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Older now, he is among us in diminished form,
clothes sagging, hat large on the fine head

He likes the largest stores             acres of socks and tuna             where
                   high girders look down on him also                        who
                                       pushes his cart and leans on it a little
      . . . something sacramental about the belittling
perspective          something
                   heroic about the high shadows in the niches
                                       of the corrugated roof
                                                                               beneath which
                                                            under spotlights that don't spread far
he moves with the people who comb through
the aisles               pulling down unwieldy
                   batches of single things                   to last them through
                   cold time
                                       that can't be trusted

There he is at the far end of an avenue
                                                                               of obelisks of paper
head cunningly mobile like a bird's                         eyes quick like one
                   beading on flecks that might be the
                                       morsels that it needs
                                                            or on grains                           or seeds

At this its faltering morse of chirrups                     but no long address
                                       the same few wordchains

                   at my feet
                                        water water water

                   millet beak millet crack millet
                   air down danger aieeeeeeee

But in their multitudes                                    horrific
                                                          blue golden green their throats and breasts
                                       all with the herringbone
                                                          wingcaps that grind like blades
                                                                              of a thousand ceiling fans in a
                                                                                                 flaming house

After the teak forests were hewn down               plagues
                   of parakeets rippled down on the crops
                                       themselves a crop             digesting
                                                                              no longer charming and

but like any swarm or heap or tumulus or
                   housing project or array of products or uncountable mass
                                       of faces even rich ones


You can almost see them in his mind
                   my father's wordchains as they click against each other

                                                                              rapidly succeeding in his mind

I've got to get there                                 got to
                                        bank today            to get to sleep                         to shave

                                                             got not to wait
                                                                              a second longer for what I've earned
                                                             my whole life through the right to want
                                                                              without excuse

and he thinks the people at the other end are
                   idiots                        or
                                                          when things are going well
                                        just helpless
                                                                           or when they know a little fact
                                        that he does not
                                                          (that beating flour too fine will mean the gluten
                                                                                  cancels out the baking soda and the rolls
                                                                                                 won't rise
                   well          then         that they are smart
                                                                           as whips

Eyes almost black behind his glasses                         shining

                   before the freezer cases of brightly packaged
                                                          dinners with too much
                                        sodium and fat
                                                          rounds of chicken                           steaming
                                                                               like eager faces against the costly frost

he flies up into the highest branches
                                                          of the possible air                            and then goes still
                   at everything spread down there          for sale

Source: Poetry (September 2007)

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This poem originally appeared in the September 2007 issue of Poetry magazine

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