Ode with Interruptions

Someone is in the kitchen washing the dishes.
Someone is in the living room watching the news.

Someone in a bedroom is holding a used stamp
with tweezers and adding it to his collection.

Someone is scolding a dog, barking now for
decades, a different dog for each of the decades.

Someone is reading the paper and listening to
a baseball game on the radio at the same time — 

At the base of the altar, you drop some coins
into a wooden box and the lights reveal the vast,

worn painting in front of you. The holy subject
is illuminated for a few minutes before it is dim

again. There are churches all over Italy where
you can do this. The smell of incense, stone — 

Someone is taking the ashes out of the small
cave of the fireplace, though this might have been

a hundred years ago, when the house was new
and we didn’t live in it. Someone is writing

a letter on thin blue paper. Someone is putting
down the needle onto a spinning record, just so.

On the couch, someone is sleeping. Upstairs,
someone is looking into the bathroom mirror — 

While we were waiting for her surgery to finish,
I walked around the hospital and came across

a waiting room that had an enormous aquarium.
The black fish with red stripes, the yellow fish

with blue stripes, the triangle fish, the cylinder
fish, the little orange schools and the cellophane

glints of their quick turns in the box of water,
among arrangements of coral, the city of bones — 

Someone is walking down the creaking staircase
in the dark, a hand sliding on the rail. Someone

is on the telephone, which means nobody else
can use it for another hour. Someone in his room

is doing homework, me or someone almost like
me, twenty, fifty years ago. Someone is reading

in her room. Someone is talking to the gray wall.
Someone is talking to the gray wall. In summer,

on a hot afternoon, someone peels at a corner
of wallpaper and sees more wallpaper beneath — 

I used to think that to write poems, to make art,
meant trying to transcend the prosaic elements

of the self, to arrive at some essential plane, where
poems were supposed to succeed. I was wrong.

More Poems by Rick Barot