A bedroll out on the sidewalk, a drunk
asleep, my father noted, building smashed,
my mother jarred awake, the Atlantic
between them. “Something has happened to George!
But he’s okay!” her story repeated—
how she knew, how knowing was a curse:
what if someday he were dead? She would know.
This was her fear, that her vaunted sixth sense
would betray her. The dead make that last call,
I know, like my late friend, gone at thirty.
Her story ended happily for us—
our lives continued with the survivor’s—
so naturally I liked the story.
Where would I be otherwise? Not here.

I was twelve when we went to Normandy,
saw Omaha Beach, Blois’ thrice-curved stairway,
ate a seven-course meal, or so it seemed,
with a family my grandfather knew, bourgeois.
The old lady, lost in her reverie,
wasn’t lost on me. Even then I knew
where memory can take you. It must be
some remnant of my past, my own sixth sense,
aware what burns in us, what flows—fire
or river, call it what you will. He was
manifestly there, Joe, the grandfather
who waltzed through France twice, remembered fondly.
This was my twelve-year-old version; the truth
is more complicated, or maybe not.

In war, tomorrow is all that matters—
the day after will take care of itself.
I can’t say this was my father’s credo.
Perhaps it was “live for the day,” but that
lacks his optimism, always believing
that he’d manage to survive, looked out for,
although for what reason, who knew? The gods
were not to be questioned. Just go with it.
In peace, today matters more, so begin
by setting aside whatever can be—
not dust from the road but motes in the eye
that blind us to another’s unfolding.
Living in time, we prove as mutable
as Heraclitus’ river: not the same.

Sometimes the wind blows the curtains outward
and the reveries begin: how it was,
how it was whether it proved false or true.
It all comes back, mocking those distinctions.
I have them too. Don’t think I can forget!
Did my grandfather? Love leaves its traces.
There is no black and white, to me, just was,
just was with its smells, sounds, tactility—
its fecundity fulfilled and thwarted.
Reveries leave us afloat, not yet sunk
beneath the waves with no apparent sign
of wreckage, no survivors, a true end
or so it seems, yet always the debris
washes up, bleached, takes on a new meaning.

A collage of fractured images including a burning barn and an airship

The trajectories of the lives we lead
embrace like lovers and then sometimes don’t,
ripped from each other’s arms, perhaps, or else
sacrificed to some higher truth and lost
to another for a time. No matter
how long or short it proves to be, point is
we unfold along with life, cannot know.
Our folly is to pretend to ourselves
we do, pretend we are exempt from this.
The glancing blows we suffer in consequence
are from the outset almost guaranteed,
yet we persist, driven on by longing.
Persevere! This is our human fate.
There’s no way to know except to embrace.

“Won’t repeat them,” I was told, yet mistakes,
like the rest, are never quite the same
from one to the next. We blunder anew.
Pointless to think we won’t, although we do.
Life admits no duality. Mistakes
cohabit with perfection. The pure
lie down in the mud, snort and roll around
like the animals they are, enlightened
for blazing moments and then not at all.
When you ruled progress out, I read, “Just sit!”
“Just sit!” is all there is. Mind lands on walls,
delusions persist: some call this practice.
As destiny shapes us haphazardly,
don’t expect error not to follow suit.

Signs abound. We wonder which pertain to us.
We know the telltale ones our bodies make,
stigmata of desire, clear or hidden.
The god Eros is indiscriminate
and we have only hints of what we seek.
Mars too may be like this, strewing the beach
with false hopes, each abandoned with a cry
amid rattling of guns, cannon fire.
Alone within the crowd, they beg the god
to spare them. Thus the usual process
is narrowed to the depth of a beachhead,
and when it’s attained, there’s no turning back—
those who live press on. Above the beach
the luckless dead lie buried in long rows.

Once Karen said, “What the gods give us
cannot be rejected, being their gifts.”
I believe we have some hand in our fate,
choosing its broad outlines. Perhaps karma
does this for us, so eventually we
are content to be, accepting as given
life’s real nature and our place within it.
Moving in and out with the tide, curlews
haunt the beach, not questioning its bounty.
They find sustenance with alacrity
and did so even then, despite the dead—
the last living things glanced by some of them.
We often affirm how lucky we are.
That luck begins with being here at all.

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