Just

- 1952-
after the downpour, in the early evening,
late sunlight glinting off the raindrops sliding
down the broad backs of the redbud leaves
beside the porch, beyond the railing, each leaf
bending and springing back and bending again
beneath the dripping,
			between existences,
ecstatic, the souls grow mischievous, they break ranks,
swerve from the rigid V's of their migration,
their iron destinies, down to the leaves
they flutter in among, rising and settling,
bodiless, but pretending to have bodies,

their weightlessness more weightless for the ruse,
their freedom freer, their as-ifs nearly not,
until the night falls like an order and 
they rise on one vast wing that darkens down
the endless flyways into other bodies.

Nothing will make you less afraid.

More by Alan Shapiro

Sleet

What was it like before the doctor got there?

Till then, we were in the back seat of the warm
dark bubble of the old Buick. We were where 
we'd never not been, no matter where we were.

And when the doctor got there?

Everything outside was in a rage of wind and sleet, 
we were children, brothers, safe in the back seat, 
for once not fighting, just listening, watching the storm.

Weren't you afraid that something bad might happen?

Our father held the wheel with just two fingers 
even though the car skidded and fishtailed 
and the chains clanged raggedly over ice and asphalt.

Weren't you afraid at all?

Dad sang for someone to fly him to the moon, 
to let him play among the stars, while Mom 
held up the lighter to another Marlboro.

But when the doctor started speaking. . .

The tip of the Marlboro was a bright red star. 
Her lips pursed and she released a ring of Saturn, 
which dissolved as we caught at it, as my dad sang Mars.

When you realized what the doctor was saying. . .

They were closer to the storm in the front seat.
The high beams, weak as steam against the walled swirling, 
only illuminated what we couldn't see.

When he described it, the tumor in the brain and what it meant. . .

See, we were children. Then we weren't. Or my brother wasn't. 
He was driving now, he gripped the steering wheel
with both hands and stared hard at the panicked wipers.

What did you feel?

Just sleet, the slick road, the car going way too fast, 
no brother beside me in the back seat, no singing father, 
no mother, no ring of Saturn to catch at as it floats.

The Haunting

It may not be
the ghostly ballet
of our avoidances
that they’ll remember,
nor the long sulks
of those last months,
nor the voices
chilly with all
the anger we
were careful mostly
not to show
in front of them,
nor anything
at all that made
our choice to live
apart seem to us
both not only
unavoidable
but good, but just.

No, what I think
will haunt them is
precisely what
we’ve chosen to
forget: those too
infrequent (though
even toward
the end still
possible) moments
when, the children
upstairs, the dinner
cooking, one of us
would all at once
start humming an old
tune and we’d dance,
as if we did
so always, in
a swoon of gliding
all through the house,
across the kitchen,

down the hall
and back, we’d sway
together, we’d twirl,
we’d dip and cha-
cha and the children
would hear us and
be helpless not
to come running
down to burrow
in between us,
into the center
of the dance that now,
I think, will haunt them
for the very joy
itself, for joy
that was for them,
for all of us
together, something
better than joy,
and yet for you
and me, ourselves,
alone, apart,
still not enough.

Vantage


From where I watch, there are no highest leaves,
no leaves that don’t have over them more leaves 
impeding what they open up and out for, 

darkening downward as they feed on green 
diminishments, as if dark, if it still
can darken, could be itself the light 

the darker leaves beneath are hungry for.
From where I watch even the shade hungers
And is hungered after—all along the chain 

past bark, root, leaf, ghost speck of leaf,     
microbial scrapings, and beyond them, flakes 
chipped off of flakes off of a now- 

no-longer anything sucked dry, unsifted 
and unsiftable into so fine a green 
even the dark shines through. What’s hunger but

a hole to fill, gravity of a self-
consuming self-proliferating blind
and densely tangled maze of this from that,

from this, somewhere inside of which a cry
for mercy isn’t heard, or is, and the jaws shut, 
and the very dirt becomes the dirt of it.