Holding On from Issue 37
On any ring of keys we’ve ever carried,
no matter the size, there’s always one that means
absolutely nothing. In all these years accumulating
like loose change that never adds up, of keeping things
private in so many different places, it’s no wonder
we’ve drawn another sentimental blank: is this one
still useful? Or obsolete, a fossil? And we keep it
hanging around in some dark pocket of our lives
as if we’ll wake up one morning suddenly wiser,
remembering foot lockers, strongboxes, diaries,
a warehouse on the outskirts, one night
locked in an embrace that went wrong in a hotel room,
a post office box, a top bureau drawer, a piece
of intricate machinery we operated once.
And sometimes, when just walking down the street
through one more day seems more than we can bear,
it might occur to us, that odd key out, its vestigial teeth
biting into the hip, rattling the purse,
chattering to its dimwitted cousins in the language
of keys. Whispering of a whole lost race,
a diaspora of keys, it breeds an unhealthy dissension.
Sooner or later they’ll make their break, they’ll be gone
for hours, days, weeks, a desperate chaingang of keys,
until they’re found in the last place anyone would look
without a trace of remorse. And we’ll know the ringleader:
a key among keys, but not of them.
Sometimes we get this easily carried away.
And maybe now we’re on a street we’ve never seen,
as if it’s leading us somewhere, daring us to keep pace,
its finish rubbed away, looking for all the world
like a key that’s been around, that’s seen its share
of keyholes. Like something that really knows a place
it could quietly slip into and turn for the better
with us right behind, holding on. Until we’re in a room where
someone’s getting ready for bed and asks what took us
so far out of our way to begin with, what kept us going
through those thin years since. A room that’s been made up
almost to perfection, with only one thing
missing. And at last that’s where we come in.
Maybe above this storefront. Or in that apartment house
next door. Or where the freight elevator heaves and rises,
humming our name all the way to the top.
This key must have been important. An honor
and a privilege. Even now it vaguely reminds us of a time
we could be trusted that much. That far. With something.
We keep meaning to get rid of it, but it’s hard
to throw away a key. It’s the threat no one ever makes
good on: I’m gonna lock the door and . . . . We are given only
so many in a life. And despite the ways
they weigh us down or hold us up fumbling through them
in the dark, feeling for the lock, it’s never enough.
So on a day like today we have to feel lucky
that we’re short a vital padlock, a gate swinging open,
an honorary city. We may be worn out, may be rubbed smooth,
but we’ve still got the smallest reserves jangling
in our imagination. We’re waiting for just the right moment
and place, waiting to be let in on the secret
other side of the door where what we’ve been
carrying around so long finally fits and makes sense
and we didn’t walk by our chance this time, never dreaming.