It helps to begin with something specific.
A bowl of fruit
in a slant of light on a wooden table.
A hat on a peg in a white hallway.
I started out heartbroken.
It wasn’t nowhere else to go then.
In the cemetary in Plainwell there was a little statue
of a dog next to the headstone of a young girl.
Old Man Basil said when she died her dog
come over to the plot, sat down,
wouldn’t quit the spot they’d put her.
When he died, they buried him there
and set the stone dog on the grave.
At ten I couldn’t hardly stand it,
that kind of love and sadness. It seemed
a twin to what I carried in my bones
since I could remember.
I thought everyone felt it.
Today a old man came in, his palsied hand
holding out the same yellowed sheet of paper
he brought in to me last week.
“They’re with the U.S. Customs.” he says, pointing-
“This time they give me a number.”
He looks up at me, his head cocked sideways,
his tan pants pulled up high over his belly.
Already he knows it’s a lost cause, knows
he’s made a fool of himself again. But maybe
this time maybe not maybe it’s legit.
“I shouldn’t have come down, huh?” He says
when he sees my face.
I invite him in and he watches me call the number,
some video store in Ontario. “They outsmarted us this time,
Earl. They give us a wrong number.”
“That’s just what I figured. Why I come down here.
Hope maybe we can turn up a lead.”
Earl’s given nine-thousand dollars to them trying to claim
his sweepstakes prize. I’d gut ’em right in front of him.
I write down his information again in my book. He likes that.
I give him the number to Victim Witness again, make him
put it in his wallet. Walk him out to his car, wave as he drives off.
I’ll see him next week.
Maybe I can think up something good to tell him.
Or one day you wake up, everything’s gone.
Busted up, drifting away like smoke leaving
nothing but oil on your tongue and a bad
scent in the air.
Or one day you wake up, the sun’s in your window
and when you reach out to touch her,
The light’s gone from the day and the smell of the grass mingles
with woodsmoke from your neighbor’s chimney and for a long while
you stand at the back door and look out into the night where it is
cold for all things.
“What’s hard is what’s true,” you mumble to
You go on standing there until your wife touches your shoulder,
says dinner’s on the table.
Says go wash up.