Having bought a Sunday paper, I stood sipping coffee in our village store, absently staring through the plate glass window onto the street.  I was conscious of the affable buzz of my neighbors’ palaver all around me. I couldn’t catch specifics of any conversation but I didn’t really try.

As I age, I crave such brief and peaceful moments, when somehow little seems of great importance. I savor the flow of the ordinary. That day I even felt content with the weather, which was scarcely the stuff of postcards or calendars: late winter’s gray, the mud-soiled dregs of old snow melting along the ditches into paltry runoff.

I wouldn’t have guessed it, but our little byway had kept a very few widespread patches of ice. Fate intruded, if that’s what you’d call it, and a stranger decided to touch her brakes precisely on one of those slicks and slued into the one tree anywhere nearby. A yard farther on and she’d have been safe.

You know how it is after shock. You can’t quite size things up right away. It’s like touching a strand of fence-wire that you hadn’t known was electrified. I stood unmoving a long, long time before going out to my truck and heading home the long way. From my house a mile uphill, I heard shrieks from ambulance and cruiser sirens.

Later, we’d learn the driver had died before reaching the clinic. I’d seen just her head as she lay against her window, almost as if she were napping. Or rather I glimpsed it before I looked away. A bird’s-foot bloodstain on her scalp would lodge itself in my brain, but not the driver’s features, so briefly had I looked on. I picture the ditchwater more clearly, dark as bock beer. What an odd image to retain.

To be sure, I felt sick, and felt my damnable helplessness, but although that crash happened years ago, I also recall a strange nostalgia as I drove away, an unaccountable memory completely unrelated to the horror I’d witnessed.  What prompted it? I have no idea.

What could it mean that the memory arrived immediately after they hauled the victim off? I’ll never know. With each passing year, I’m further resigned to what an ocean of things I’ll never know. In the times I fetched back, bloodshed at worst meant knees scraped raw if we fell off our bikes. No one we cared about had died yet.

And we knew some wonders: our dad had restored a Model T Ford, which he shifted with pedals.

All of us children would clamor for drives as soon as the weather turned mild. For whatever reason, I found myself in that Ford again, along with my brothers and sisters and my father, still so gentle, so young, so alive.

Undying, they seemed, those springtime Sundays, June’s pastorale unscrolling itself, each tree we passed spring-laden with leaves, a few lush clouds above, a murder of crows flapping lazily by, hay still standing in emerald fields, white clusters of clover on either side of the road.

Rapt, an old man inspects his living room mirror

but not for his image. Instead, its angle

subtly reflects the light of a stub of candle

on the silent piano. He might say the reflection shimmers

but the years, though blessed, have jaded him some.


He’d rather avoid such a hackneyed word

but he’s also abandoned the urge to think up a better.

A train comes to mind, though he doesn’t know why.

He can’t recall when it was he saw it or even

if, but it seems some caboose’s lantern


lodged in his mind a lifetime ago, its glow

growing distant. Was it even then a matter

of things he longed for fading? The rattle and click

on the tracks make a poignant song. He’d rather

ignore its meaning, clearer now than ever.

When he fetched the morning paper, he read of the would-be bomber wrestled

down by fellow travelers.  A mile in the air, but nothing exploded,

the man merely scorched his own shins.  Here icicles fall and bleed on the ground,

his metal roof pings, day yawns.  He yawns at a crossword:  22 Down,

Ram’s Ma’am.  Tired clue for ewe, it baffled him once, which seems hard to imagine.

He feels as though the years since then, as soon as they get here, vanish.

An expert now, he needs no pencil, taps his pen on the puzzle,


gray grainy grid on the page.  Below the fold, Hollywood  Buzzes  —

with something or other.  He doesn’t buzz. If he used to have a life

beyond a hobby, a dog on his lap, is this one so vapid he craves

explosion?  No, and he knows it.  But as trees go grainy and gray as well

with something vague, neither rain nor snow, they iterate the world’s

flatness of feature.  19 Down:  ovum-to-be.   His children

are gone, his wife in the earth, who even in older age could be ardent.


And all around him a rampancy of things lukewarm and wizened.

Maybe terror is you, he puns, the you that’s not ram’s ma’am —  nor is he

ram anymore.  He sluggishly seeks a synonym for chat

in seven letters, 16 Across.  How he needs his wife to be back,

needing an ear for his desolate whispers, whimpers.

