after a visit to my mother
What did she ever want
but to clean house, sing
like Pavarotti with a rag?
New slipcovers, face
at the bottom of the silver bowl.
Then suddenly, the magician
drops a handkerchief and the body
wanders, too small for its skin –
her head, a summer melon
in my hand. Five feet four to
five feet nothing – the great vanishing
into a pair of house slippers.
What good is understanding
the physiology of spinal disks,
how they crumble like temporary cement?
And what does it matter finally,
knowing all that matters is thrift – the body
huddled around its last nickel of heat
banked for that final conversion?
The heart beats in a bone crib, wants only
what it always wanted. Above the clouds
roars a planeload of crying babies.
I cannot move around this life any slower.
Cannot examine, take note, pay attention
any more meticulously than I fit my feet
to the Arthur Murray pattern on the floor.
Still, I am always practising.
Eating my dinner, writing out cheques –
under my table
one and two and step slide together.
No matter. I still have bad dreams:
I am dancing with Steve McQueen,
my mouth level with the base line of his throat
counting my steps to the warm tick-tick
of the music when from across the room
the head of the philosophy department comes
barrelling down with Joan Crawford shoulders
in a dress of chain link mail and slams me
across the mouth with her evening purse, yelling,
‘Don’t you know yet how to live your life?’
And Steve, he’s just standing there saying,
‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ and all I want to do
is tell him – because he isn’t dead yet – not to
be so sorry, because she was right.
I haven’t figured out, when things fit
simple as a foot in a glass slipper and the
blood holds you hard against the music, where
do you go, and how in the world do you get
out of the box step painted on the floor.