David Wright

Poetry from Illinois

Fidelities

i

“What you come to love will surprise you,” said,
my father straightening my bow tie. “I
need to go to your mother.” His bent head
brushed my cheek, his lips grazing slightly my
forehead and eyes. In the pictures, he smiles
with my bride and his, with his mother, arm
comfortable and sure for this short while,
round what he loved, safe beyond the world’s harm
and his own charm or anger. What I love,
and come to love, my wife’s just fury, Dad’s
longing, Mom’s maddening strength and lack of
ire, my grief, palpable as his wild, sad
words on my skin. These don’t surprise me. I
surprise them, turn, return and meet their eyes.

ii

After an hour or two, you might worry,
certain I will call and reassure you
I’m driving home. You will say, “No hurry,”
and I will speed, glad to know that these few
miles of interstate are the sole distance
stretched between us. I see you busying
yourself paying bills, taking this night’s chance
to watch a film I’d hate. High, dizzying
constellations I cannot name bless the bright
black sky without trying; their age old light
so unconcerned with its slow travel. Space
takes up space. The phone sits silent. Our face
contorts with fear and fury, already lost
when I arrive, with galaxies to cross.

iii

With our child at Sunday School, we act young,
or younger than we feel. Sly jokes, soft touch
of fingertips on cheek or breast, your tongue
curling a seductive twist, not too much
because this coffee house is public. Part
of the lust is risk, the chance someone will
see; someone we know, or don’t, might just start
to hear us plan an afternoon of still
unrehearsed, untried adventure without
haste. I whisper, hushed but good as a shout,
my hope for you to reach a place of rest,
a Sabbath prayer of the flesh that our best
hour lies ahead. We check time and leave
to fetch our child. She’s learning to believe.

iv

To pay attention constantly without
swerving from a single glance or sore word
was all I asked. To never really doubt
the value of an instant, each uttered
syllable or joke. Go ahead and laugh,
again. You lasted a year and a half
into this demand for constant presence,
sustained the effort until the nonsense
I’ve learned from parents, television, friends
who stayed always on like suns or moons, blends
of light that lurk high and constant, had drowned
whatever will to love without complaint
you’d saved. Rest now, I say, without a faint
worry. Both worn to peace, we must lie down.

 

Sunday Afternoon in the Universe

Your Grandmother’s bones are turning to powder. After ninety
years, they become unreliable and strand her in a bed she
wants to leave. One way or another she will leave her bed,

with old or resurrected bones. My God, she lies, restless,
miles away, and we make love with shades drawn,
television loud enough to keep our small child

from hearing wonders and tragedies, to keep her
from waking too soon. She rests. She grows her
body’s own way. I want to tell someone who needs

to hear how our bodies, these flawed, fair bodies might come
together on Sunday afternoons, even when other bodies fail.
How strong and fragile human bones and skin

and breath make us, leave us. I would tell you,
but you know better than to believe me. I should make
the words for another woman, a man, a girl, a boy.

Perhaps they have forgotten or not yet found their form
is not theirs. It belongs to universes of cells, of blood,
of oxygen, of stars, of dust, of molecules like galaxies,

of galaxies like molecules that swirl and mingle to save
and kill, love and forget, find and lose us, suddenly,
in our own or others’ bodies, on Sunday afternoons.

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