The dear deaf dachsund

breathes on him from cheek to chin.  It quickens him for a moment,

that heady, delusive mixture: animal heat and animal moisture.

I smacked my foot against a table leg this morning and scolded myself: Watch where you’re going! A blood-bead stood below the nail, whose jaundiced color puzzled our grandson, here for the weekend. He asked, “Grandpa, how come you’re gold?”

But he quickly turned his attention to that little globe of blood.  Our interest in pain, or so it seems to me, develops early. We may take whatever measures we can to avoid it and yet it intrigues.

I recall, for instance, a hornet’s stinging that child’s older brother a summer ago. The two still speak of the incident now and then. The pains, or rather for the most part griefs, that hold my own attention now tend to be psychological rather than bodily, however hard they often are to identify exactly.

This grandson of ours owns a little plush dog named Oko for whatever reason, and the child loves to say he’s been stolen by what he calls billains. Or sometimes the dog’s simply lost. I know it’s feigned, yet I still wince at his look, precisely, of pain.

Oko’s never gone for long, however, and I rejoice with the boy when he’s found.

Speaking of loss, at my age I’m losing friends, some to the Reaper, some to scrambled brains. I wish I could find them again, celebrate their return. One of the brightest men I’ve known, for instance, an estimable poet and critic, is now so overwhelmed by multiple sclerosis that he can barely talk, let alone move; another longtime friend, this one Irish, a man with whom I’ve shared woe, delight, and absurdist humor for decades, is in a seaside institution, and doesn’t even know my name; yet another has just been informed that she has incurable stage cancer of the throat, and she’s arranging for hospice care; two springs ago, my very best friend on earth– marathon runner, non-smoker and -drinker– himself contracted irremediable cancer of the duodenum  and was gone in less than  twelve months. The list seems all but infinitely extensible.

As for me, at last I’ve become my family’s oldest member, apart from two of my own first cousins I haven’t seen in decades. Both my grandparents and parents, one brother, all my aunts and uncles are long since gone. So when Oko disappears and our grandson expects me to make a sorrowful face, I do have resources.

I struggle against dwelling on my own mortality. I don’t always prevail, but when I do arrive at a saner frame of mind, I conclude that so long as I’m not dead, I’m alive.  Instead of trying to reckon how long I’ll keep them, I concentrate on my capacious blessings.

Of course, I’m experiencing natural physical decline, but I can still hike, row my shell, and in fact do pretty much what I’ve always done, at however stately a pace.  My short-term memory is not what it was, but I can still write and think pretty clearly (at least I think I can). A subtle bittersweetness has taken up permanent residence in my soul, but far better that than dejection

Before we carry him up to bed, our grandson, plush dog in hand, dictates words to us for a postcard we’ll send to his mother and father and that hornet-stung brother.

Grandpa’s toes are gold. Today he bleeded. I lost Oko but Grandpa found him. He’s happy.

He spoke of how one day he tried to find
distraction by cleaning out his attic.
As though he could. Up there he came upon
his son’s toy Tonka tractor, pocked by rust.
It seemed a relic from an ancient age
but something too the boy might use right then.
As though he could. “That was my overdose,”
he said, but smiled, then told me how it felt
as hard to look away from that plaything

as to lift great weights the way he could do
long years ago. He kept on lowering
the toy’s bucket loader then lifting it,
like digging something up. And he knew what.
“I can just imagine.” So I told him.
As though I could. His son wore one earring.
It sat in a dish on the mantelpiece.
He said, “Go figure. It doesn’t crush me
the way that stinking yellow tractor does

Once his son fell from drugs, he claimed, things came
to him as metaphors so stale he wished
that he could crush them all. As though he could.
Rainfall, nightfall, dead leaves that fall each fall,
rivers falling into awful ocean.
“On and on,” he sighed. My response was slight
as the year’s first flakes, which barely covered
the ground as they fell. I repeated it:
“I can just imagine.” As though I could.

