Across a Great Wilderness without You

The deer come out in the evening.
God bless them for not judging me,
I'm drunk. I stand on the porch in my bathrobe
and make strange noises at them—
                                                  language,
if language can be a kind of crying.
The tin cans scattered in the meadow glow,
each bullet hole suffused with moon,
like the platinum thread beyond them
where the river runs the length of the valley.
That's where the fish are.
                                   Tomorrow
I'll scoop them from the pockets of graveled
stone beneath the bank, their bodies
desperately alive when I hold them in my hands,
the way prayers become more hopeless
when uttered aloud.
                            The phone's disconnected.
Just as well, I've got nothing to tell you:
I won't go inside where the bats dip and swarm
over my bed. It's the sound of them
shouldering against each other that terrifies me,
as if it might hurt to brush across another being's
living flesh.
                But I carry a gun now. I've cut down
a tree. You wouldn't recognize me in town—
my hands lost in my pockets, two disabused tools
I've retired from their life of touching you.

More by Keetje Kuipers

Collaborators

Walking at night, I read the house numbers
on those porches lit like vacant stairwells

hung along the mill’s lip, flights of metal
steps any type of weather might fall through,

and this gentle litany tolls the schedule
of departing ferries that take us from

island to city and back again — 1210,
1245 — ferries where the whales bloom

a black and white skirt in our wake, ferries
we drive our big cars onto because now

we can go anywhere, ferries that took
the people from the clear shore of their lives

to the internment camps on the mainland
because nothing could be more dangerous

than living among each other where voices
unnetted and rising in complaint

are a flock of birds that can make no song
but that one which we sing together.

The Rats

They come home with our daughter
because there’s no one at school
to feed them on the weekends.
They are mates, and like all true
companions they are devoted
and they bite. We set their cage
on the kitchen table and wait
for the weekend to end, for our girl
to fall asleep so we can talk
about god while the rats lick
the silver ball that delivers
the water one drop at a time.
There are so many points on which
you and I disagree: the value
of a clean counter, the purpose
of parent-teacher conferences,
what warrants a good cry or calling
you a name so cruel I make myself
whisper it through my teeth. God
is the least of it. When I think
I’m so angry I could hit you
in the face, you turn yours to me
with a look of disbelief. The rats,
meanwhile, have turned up the volume.
Tick, tick, says the silver ball
as their teeth click against it, thirsty
as ever, thirstier still at night
when the darkness wakes them.
And during the day, when they’re curled
together in their flannel hammock,
head to tail, two furry apostrophes
possessing nothing but each other,
paws pressed together as if in prayer—
to what gods do they prostrate
themselves then? God of fidelity? God
of forgiveness? I lied when I said
I didn’t believe. Who—even me,
the coldest of heart—could turn away
from a sea parted, bread that multiplies
to answer need, water transformed
to the sweetest wine, the kind
that tastes better for each year
it’s been left in the barrel?

Related Poems

A Table in the Wilderness

I draw a window
and a man sitting inside it.

I draw a bird in flight above the lintel.

That's my picture of thinking.

If I put a woman there instead
of the man, it's a picture of speaking.

If I draw a second bird
in the woman's lap, it’s ministering.

A third flying below her feet.
Now it's singing.

Or erase the birds
make ivy branching
around the woman's ankles, clinging
to her knees, and it becomes remembering.

You'll have to find your own
pictures, whoever you are,
whatever your need.

As for me, many small hands
issuing from a waterfall
means silence
mothered me.

The hours hung like fruit in night's tree
means when I close my eyes
and look inside me,

a thousand open eyes
span the moment of my waking.

Meanwhile, the clock
adding a grain to a grain
and not getting bigger,

subtracting a day from a day
and never having less, means the honey

lies awake all night
inside the honeycomb
wondering who its parents are.

And even my death isn't my death
unless it's the unfathomed brow
of a nameless face. 

Even my name isn't my name
except the bees assemble

a table to grant a stranger
light and moment in a wilderness
of Who? Where?