Issue 156, Fall 2000
Ghosts peel from the wallpaper. They turn to foxes,
run red to the trees. Weather knots
at the corners of sleep and will not recede.
Who can see a stranger's wrist
and not have regrets? The scent of wild orange
invokes memory benign; sliced lime
calls forth pleasing thoughts best forgotten.
Girls by the roadside become foxes most of all:
The warrior sped down a familiar street and entered a field.
Retainers vanished as soon as he spoke.
A spectacle of disbelief: the merchant sells glimpses
of the bird the emperor refused.
It swallows hot coals, it does not choke.
Or belief: a woman with broken combs in her hair
upends a man's gaze. She leads him beneath the house,
what seems a palace curtained with rooms.
Two weeks later, he emerges, his back bent
from stooping, a figure recognizable only by voice.
The man had cheated his tenants.
Foxes scratched at the gates of the yard.
The sun too is a taken thing. Across an ocean,
a man's sister does not speak,
leaving this voice to fill for everything lost.
Bathing women draw their robes shut
like blinds; the bowl on the mantle
fills with avowals: seven antique marbles,
a clam shell wrapped with thread.
Having forgotten the difficult words,
mostly I greet and agree. Memories of hands
wrest the air from this room: how can anyone
speak? A snake wrapped around a bell
takes the echo with her when she leaves.