(October 1999)

Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 96 (October 1999): 24, 41, 55.

Sometimes in Autumn

An overcast day: gray clouds slide
across the sky like platters on a table.
The grasses lift up brown tassels
from an undercoat of yellow;
the grasses have stolen the sun’s yellow.

The wind frisks cars as they speed across
the bridge. Caution Wind Currents the sign says.
In a fury the wind scribbles white caps
upon the muddy river, but no one knows what they say.

Fall is late this year; burning summer
fought dismissal. A single poplar shivers
in the wind: its leaves flicker back and forth
like small hands waving gold and green to winter.

—Mary Freeman

The Conservation of Matter

The fat man sitting
on the edge of his bath
may feel a surge of cheerful vanity
admiring his calves
and vast feet. Enormous things
in a trivial world—
who appreciates beauty?
He sips from bourbon
gliding over ice cubes.
Logically, we extend ourselves in the world.
A handsome symmetry exists
between the thoroughness of construction
and the likelihood of movement
although the volume remains the same
despite the size or shape of the container.

Still, no dog, no matter where or when
he may have acquired his feet,
can walk his chains without getting tangled.
It is this confusion between magnitude and grace
that allows beauty to evade our grasp.

—Samn Stockwell

Lights Out

Wasting light, Mother comments,
Seeing high–rise windows lit,
Not really objecting,
Just commenting on empty, lighted offices,
Something that has always seemed
Pleasantly sinister to her,
As off–hand as she sounds,
The start of a mystery.
Meanwhile the electric company
changes its name again,
Wasting the truth, as Mom,
Wasting nothing, stays close to it,
Seeing as much in what happens
When they are not there
As when they are, surrounding
Her in the day, leaving bright towers
At night that tiny immigrant women
Scrub and empty, and where
Anything might happen
Because nothing does.
At midnight they used to walk
By our house, speaking
Cleaning ladies’ Esperanto,
And then the lights
Went out.

—Lawrence Dugan