My neighbor, perched high on a ladder
one weekend afternoon,
trimmed the wrong branch and sent himself
slowly wheeling through the sky.
He curved through the air as smoothly
as if he'd been drawn with a compass,
a graceful inflection discordantly accompanied
by crepitating branches and breathy leaves,
and landed in a lush, bent sapling.
To call it beautiful misses the point.
To say he stood and walked away unharmed
is true. For fifteen years I've remembered that shape,
its pace, but it's the moment when he understood
it would happen that I return to: that fear,
and whether he resisted it or surrendered.
How often it happens that we step, half-consideringly
into the impersonal forces at work,
unable to pull ourselves back.
The tread of the stair beneath our feet
the appalling speed of our own blood.
The fifty years of our working lives limit our thoughts
as the pyramids' size was ultimately determined
by what they could build within the pharaoh's life.
The arctic whale moves through the water
with a century-old, ivory spearhead buried in its flesh.
My son was born early, before his body had developed
the reflex to suck. He spent his first two weeks alive
covered in wires and tubes amid loud, beeping machines.
I did not know him yet, in the lasting way,
but I saw he had my grandfather's face.
And oh I was afraid. And we moved through it.
Michigan Quarterly Review