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Without Warning

Elizabeth Bishop leaned on a table, it cracked,

both fell to the floor. A gesture

gone sadly awry. This was close to fact

and quickly became symbolic, bound to occur

in Florida, where she was surrounded

by rotting abundance and greedy insects.

One moment a laughing smile, a graceful hand

alighting on solid furniture,

a casual shift of weight,

the next, undignified splayed legs.

The shell of the table

proved to be stuffed with termite eggs.

True, it was a fall from no great height—

merely the height of herself,

and although the hollowed-out table failed,

at least the floor held,

though probably infested by termites as well,

and possibly built on a latent sinkhole‚

how can you tell?

And how could she, smiling and easy,

arm moving without forethought and permission,

have forgotten fear, apparently

let go of a hard-learned lesson?

Enter a room as though it is strange.

What you recognize may have changed,

or may change without warning.

Trees fall in hurricanes

and on windless mornings,

breaching houses where people you knew

have vanished or died or stopped loving you.

She regained her feet, already composed,

brushing dust from an elbow. There would be a bruise,

but it would remind her that words are full of holes;

flung hard, like paper they fly sideways.

And a call to joy—a landscape, a face—

may, though scarcely moving, perhaps by not moving, go

in one breath from heartening to ominous,

proving to children who need more proof

that we don’t know what we know.

from Debt to the Bone-Eating SnotflowerFind it in the library

Copyright © 2013 Sarah Lindsay
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Published in Poems Sarah Lindsay

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.