Pure quiet in the room, but for tat-tat-tat–
sparks from your fireplace
against the flue. You imagine
they seek escape, as you did
in yesterday’s early morning vision,

which let you rise high, for instance,
above the frame of that winter-killed deer.
When you chanced upon it on foot last week,
the bones had somehow settled
into a shape that made you think

of your daughter’s most treasured childhood doll.
Crude. Heart-breaking.
You hope it’s lost for good.
You were lifted too above the whips
of new beech at the edge of the big woods

where the doll-like deer bones lay.
You first saw that crowd of saplings as mourners,
then as something less benign.
In fact, once you looked at them more closely,
they seemed predators of a kind.

It struck you the forest wanted back in,
so you yearned to fly higher, believing
that to come down now would mean
endless encagement in grief.
You prayed aloud to the wind in your dream

that it keep command, that it take you
to some fanciful otherworldly garden,
where that daughter cut down by cancer
culls weeds and hoes the soil
so that better new growth may take root and prosper.

But you’ll stay by the fire tonight, eyes clenched,
half-ashamed of your reveries,
and try again and again
to rekindle that hope– a figment, yes,
but better perhaps than none.

There’s always been discourse between us. It’s never seemed less than crucial,
but once the children grew,
its range began to grow too, and it started to stray from the normal,
if such a thing exists.
For years we’ve assumed, for instance, those maples down by the pond
were red ones, common as pavement.
Then today you somehow discovered they were actually Freeman’s maples,
a hybrid all around us
of red and silver strains. Who knew? The information

moves me just now to ponder
how much else I may always have carelessly taken for granted.
Four decades we’ve been together.
I look at you and I sigh. By now we’re hardly embarrassed
to admit how little we know.
I think of what’s said about snowflakes: there can be no identical two.
Like-minded as we two have been,
are we really in tune with each other? Can you tell that even at 80
the passion I feel for you

can almost make me swoon? I’ve told you that over and over,
and I know you’ll never know.
All my lassitude disappears in the times I describe, or rather,
the times I fail to describe,
when it seems life will never end, will be full of that passion but peaceful.
Yet old idols are leaving forever:
last week, the great Bill Russell died, slightly older than I.
A random example. Old-fashioned,
each morning throughout the year, I go through the local paper,

and with no real deliberation,
after I’ve scanned a few headlines and checked the scores of some games,
I look for obituaries.
I had a dream last night that all my recent poems
had been stuffed into a folder
by someone, likely me. It was marked with one adjective:
Last. I might venture one word
for our marriage too, but no: plain happy wouldn’t do.
It would take more words than I have,

and better, without a doubt, to explore the intricate ways
we’ve forged our curious union,
how over our handful of decades we’ve learned to hybridize
into one, like Freeman’s Maple,
to strain an analogy, though we’re as unlike each other
as those snowflakes I found in the vault
of easy-to-come-by expressions.
But so often it has seemed easy, despite typical marital trials,
to be just what we are for a season.

I could weep to think that it feels,
from any angle of vision, exactly like that: a season.

The whole thing mystified me at age fifteen. Knocking on eighty’s door, I’m a lot less mystified. I’m less troubled too, though I must allow that the event still leaves me strangely uneasy.

I’d been walking back from the school ball field. We couldn’t get enough boys together for an actual game, so we just played catch, shagged flies, and so on. Mostly, we told our exaggerated stories to one another, even though no one believed anyone else’s. That’s why for years I never shared this anecdote with a soul apart from one friend in my class. Too many would have thought I was fibbing. I’m not.

When I got within a quarter-mile or so of home, I heard a radio playing music that was far more than just loud. Don’t think badly of me. Who wouldn’t have wanted to see what that strange din was all about?

The racket came from the Ds’ house, a very familiar one to me. I crossed the front lawn when I didn’t see Mr. D’s car in the drive. He was a bit daunting with his Navy tattoos –anchors and mermaids– on both big arms and his drinking like… well, like a sailor. He could get pretty grumpy after he’d had a few. I’d never dare to drop in there unless the Ds’ daughter Dolly was home, and even then I got pretty nervous until I could be sure he had his mood more or less under control.

You could have called Dolly my girlfriend, I suppose, so I knew she was away at a camp in Maine. She’d been going there summers for years. I sometimes wondered why she hadn’t gotten tired of the place. In any case, Dolly was an only child; if she was gone, then Mrs. D must be alone.

