The windshield’s dirty, the squirter stuff’s all gone, so
we drive on together into a sun-gray pane of grime
and dust. My son

puts the passenger seat back as far as it will go, closes
his eyes. I crack my window open for a bit
of fresher air. It’s so

incredibly fresh out there.

Rain, over.
Puddles left
in ditches. Black mirrors with our passing 

reflected in them, I suppose, but I’d
have to pull over and kneel down at the side
of the road to know.

The day ahead—

for this, the radio
doesn’t need to be played.
The house we used to live in

still exists
in a snapshot, in which
it yellows in another family’s scrapbook.

And a man on a bicycle
rides beside us
for a long time, very swiftly, until finally

he can’t keep up—

but before he slips
behind us, he salutes us
with his left hand—

a reminder:

that every single second—
that every prisoner on death row—
that every name on every tombstone—

that everywhere we go—
that every day, like this one, will
be like every other, having never been, never

ending. So
thank you. And, oh—
I almost forgot to say it: amen.

Kitchen Song

The white bowls in the orderly
cupboards filled with nothing.

The sound
of applause in running water.
All those who've drowned in oceans, all 
who've drowned in pools, in ponds, the small 
family together in the car hit head on. The pantry

full of lilies, the lobsters scratching to get out of the pot, and God

being pulled across the heavens
in a burning car.

The recipes
like confessions.
The confessions like songs.
The sun. The bomb. The white

bowls in the orderly
cupboards filled with blood. I wanted

something simple, and domestic. A kitchen song.

They were just driving along. Dad 
turned the radio off, and Mom 
turned it back on.

Near misses

The truck that swerved to miss the stroller in which I slept.
 
My mother turning from the laundry basket just in time to see me open 
  the third-story window to call to the cat.
 
In the car, on ice, something spinning and made of history snatched me
  back from the guardrail and set me down between two gentle trees.
  And that time I thought to look both ways on the one-way street.
 
And when the doorbell rang, and I didn’t answer, and just before I slipped
  one night into a drunken dream, I remembered to blow out the candle
  burning on the table beside me.
 
It's a miracle, I tell you, this middle-aged woman scanning the cans on
  the grocery store shelf. Hidden in the works of a mysterious clock are
  her many deaths, and yet the whole world is piled up before her on a
  banquet table again today. The timer, broken. The sunset smeared
  across the horizon in the girlish cursive of the ocean, Forever, For You.
 
And still she can offer only her body as proof:
 
The way it moves a little slower every day. And the cells, ticking away.
  A crow pecking at a sweater. The last hour waiting patiently on a tray
  for her somewhere in the future. The spoon slipping quietly into the
  beautiful soup.
 

The Pain

Like the human brain, which organizes
The swirls and shades of the bathroom tiles
Into faces, faces
With expressions
Of exhaustion, of disdain. The
Virgin Mary in the toast of course
But also the penance in the pain, and the way
My mother invented
Plums and tissue paper, while
My father invented the type of
Sudden kindness
That takes you by surprise
When you’ve expected to be chastised
And makes you cry


 

About this poem:
"The poem's impulse is the same as the poem's subject—a grappling, out of hope?—with the idea that there must be some way to integrate into one's life, if necessary, the experience of physical pain. If I can make out faces and objects every morning (if I stare long enough) at the bathroom tile—or so I was thinking—surely there would be a way to make meaning out of this pain?"

Laura Kasischke

Related Poems

Tomorrow and Tomorrow Again

Of course I don’t know what
happens to us: if we survive in the
hands of love; if Cal, if Simone
and all the trembling answers
those questions entail; whether
by time or by disease or by
an atom bomb right in the eye. Is it
possible death could be thrilling
and fun? And after could there be
something somewhere and what
will we do if we see each other
there? Will the same songs stay stuck
in our heads? Will medicine
succeed in making life so long
we will beg for medicine to end it?
One cannot lock eyes with a bird,
its eyes vacant as ball bearings, but
mustn’t there be some recognition
in everything? Some fury, some
questioning? If one phrase could echo
throughout eternity, would the ear
on the other side return
a word? But what am I asking?
Will I ever see a whale, and will his size
compared to mine be a true
form of knowledge? Loneliness
has depths writing fails to fathom.
I could be clearer, say more, but
it wouldn’t mean as much. Mother
will I ever find you again? Is fear
of spiders fair? Is a power
above minding the scales, be it
science or gods or the weather,
and can they be tipped toward
balance from here? Is beauty more
than another form of pleasure?
What, which, when, how is better?

White Shells

Then there was beauty in what clung,
vertical and multiple against a damp tombstone
where no one goes, or has gone forever,
the stone carved in another language
and the weed-life overgrown.
We knew they must know movement,
but they would not move
while being what they meant to us.
Where the headstone's windowpane
meant to protect the crucifix and photograph
was cracked apart, we saw how
on its inward, wetter side,
the infant shells began self-generation in a line
like vowels strung inside a child's understanding:
this belongs to this. O perfect succulence
with which interiors adhere to forms, O open mouths.
Should we have found the world more often
clinging to words describing it?
What would have been the afterlife of that?

Psalm

When I sing to you I am alone these days
             and can't believe it, as if the stars

--while gazing up at them--just shut off.
             Astonished:

I search out the one light, brightest light
             in the night sky, but find

I cannot find it without weaker lights to guide me
             like red tail-lights on a car up ahead

after midnight when I'm sleepy, that illustrate
             how the highway curves,

curving to a hook, and maybe save my life
             and it means nothing to me

because nothing has happened, not the faintest
             glint of drama.

(Raining gently, the tarmac turns slick, moistened
             to life with renewed residues;

I can sense it with my hands on the wheel,
             the drops--not too heavy--

drumming off-time rhythms on the metal roof,
             the metal surface like a skin tense and sweating

and the road empty now, there are so many
              exits . . .)

Where is my family, both hearth and constellated trail of flicker
             I have always followed to your word?

There, but mastered by fear of dark compulsions
             and loathing atrocities committed in your name,

they hit the dimmer switch and extinguish themselves
             whenever I sing your praises. . .

Who can blame them?
             (I can't help but blame them.)

And anyway they are far from me
             (farthest when they come to visit)--

I should be self-reliant, in my armchair
             like Emerson reading by a single lamp;

I should not need them, finding in you
             myself, little firebug needing no outlet,

my soft light blinking as I oxidize my aimless flight
             to love, to the good,

even my glowing chemistry unnecessary now
             in the ultimate light of day.

But what good would that do me?
             With you, in you, perhaps others do not matter,

but this isn't heaven, and I cannot make a circle
             all on my own--

Photon, luciferin, meteor: as I burn myself
             to pieces, I only pray

let my sparking tail remain a moment longer
             than our physics might allow,

some indication, however brief, that there continues
             (amen) a path to follow.