after Thomas James
The strangers in the woods must mimic squirrels and crackle
with the undergrowth. They must not flinch at the cruelty
of breaking golden leaves with their feet, or of interring stones.
And like any of these deciduous trees in autumn they must be
stingy with shadow and move deceptively across the sludge.
I listen to these strangers stirring with the evenings. I invent paths
for them to the soft edge of the lake. Each descent is as graceful
as a sinking ship, but less tragic somehow because these strangers
don’t possess a lung. I cannot hear them breathe, yet the air
is all whispers, all sighs—the same ethereal muscle that rubs
the color off the foliage. I lost my way out of the woods on the night
every bird went south or numb. A plump rat snatched the moon
and dragged it by the white rope of its tail. The strangers were
a cloak of silhouettes flattening against a trunk like bark.
I must have disappeared among them because the mouth I touched
was not my own and was cruelly closing in on someone’s rib. I carried
such a bite on me, an arc of green and yellow on my side from the man
who said he loved me. In that darkness I knew as much about him
as I did of the amputee swimming his way up the hill with his
only arm. So this is the home of the unturned stone where
the fugitive keeps his kiss! Archeologists will discover a paradise
in the place no touch died of neglect. Is it any wonder all things
forgotten or abandoned find their way here? The winter is back, so too
the bloated body of a book I tossed over the bridge last week.
And there on the bench, is my old smoking habit, a cigarette
glowing on my mouth like a beacon. I’m patient, waiting for the fugitive
to claim me as his own. I’m as wise as any stranger here, alone but with
the knowledge that the grief of separation is always brief.