As the World Turns
My grandmother would say something like
give me them glasses them’s filthy
I don’t know how you see out of these
or wash that apple before you eat it
some colored man at the grocery store
might have handled it. I thought she knew
something I didn’t, or that I might see
the man some day with my clean lenses,
hear some news of his life, his one job.
Either thing she said in one register
of minor irritation, as if the pilot light
had gone out and there were no matches.
When I was there in her house,
just her and me, a voice swooped
down the chimney, a voice I thought
lived only there, like an oracle,
I would likely say now, because what
it said was almost understandable
but not quite — like the tv, just this side
of clear, the signal riddled like prophecy,
even with the fields all around
and, you’d think, nothing to block
afternoon soaps, which transmogrified
in and out of static. One minute Sarah,
recovering from surgery,
was shocked to see her twin bedside
then disappeared in a gray scroll
of static. When the picture came back,
she stood in the kitchen, glaring at knives
lined up along the magnetized rack.
They drifted through a snow or fall of ash,
those people sleepwalking their closed world —
the alcoholic insurance agent,
the nurse in her erotic blue scrubs,
the brown children skipping down the street
and singing. Why did they hide their faces?
The chimney hollered, and I wondered
where in a store a man might have some
function but never show himself.
Back with the butchers, sawing meat
in pinkening aprons and paper hats?
Their heads passed back and forth
across the portals of the swinging doors.
Back in there, maybe, stood a man
who handled our fruit with great care,
standing alone near a bowl of it.
He washed his hands slowly, like an actor,
as if he knew he was sought for.
Just as you shut the window, while the sound
of your goodbye hung there and I turned to wave
or say something, knowing I had to leave,
the cloud of gnats jumped once then gathered around
each other again in their tightened prayer,
swirling between us in a buoyed pool,
a cooling simmer of golden molecules
or synapses crackling above a spine of air.
They’re only gnats. The ganglia take wing
and not the spirit. Yet I spoke to them.
I told them things I’ll never say again
as what I wished I’d said moved a senseless thing.
At every syllable they lept, each doubt
I spoke another seething reel of light
inside the sphere they formed. Such a sight.
But you were still inside, and I was out.
He went every Sunday to hear her sing.
The church was small and had no choir,
only his daughter, the twin violinists,
and the piano player, all so young.
Yet they performed their services as if
they were the ushers or the cleaning crew.
Before the faithful rose for bread and wine,
she sang the four notes of the alleluias
sharply so that they were not lost the way
the chapel’s echo sometimes overtook
the chaplain’s voice and something of his message.
He knew the pinging of her vowels was practice,
that even though she might have still been moved
by her own voice, it was in her forgetting
herself that made it ring against the stones
and moved the congregants to take communion,
if one thing could be said to move them so,
as it so often moved him years ago
to leave his chair and follow down the hall
the source of that voice, which of course he knew
but only wished to see and hear again—
her back turned to him in the bedroom, not
from anger but because she might be lost
rearranging the family in the dollhouse
or putting on pajamas after showering,
her hair still damp and darkening the shirt,
which she ignored or, more precisely, didn’t notice,
so busy was she singing to the people.
The potato seated in the heel
of her hand like an infant’s head,
she back-peeled with the paring knife
so that the shape she plopped
into the water was all sheared angles
and planes, its once sloped roundedness
rendered into geometry
and not a fleck of skin left on.
And in the bucket, wedges
more like than peels you could see through.
For just that time the sound
of the knife with the sound
like edge as it cut the milky flesh.
To ask her why she did it this way
and not use the peeler was
to ask the potatoes why
they grew underground in the first place,
only the shrug of the hills in reply,
bare fact of the pitchfork
reducing them to divots,
heap of the meaty skins later
and the water clouded in the pot,
the getting through to eating,
the blue ring of flame again.