we drove to Monterey.
You called your husband to check your oven,
and after I interviewed for the job
I bought champagne and you bathed for the night
to come. I sat on the side of the tub
reading aloud what you had not yet heard
because I was north pruning Concord grapes
by day and writing these poems at night.
Your husband. There was always one of those.
Or I was with wife. The moment I said
I would teach Walden to first-year students
the interview was over. I drove back
to the motel where I read you poems.
It’s all I did then, it’s all I do now.
Over dinner at the wharf I declared
I would get a job fit for a poet.
In San Rafael you opened the oven
as I was answering the phone,
man in Manhattan saying I could have
two thousand dollars scholarship a year
if I came to Columbia to write.
I had already said no to Tucson
and when Amherst called I said I would.
What did I know? We drove to Canada.
Everything we owned was stored in the back
of the International Carry-All
that broke down somewhere in Ontario
so we stayed the night in a forest inn
and next day a car passed another and
death’s fingers brushed life gripping one shoulder
with the god-forgiving air in between.
Turned south, back to the States, to Saginaw.
What was I / there then, or / who . . . or / was I?
Where was the greenhouse when the father lived,
his only son in returning defeated
by nerves, old habit of straining the mind
to breaking when only words could save him
amid doctors and glamorous nurses
who nursed wounds the doctors advised shocking
from his system and would if he’d let them.
He was no father with a bastard son.
He ascended the iron stairs, perplexed.
Growing old, how much longer could he say
he had now he was confronted once more
with the son inside his dear father dead,
but if the poems kept coming he knew
they would stop only if God asked them to . . .
At home, his own, rain. Green out the window.
And resumed our passage east, to Walden
where beer cans and contraceptives littered
the shore of the pond, and in town a shack
by railroad tracks, a facsimile, stood
that summer it was time to return west
to seek employment where I knew the ground,
and in Sleepy Hollow cemetery
Thoreau slept, yes, he slept “the one-way sleep,”
Vivian Benz told me the Nez Perce said.
Her laughter was contagion to living.
I took claims at the window. She took them
to the capitol and brought back money
for the unemployed. By then I knew what
the poor need. Emerson’s house was too tall,
the one Hawthorne rented from him too dark.
Make me anonymous, let me shed light.
(17 December 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander