It was the year we decided not
to get divorced. The poem
said something like clouds
moving quickly across the sun
while the rest of us talked about faith
and how my personal level of intensity
in faking it is one way to measure
the depth of the drop I’d have to make
before I could turn over in bed
toward a window open to the night
and spotty rain dotting leaves
with light caught from porch lamps
and know that what I’d imagined
to be time drained of sound
was the purest sound,
one person turning away from another
into a cone formed by his turning.
We sat on the porch while the kids napped
and watched light rise and fall
through clouds moving quickly across the sun
like distractions from a vital and complex truth
that requires too many pages of exegesis
for people with days like ours,
time’s version of an optical illusion,
both too long and too short
for anything like actual thinking.
I remember one of the many unsolicited
pieces of advice we got when Elmer
was coming along—don’t make any major
decisions until he’s one, you’ll be too
tired to get it right. So naturally
we changed jobs and moved across the country.
I can’t even remember who gave us that advice.
They’re probably out of our lives now.
And what’s in them, these six and something
years out of your forty and my almost
that we’ve been spinning through together,
watching our obligations mount
around sensations that folded out of us
from zones of our beings we hadn’t
seen before, like a third arm you’d
somehow failed to notice, an us
both alien and uncannily us,
children, a marriage, an unexpected love—
these things have taken over,
brushed aside whatever
was there before
like an anxious developer.
This force is of
our own making but comically
has no regard for us, like that arm
is a whole body, two bodies,
tugging us along wherever they feel like going,
the most dangerous places they can find.
I was writing that line on my phone
while following fifteen-month-old Harlan
doing his duck walk down a wheelchair ramp.
He leaned way over the side of it
to look at some smooth rocks on the ground
and, as I got to the word “dangerous,”
toppled down into them.
So much for art, some might say,
but not me, I just learned
how many people have put videos online
with the words “spectacular sunset” in their titles,
there’s one after another.
I’d made one myself, a video I mean,
because the sun had ducked
behind an unmoving cloud
at the horizon, and I knew from the internet
how long it would take the sun to reappear
in the gap between the bottom edge of the cloud
and the top edge of the earth,
a sun-sized gap dotted with its own
minor cloud variants
there to complicate the image,
a sun moving slowly behind clouds,
and I felt a low note being struck within,
something I’ve learned is not sadness
but gratitude in unknowing,
a feeling that is hard but porous,
that dissipates like short rain
steaming off its first idea of the ground.
Dark pink reformatting the blue,
dark pink lights of our forever car,
dark pink of hippies, dark pink life tassels,
dark pink “to fly,” as you put it,
“by the night of our pants.”
I don’t know where the night goes,
but I know we’ll be awake,
and why, this long year of nights
when people standing right next to us
broke in half and spilled everywhere
just because they paid attention.
We don’t have an exact date
for when we got engaged,
there was no moment, no single question
but instead weeks of them
while an idea changed from something we could do
into something we would, it was gestational,
like this year has been, a year I hope is over.
I’m glad you’re turning forty. I wish I were, too.
I need a number for what we’ve come through,
our second engagement, longer than the first,
permanent, in fact, the questions of questions
and the answer we give—
give, deny, and give again.
Copyright © 2017 Paul Killebrew
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.