by Caroline Stevens


In the hedge across the courtyard, branches
curve into an empty doorway. I slow to a stop

sign where sparrows flit and pick worms
off the asphalt, not knowing if they can sense

my car coming. It’s a death machine. A pocket
full of seeds. When I drive to pick up a book,

the bookseller touches my arm, thanks me
for ordering. The heater is blowing cold air again

but I hardly notice, though it slows my movements
like a crab briefly stashed in the freezer

to avoid the pinch of claw before dinner.
I sleep close to the windows, not fearing

I’ll awaken to them shattered. I sleep
with white noise like a hand on the shoulder.

What else can be done but witness? I buy twenty
kitchen towels with herringbone weave bisected

by a single blue stripe and dirty them freely
with black tea and turmeric and olive oil.

I have to believe that it matters, telling you this.
The sparrows, the kitchen towels, even just to track

the way a thought drops and evaporates like dew
into mist. Once I stood at the Canadian border,

looked across the water to see not a fence, or a line
of militarized jeeps, just the reflection of white

pines and fir on the lake’s still surface.
I picked thimbleberries—thinner than raspberries,

more likely to stain—and was not afraid.
How can we measure time beyond what gets built

—the luxury apartments with glass panes
so large they wobble like laminated paper—

and what gets destroyed? I have to believe
that someday I will sit around a table overseas again

and talk with friends pulled there from different
continents about the homes we can or can’t return to,

sharing wine under the open window where laundry
dries on the line. That there might still be beauty

like that. Once a man asked me which province
my state shared a border with, and I didn’t know,

even though I had seen it there across the water,
had watched a heron land in its reeds, had seen

its sky fold into night. What have I ever risked?


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