Arsenic Lobster poetry journal Issue Thirty-four
Spring 2014
           for Helen

Ted Lardner

Maybe the thinking we depend on most abides outside us.
Needing to sleep, children sleep. But here, next to a field of fireflies,
you and I, awake, thinking. Under white mountains, you told me,
the hayfields, twined over by windrows, seemed to turn inside out.
Hillsides, crossed by those contour lines tractored along the grade
of their slopes, made volumes of space, and seemed to glow, you said,
like lanterns, and you, you said (this I imagine) lying against his shoulder.
Outside us, your past, and mine, and his, three futures, rising, or falling,
in the diode-bright, bead-light of fireflies. The dogs have come out.
Now they stand with us, looking and sniffing, picking out of the air,
scent-trails, the freshest track, the path out, out where the rush passes
up and down the swarm. Who knows how time works?
I know the quiche that you baked for dinner and which you were probably
thinking of telling your sister about, was delicious, and that, tomorrow,
it will be more delicious. Its boat of crust, the dough, as you worked it,
carrying, in its flavors, the attention you gave. I lean at the fence,
into moonflowers gazing. They open their sex along the side of Bud’s garage.
I loaf, inviting the deeps of their space to enjoin the deeps of mine,
the slow-footed, possum’s progress my understanding makes toward what,
in fact, is that? Is that the moon? It’s a towboat, a planet, rumbling upriver,
probing Collision Bend with a million candle-power searchlight’s incandescence.
From the engine room of the Ohio night, it’s a full Hay Moon, pushing its trip,
its sack full—light, like nothing else’s—into us, over us, out of us,
through the intercrossed limbs of the neighbor’s ruinous orchard trees.
(“Fuckin’, Ohio,” Bud said, like it was the name of a town.)
The brace of barges, sunk in coal to the lip of the water. (The quiche,
I don’’t care how many things you say are wrong with it, was delicious.)
Outside us, the quadrant ric rac of the zodiac, its houses in their swales
and tracts, gridded on their plats, curving around their cul-de-sacs
of star-sign subdivisions, keeps on keepin’ on.
(“The fuck’s that mean?” the old man asked me once.) Is it Ohio,
or this marriage, Helen, where Mercury is always retrograding? The days
peel off the walls of the kitchen their measures of tedium and chores.
I’ve got nothing else to look forward to, I tell you, and when you answer, uh-huh,
I remember, everything’s in flux, down to the flow of the fireflies, dipping in
synchrony into the dark, holding the bottom of our suburban sky
in their jingling nets. I have no idea how horoscopes work.
Maybe there’s just frames the loose parts of our lives fall into.
Like the stacked trays, in drawers, spilling along Bud’s work shed wall.
Our at-large-ness, so placed, thus becoming a contingent propinquity—a word
you will say you’ve never heard me use, if you ever get around to
reading this poem—which refers to nearness, a spatial property
that results from a relatively short distance. That’s us. A propinquity,
sleeping (not sleeping) half a lifetime in the short distance of one bed.
We breathe each other. In the bathroom morning, with the same towel,
we rub ourselves dry. What you’ll say you want from me, I’ll say
I want from you, even if I don’t think that’s true. “Lightning bugs,”
we call to the children, gazing with them, trying to see it—the decipherable
glyph in the flickering codes, the sign there’s a story in which
all of us stand for something else, bigger, more than we know.
Upon sending them back to bed, I warm to this feeling:
that we live in the house of the kitchen match, the kind from here,
“Ohio Blue-Tip.” A sturdy, brittle, wooden match, we’ve been dragging it
twenty-five years across the scratchboards of the roads we’ve wandered,
and the heavens under which we have slept. Or not slept. We blink
our eyes, and see, I think, the end: first light. Over the table, in,
through the window, it falls on the morning paper where, in columns,
it empties its energies into the news. “Look for miracles,”
one of our horoscopes says. Uh-huh. From their rooms, our children
dream themselves out, into the murmur of early traffic, the whoosh.
From the outer world, the outer side, through that far door, our children,
in their waking, return. Return and, addressing the dogs, the best part,
right after this, the quiet of it, is the dogs, listening.

About Ted Lardner

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