Her daughter called Mrs. D. a bottle-blonde.  She sneered a little when she said that, but I always figured she felt bitter, knowing she’d never be so beautiful. Oh, Dolly was nice-looking, all right. Just not in her mother’s league.

Now understand, I’ve never been some creepy voyeur, not even as an adolescent, when hormones were raging enough to make me half-crazy at times. Maybe I can’t claim I was completely guiltless that afternoon, but it wouldn’t be quite right to blame me, either.

The Ds’ house was close to mine, and as I say, I knew it well. My parents disapproved of television, and we didn’t have one at home. In fact, the Ds’ TV may actually have been my main reason for hanging out with Dolly. You don’t have to tell me it sounds terrible. Looking back, I can beat myself up about that without any help. That, and plenty of other things.

I remember dark winter afternoons after school, when we two would go down to the basement and tune in “Queen for a Day,” which we liked to poke fun at. There’d be some poor old lady weeping with joy over the washing machine or the oven or the medical help she was going to get just for being the most miserable person in the studio, as determined by the audience’s response to her pathetic story. The sadder her situation, the louder the applause. Was that really a win? We didn’t think about such a matter.

Dolly and I also engaged, when we dared, in some teenage groping. Nothing too heavy-duty, though.

One day as we watched our program, just holding hands, she and I felt as though we were being watched. It turned out to be only Bobo, a short-legged neighborhood mongrel, mixed Dalmatian and basset. He was out there in the fog, looking through the window as if he were also enjoying what he saw. From then on, we noticed that he seemed to show up whenever we had the set tuned in.

“He must look at TV Guide,” Dolly joked after we’d caught him three or four times.

But I’ve strayed from my account, which back then I never dreamed I’d consider sad too.

The ear-splitting music was something corny, all trembly strings. When I looked through the cellar window and into what I thought of as the TV room, I saw Dolly’s mom holding her mop handle like a microphone. She was obviously singing, although I couldn’t hear her at all over the blaring radio. Her eyes were half-closed, and all she had on was her underwear, frilly and black, the kind I’d seen once or twice in my older cousin Drayton’s Playboys.

I really wanted to run, but before I could, Mrs. D opened her eyes and locked them on mine. I froze. I had nowhere to go. I was just there. To my astonishment, she smiled a bit woozily and waved me around to her back door. I don’t know why I felt I had to obey, even though all I wanted to do was escape.

After she opened up, Mrs. D reeled back to that basement room. I dutifully followed, trying not to watch her body jiggle. Suddenly, she pivoted and hugged me, all in one motion. I froze again, almost fainting with shyness, and turned my head away from her, no matter that, like every boy I knew, I’d always said that I’d give my right arm for a moment pretty much like this one. She was pretty as a model or a movie actress.

I just couldn’t lay eyes on her. Don’t ask me why.

She didn’t embrace me for long at all. Letting out a big sigh, or a huff rather, she grabbed a robe from a chair, put it on, and led me– or pushed me– back to where I’d come in.

She seemed angry, but what had I done?

Next day, swearing him to secrecy, I told my classmate Patrick about what had happened, though I didn’t really go into detail. Once he saw I wasn’t lying, Pat said I had to repent, which was not a word I was used to hearing. Pat’s dad worked for the Knights of Columbus, though I’m not sure what his job was. I couldn’t see how I’d go about repenting, or even quite why, and my friend didn’t pursue the matter.

Truth is, I believe Pat was plain jealous. He kept pressing me for more than I wanted to give. I told him that she wore those lacey underthings and that she hugged me, but only for an instant. Everything else I left vague. Of course, there wasn’t much else, come to think of it.

Patrick never learned how in that briefest of moments, I could feel her heart and mine beating together. I remember the sensation quite well, maybe better than anything else from that afternoon.

Once Mrs. D. had ushered me out, I looked through that little window again. She was obviously crying. She’d turned off her radio and stood the mop in its sudsy bucket. Still wearing that rather ragged robe, she stood in the middle of the room herself, not even moving, except for her hands, which she kept clenching and unclenching.

Strange: I suddenly felt like I could care more about Dolly now than I ever had before. I couldn’t imagine how I’d face her, though, when she got back from her camp, let alone how I’d face her mom. I’d have to write Dolly a letter if I could find an address up there. I’d just say we were through, and leave it at that, because there didn’t seem any way to tell her why. I only knew I couldn’t go down to that basement again. The whole business made me pretty unhappy.

