from Issue 97
Everything That Isn’t Happening Here
is happening elsewhere. All kinds of cruelty,
for example, all kinds of beauty.
Like the pear tree in my friend’s front yard––
how delicately the leaves are turning,
how long the tree waits to reveal its colors.
And then there are the dreams
we can’t remember most of––a black satchel
full of tools, rain in a window, the flare
of a match. With tomorrow comes
winter’s first ice, bending the branches
of the vulnerable trees, wrenching them
from their sockets. Earlier than last year,
we say, but we may have forgotten.
When I stopped reading the papers
and watching the news, I didn’t
miss it, which doesn’t mean
I don’t feel bad casting my vote
for ignorance. Elsewhere most people
can’t afford a lawn and a pear tree.
And there are plagues
and ever-more-terrible storms
I don’t want to see the pictures of.
And the voices of those who will not
make it home. Elsewhere
water bursts into flame because
it’s happened before and will again.
And the sky refuses to be still,
as if it wished to be released from the duties
it once performed––watching over us
like the blue curves of the dome of heaven.
Life is short, Andrei Platonov wrote.
There is not enough time to forget everything.
Last Day on Earth from Issue 88
If it’s the title of a movie you know
everything becomes important—a kiss,
a shrug, a glass of wine, a walk with the dog.
But if the day is real, life is only
as significant as yesterday—the kiss
hurried, the shrug forgotten, and now,
on the path by the river, you don’t notice
the sky darkening beyond the pines because
you’re imagining what you’ll say at dinner,
swirling the silky wine in your glass.
You don’t notice the birds growing silent
or the cold towers of clouds moving in,
because you’re explaining how lovely
and cool it was in the woods. And the dog
had stopped limping!—she seemed
her old self again, sniffing the air
and alert, the way dogs are to whatever
we can’t see. And I was happy,
you hear yourself saying, because it felt
as if I’d been allowed to choose my last
day on earth, and this was the one I chose.
from Issue 73
An alien motorcycle roars into town
on a mission to kill. That’s how
TV Guide explains it, leaving open the question
of whether it’s one of ours, say a Harley
or BMW, or one of those bikes designed
by and for aliens. In either case,
the bike arrives around noon, stops in front
of the post office, and revs itself up.
Maybe it’s searching for somebody
in particular—a scientist, perhaps.
Maybe it’s just eager to kill.
Back in the lab, that scientist’s pretty daughter
is worrying again about her father’s health.
“Slow down, Dad,” she keeps telling him,
but he knows there’s too much to do,
too little time. Meanwhile, on Main Street,
her father’s handsome lab assistant
is getting nervous as he watches
the bike rear up and head out of town. “Cool!”
a kid exclaims. “I don’t like the look of that,”
an old man mutters, and someone says
they should call the sheriff, but won’t he
just laugh at this foolishness?
Then he sees it for himself. That’s the way
the story unfolds—from doubt
to amazement, from a normal Saturday afternoon
when nobody is expecting to die, to a Sunday
or Monday when half the town’s in flames.
It doesn’t take long for people to reveal
everything they’ve worked hard to keep hidden.
Some are the cowards, many are selfish,
but a few will surprise themselves
by their determination, or their kindness,
and they’ll be rewarded
with their lives, as they would not
in a different kind of movie, one that took
the world more seriously, and refused
to credit such ludicrous
and impossible situations as these.