Elizabeth Bishop leaned on a table, it cracked,
both fell to the floor. A gesture
gone sadly awry. This was close to fact
and quickly became symbolic, bound to occur
in Florida, where she was surrounded
by rotting abundance and greedy insects.
One moment a laughing smile, a graceful hand
alighting on solid furniture,
a casual shift of weight,
the next, undignified splayed legs.
The shell of the table
proved to be stuffed with termite eggs.
True, it was a fall from no great height—
merely the height of herself,
and although the hollowed-out table failed,
at least the floor held,
though probably infested by termites as well,
and possibly built on a latent sinkhole,
how can you tell?
And how could she, smiling and easy,
arm moving without forethought and permission,
have forgotten fear, apparently
let go of a hard-learned lesson?
Enter a room as though it is strange.
What you recognize may have changed,
or may change without warning.
Trees fall in hurricanes
and on windless mornings,
breaching houses where people you knew
have vanished or died or stopped loving you.
She regained her feet, already composed,
brushing dust from an elbow. There would be a bruise,
but it would remind her that words are full of holes;
flung hard, like paper they fly sideways.
And a call to joy—a landscape, a face—
may, though scarcely moving, perhaps by not moving, go
in one breath from heartening to ominous,
proving to children who need more proof
that we don’t know what we know.