I knew this meant no more TV, either. That was a long way from what troubled me most, though– not that I could precisely identify what the real trouble was.

Mrs. D seemed awfully young when she died, at least much younger than my own mom,  who, when I asked her about it, simply told me, with a puzzling look on her face, They say she liked her wine.

He beholds a ragged windrow of snow,
dull remnant, and wonders if drink or dope
might not kiss him and make him better.
The writer knows they wouldn’t, couldn’t,
or hopes he knows it, hopes he’ll recall
the gloom and sometimes utter madness
he left in his wake, for him and all.
The windrow is dun, tarnished by duff.
He sits benumbed at midday, no matter
that in this place, far north, at last
the hillsides’ modest display has come,
primed to explode once April is over

into all the hues that neither he
nor anyone else will ever depict.
That palette will always defy mere words.
He hears two men– Bill Frisell, Jim Hall–
whose guitars play “I’ll Remember April.”
Yes, he concludes, to speak is encroachment,
while the music sounds eloquent, masterful.
But even if power of speech sufficed,
Who would care, he wonders, and why?
The writer knows he must marshal patience,
mindful that something always comes.
Or better perhaps, nothing does. Yesterday,

those same musicians half-broke his heart,
but uncannily  –though of course familiar,
he thinks, to any lover of art–
at the same that they reassured.
What’s wrong today? he asks this noon,
as if the question were something new
and an answer something he’d find on his own.
He has used old useless tricks, compiled
a list of people, for one example,
he ought to be thankful for. It was easy
to make it lengthy. Yet here he perches,
jaw set, prepared for life to crumble,

to go to pieces, as in fact it hasn’t
for decades now. (Beyond the music,
he hears glass breaking; voices blare.)
He feels such an urge to make things mean,
including his mood. He’s had that longing,
drunk or sober, all his life.
Outside, ungainly flakes start falling
that seem to resemble mica or talc–
unsnowy stuff at least. They stipple
the field. The guitarists’ tune has stopped.
Volition will put each white dot out,
the way one might a row of candles,

erase the gray-brown drift of snow
he considered only instants ago,
abolish the few inchoate leaves,
and make that raven with a twig in its bill
dissolve in sky, as it does. Or rather,
his God, or call It what you will,
can darken every light until
what he conceives as his spirit breaks,
as it did so often years ago,
and then, thank God, it broke forever–
or so in his addledness he fancied.
It was there that his life could start all over.

Stay broken, he mutters. Life can start over.

All of a sudden, a crowd,
most of us pretty much strangers,
which seems to me– well, strange:
our village and others here
in this stretch of valley are tiny.
But John, who’s been the chief
of the volunteer fire department
for years, shows up exactly
as the ambulance crew appears.

I do know John. We live
on the same back road. He’s quiet
and decent. He sees what we’ve seen,
blood on the gravel to her,
tangled up in the weeds.
Roof-down, that’s her old crate
in the brook. There’s a gallon of milk
in a bottle, standing straight up
on the tar. The glass didn’t break.
A miracle. I’ve heard

someone say about our town,
it’s a place where all of us fight
and all of us love our neighbor.
Everything in her sack
was strewed or squashed or smashed,
except the jug of milk,
which she bought at a neighborhood dairy,
and that’s why it came in glass,
not a grocery store container, 

the waxy kind. One man
thinks the woman came to his church
a time or two, then stopped.
The EMTs do something
to her skull with a sort of sleeve
made out of metal and cloth
before they load her up.
Does anyone know where she lives,
or lived? John shoots me a look,

not good. She might have done better
if she were made of glass.
I know that’s stupid. I’m thinking
a bunch of ridiculous jabber,
but I’m also thinking about
my family, how bad things happen
not just to bad people. Of course,
that lady is a stranger–
so good or bad? Who knows?

I want to be asleep
or learning to play piano
or oiling the .32-.20
my uncle left to me,
though it’s not deer season. Besides,
I don’t hunt them in my old age.
I wish I’d been doing something
that wouldn’t have let me arrive
in the first place at what’s here before me.

Whatever it was, it would suit me.