I like the going of things, sag of barn
into years of falling, rust on the V-8
my neighbor left to vines that flower
trumpet shaped and red, that I was given
slate for my walkway by a mountain,
a colossus undone at a piffling pace
by sniffles of rain and wind. These
shrugged off and neatly planted stones
bore the feet of friends as they came
to knock on my door with wine,
their eyes bearing light on its way
away. We had this three-bottles-of-cabernet
idea, that everything be given back, grass
sutured blade by blade to the field,
our hands keeping vigil the long nights
of repair, the chimneys unmortared
into brick, into smoke, the floors
split into tongues of wood and the tongues
admired back into trees, when we’d sleep
beneath the noon shade of leaves
as they ate the touching sun. Later
on the porch the ruby lamp of cigarette
lit the hand of a woman who’d decided
to smoke when they’d run out of jewels
to cut from the secret of her body.
They were singing inside and we tried
to remember who’d written the song
about a horse. I didn’t know
the woman well or which cancer she had.
We passed the cigarette and a glass
and she told me about finding a book
the month before signed by her father
in a stack labeled FREE at the library.
She took it from her purse, held the tip
of the cigarette close to his cursive,
and while reading each letter with a fingertip,
said she’d never seen him sign his name.
The book was about weather and she told me
we’re on cloud nine because scientists
have named nine kinds of cloud, the last
being the one we think of as heaven, that drifts
continental across a blue sky in summer
when the only thing wrong is the day
has to end. And I wondered if I’d ever
seen my father sign his name, if I’d ever
seen my father and a different song
came from inside and she sang along,
the words coming out as smoke and smoke
disappearing into the belonging of the night.
Bob Hicok to the best of our knowledge doesn’t smell, and his most recent book of poems is Insomnia Diary (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004).
“Slow going” appears in our Spring 2005 issue.