After so much time you think you'd have it netted in the mesh of language. But again it reconfigures, slick as Proteus. You're in the kitchen talking with your ex-Navy brother, his two kids snaking over his tattooed arms, as he goes on & on about being out of work again. For an hour now you've listened, his face growing dimmer in the lamplight as you keep glancing at your watch until it's there again: the ghost rising as it did that first time when you, the oldest, left home to marry. You're in the boat again, alone, and staring at the six of them, your sisters & your brothers, their faces bobbing in the water, as their fingers grapple for the gunwales. The ship is going down, your mother with it. One oar's locked and feathered, and one oar's lost, there's a slop of gurry pooling in the bottom, and your tiny boat keeps drifting further from them. Between each bitter wave you can count their upturned faces--white roses scattered on a mash of sea, eyes fixed to see what you will do. And you? You their old protector, you their guardian and go-between? Each man for himself, you remember thinking, their faces growing dimmer with each oarstroke.
Paul Mariani - 1940-
The Gods Who Come Among Us in the Guise of Strangers
for Charlie Miller
Late nights, with summer moths clinging to the screens & the shadows of the Old Great flickering across the tv screen, suddenly, there would be Charlie's inquisitorial head peering in the window, the shock of white hair, followed by the heart-stopping shock of greeting. Just passing through, he'd say, and--seeing as the light was on-- thought we might have ourselves a talk. Did I ever have time enough for Charlie? Usually not. The story of my life, of the one, as Chaucer says of someone, who seems always busier than he is. Then, abruptly, & discourteously, death put a stop to Charlie's visits. Summer moths collect still at the windows. Then leaves & winter ice. Then summer moths again. Each year, old ghost, I seem to miss you more and more, your youth spent with Auden & the Big Ones, words-- theirs, yours--helping you survive a brutal youth. Too late I see now how you honored me like those hidden gods of old who walk among us like the dispossessed, and who, if you are among the lucky ones, tap at your window when you least expect to ask you for a cup of water and a little of your time.