Why is a window like
a door frame, only glassy and full
of promise and shards? Why does a raindrop
glimmer on a leaf like a runway mode
while the rain in my hair turns me to mud
like a golem? Why does the word enfeebled
sound so lovely lately? I’ve just discovered it
and already it is a favorite, applied to tomatoes
and pets and the ticking around the mole
that has found my arm hospitable.
The old man in line at the theatre last night
was wearing elastic-waisted pants
and orthopedic shoes. Is that a sign of things to come?
I’m old enough to remember
how his other wife said he went out
for orange juice one morning
and didn’t come back for a week.
A minute with a maid my ass, she said.
When he left her, she set all of his things on fire
in the front yard. Bon voyage! she cried
from the porch, stirring a bowlful of batter
for the children’s pancakes.
Why does the answer to every question
seem to be it is part of the aging process?
She said she couldn’t make her breasts
go back to the starting gate six kids later
and that he could tee hee hee tittyfuck the next one
all the way home. It makes one wonder
about the direct ratio between the body
and the mind. Enfeebled. It sounds like a child
buried in a blanket crocheted with yellow daisies.
Who was your father, death, and your father’s father?
When were you born? Who loved you once?
What was your best friend’s last name?
Do you cry at the movies sometimes?
Do you remember what it was like to be expeller-pressed
into someone’s dark arms, swaddled and loved?
To be unable to speak or move,
just an errant cry in the night?
Or are you the first of your kind, a species
yet unidentified, ancestry unknown?
Do you arrange the end so that it comes in
seven signs you can see if you are looking,
like the seven hills of Rome and Jerusalem,
the seven samurai, the seven seas, seventh heaven,
the seven omens I received before that trip I took
and nearly died on? I think you were watching out for me, then,
or maybe just watching me, one never knows with men like you.
I think sometimes you’ve had a little crush on me. Oh death.
You stud. First my keys got locked in the car in South Pomona,
then I shattered a window with a rock,
three twelve year olds on skateboards
who called me ma’am asked for my wallet
at knifepoint, the lost cat, the lost airplane ticket,
the twenty thousand dollar margin
from the house that didn’t have any margins—
I can hardly go on! All of these telling me not to go
before I went and almost perished,
first of ennui, then an explosion on the Autobahn.
I know, I was warned, and warned again,
and did not turn back.
Does death mean never having to say you’re sorry?
The Talmud says you’ve limited yourself
to 903 ways you could come knocking.
Do you play with that figure in the off-years,
are you still open for invention,
do you innovate? Will my heart
stall out in the end, like the van outside Stuttgart,
as the flames leap from my head?
Will a gentleman in a top hat
come for me under the auspice of a visit
over high tea? Will I have time to brush my teeth?
Did you ever think of replacing hearts with safety glass
in the 90s, so they would not splinter
so completely in the end? Dean Young
bought a new heart for about $250,000—
so I own approximately 0.005% of it now,
a share of a share in a charitable trust.
I should call and ask after my millimeter
of arterial vein. What words
have sprouted from that minute shoot
these past couple of years? I can see him from here,
looking much like I imagine you to look,
lying under a pale quilt
on a four poster bed, old lady hairs
coming our of his chin, a wolf in a granny cap,
swallowing his long sharp teeth so I can’t see them
before he whispers to me, as you will,
one day, in that sweet woolen whisper,
I can’t refuse. Come in, little poet.
Heather Altfeld’s first book, “The Disappearing Theatre” won the Poets at Work Book Prize, selected by Stephen Dunn. Her poems appear in Narrative Magazine, Pleiades, ZYZZYVA, and others. She is the recipient of the 2017 Robert H. Winner Award with the Poetry Society of America and the 2015 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. She lives in Chico, CA and has just completed two new poetry collections.