It’s not time that passes, it’s you, it’s I
In winter, by late afternoon, it’s almost dark
when you come home from the mine. I hear
the front gate creak and the metallic clink
of your pail before you round the corner
by the back steps where I’ve been waiting.
In the sharp chill of the air, the mineral
undercurrent of damp earth and shale
comes with you. You turn down the collar
of your shirt and let water from the pump
pour down your face and nape, the skin above
your undershirt pale as the crescent moon visible
above the darker mass of the hills.
You drive for hours, heading nowhere; you walk
the streets at night and argue with the moon—
something hidden and manic in you emerged,
almost unnoticed, until at last you huddled
homeless and bewildered under a pile
of coats in an alleyway no wider
than the mines you entered as a young man.
The rat scuttling in the garbage bin, the cat
stalking the rat, did they become your familiars?
And the passersby, who glanced at you and hurried
on their way, did they believe you were invisible?
Did the tag knotted to your toe say nameless?
• • •
What I loved was the touch of your calloused hand
on my head, the coal-rimmed hollows of your eyes.
If you returned now from the sooty underworld
in which you dwell, you would not recognize me.
The gate is gone; the house and those who lived in it
are hidden elsewhere. Only the crescent moon
and darkling hills are as you left them. Come back
as you were, if only for a moment. I’m waiting
by the back steps. The kitchen window casts
its light; at the laden table the absent prepare
for your arrival. You will be hungry and tired,
as in those years through which our lives passed.
Volume 83, Number 1