I began this poem years ago about a neighbor in Indiana. I watched her every day, the slow economy of her gestures. She walked out on to the porch and sat on the swing but didn’t swing. Soon she went back inside. There was never sound from the house. She wore old and unusual dresses. I never saw her go anywhere. I’ve rewritten the poem many times. It was difficult to choose an appropriate self-portrait so I simply didn’t.
The Wife Who Stays
She is on a ship. Under her eyes
are stains like plums. She is not
on a ship. Even the still porch swing
is not gentle enough. No wind. In the narrow
light and maddening hum of the kitchen,
drains open like the mouths
of blind fish. It is enough to live
in a space replete with emptiness,
she grasps it will suffice.
Enough to gather motion in one’s
tense thighs and step forward
into the day, and the day, and the next.
For a snake might smooth out of her.
Christ might climb down for her.
Instead, her measure is inward, static.
A fly batters itself against the window
in a drone, determined, unaware of hope,
or hope’s charming, mercurial twin.
She flinches, but watches.
The momentum of the world
is toward ruin and love, the unchosen
boy said. To freeze and forget
the old heat is the dream
of the heart on this deep sea.
Pay the boatman, Missus. A distant
dog barks as if tomorrow
is at the gate.