New York City skyline at night


Spring 2009



Maggie Schwed

The Starting Point

Long underway before I knew it,
your movement toward death,
now visibly marked, then
was hidden from me. As buoys
tell the channels of a harbor,
so the tremor in your arm one August.
And, after I observed it, how
you stilled your hand in mine to hide its motion.
Two years later, a narrow mattress
in a public corridor
displayed you open mouthed,
cheeks unshaven, senseless from the tests.
How like death, I thought.
But for a year after that I had you.
Time was almost ordinary.
Many afternoons that May and June
I parted from my students
to sit beside you on the bed, your long bones
under the covers like branches
fallen on a beach, the lapping blanket
reaching past your knees,
the click and lumens of the bedside lamp
too brutal then,
the space in the room
I, living, took
too great.



Not for the first time
you say the pain is worse
and with it the yearning: He
should come home now.

Now, to the clapboard house
caught like the moon
in brambles on the hill
the table set for supper
red chrysanthemums
bunched by the fire.

You bother still
ironing your sleeves and collar
rinsing the endive a leaf at a time
putting up your hair
being sure the cup
has a saucer under it and so forth
not for this life
but the other
which if he understood
would bring him
whistling through the door
loud as your kettle.

And certainly
you have not failed
to be a good woman
doing what such a woman does
in the day
and in the night
even sleeping half awake
in case he calls or calls out
or comes in dreams
like starshine reaching you
its whitest beam
a little at a time.

Much harder than the approach of death
is what comes after:
this unobstructed view
through January trees' gray lines
of glimpses into far neighbors' living rooms
where shadow figures make their lives
in a cold, lit, glittering distance.


A Lovely Fading Fresco

And where are you now?

Yes, this is a different world
where what happens happens as if it should,
as if that other time we shared, while good,
were necessarily less perfect than now
because this, persuasively, look, is life,
is eating and drinking that pushes us
on into the present and on, the past
breaking off in flecks, a lovely fading fresco
of effects, dreams, for instance, in which
you are fully present, in color, and strong,
strongly giving the lie to death.
I know the answer, but still,
try to say: which is worse,
the awakening of anguish
or for a moment forgetting?

I pass a basket of bread, full, fragrant.
We all take some. There's more and
the knife is sharp and we are still hungry.
I see nothing of loss in this.

Is it this: a red dog walking
off the path in tall grass
with every step surprising
a spray of grasshoppers,
each one splashing up
on a single boing into the light,
gold grasshoppers then
falling back into the green grass like water,
the dog pacing at his master's heels
intent only on what's ahead?

—Not that so much has happened:
such gatherings,
one visible shooting star
at the height of the Perseids
as if we were too late or the night misted,
and I talked to your wife later
and she said simply
Nights are hardest
which we both

And now?

Dark flittering
of the bats overhead; my son
spitting melon seeds into the night;
and some of us singing. That would be
your harmonica coming in at the break
or merely (is it?) the cicadas
for a moment in harmony.



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