Before the Airport, Sushi

The old man sitting out front
on the empty patio eating
fried chicken or something or other,
bought up the block probably, and not
from the house of sushi
we were entering,
didn’t inspire confidence exactly,
but when you returned
from the wall of fame to our table
with your chopsticks
in the box you decorated
how many years ago I forget,
and told me regulars from way back
need never use the disposable ones
wrapped in paper like straws
that are not smooth
like yours that looked polished
and like they were cut from a yew,
unlike my conjoined sticks
that were little more than gargantuan
toothpicks for some race of giants
that I had only to separate
with one clean snap
and prove were fool proof,
only the engineer who had retired
on the patent for the design of my chopsticks
never met a fool such as I
and so the operation was a failure
except for your laughter,
an unexpected development
for which I would have botched the next set
on purpose, and the next
only our seaweed salad had arrived
and it was time for me, a lifelong worshipper
of the miniature shovel and pitchfork
to stumble across a tiny plate
with my Chinese finger crutches,
only I didn’t and before I knew it
my hand was Fred Astaire on stilts
and the seaweed salad was gone,
followed by half the maki,
and there was only the one pink piece
that separated from the crunchy roe
and its rice wheel that I spit out
because it felt like a tongue
and tasted of death,
which makes perfect sense
because it was dead,
and had our meal ended there,
I would now be celebrating
the virtues of keeping an open mind
to new food, instead of how
life can surprise us so much, one day
I’m not eating maple syrup on a steak
or cheese by the block like everyone
who’s never been to Vermont
would expect, rather sushi
and mastering chopsticks and looking up
to see a golden braid of hair
I had never noticed was golden
unraveling against your shoulder
so slowly that it looks alive
so much that for a moment
there are suddenly three of us
at the table: me, you, and your braid
that you don’t seem to care
is losing what only a few minutes
before I would have called a battle
with gravity, except now I understand
the pull of the earth
isn’t always harsh and impatient,
that it can be gentle, can nudge
a twist of hair loose
and in so doing, slow down time
and that song about goodbyes
and the heavy wrap of winter
that fills the sky of every airport town
in late summer, slow that music
down just enough to make a soul
with two left feet like my own
jump up and dance.

A Pile of Fish

for Paul Otremba

Six in all, to be exact. I know it was a Tuesday 
     or Wednesday because the museum closes early
on those days. I almost wrote something 

     about the light being late—; the “late light”
is what I almost said, and you know how we 
     poets go on and on about the light and 

the wind and the dark, but that day the dark was still 
     far away swimming in the Pacific, and we had 
45 minutes to find Goya’s “Still Life with Bream” 

     before the doors closed. I’ve now forgotten 
three times the word Golden in the title of that painting
     —and I wish I could ask what you think 

that means. I see that color most often 
     these days when the cold, wet light of morning 
soaks my son’s curls and his already light 

     brown hair takes on the flash of fish fins
in moonlight. I read somewhere 
     that Goya never titled this painting, 

or the other eleven still lifes, so it’s just 
     as well because I like the Spanish title better.  
“Doradas” is simple, doesn’t point 

     out the obvious. Lately, I’ve been saying 
dorado so often in the song I sing 
     to my son, “O sol, sol, dorado sol 

no te escondes...” I felt lost 
     that day in the museum, but you knew 
where we were going having been there 

     so many times. The canvas was so small 
at 17 x 24 inches. I stood before it 
     lost in its beach of green sand and 

that silver surf cut with pink. 
     I stared while you circled the room 
like a curious cat. I took a step back, 

     and then with your hands in your pockets 
you said, No matter where we stand, 
     there’s always one fish staring at us.

As a new father, I am now that pyramid 
     of fish; my body is all eyes and eyes. 
Some of them watch for you in the west 

where the lion sun yawns and shakes off 
     its sleep before it purrs, and hungry, 
dives deep in the deep of the deep.