A hand reaches across
the sheets and shakes me.
It’s gone before I can tell
whose it is. Suddenly
the summer is half over,
the longest day of the year
past. Poised at the top
of an arc, the point
between rising and sinking, I gaze
down at myself struggling
to remember the words
she shouted from the balcony of a dream.
I lean out the window, betray
my confidence in everyone.
Above gravestones of sprinklers
a rainbow archway
hangs like a gate.
I’m not afraid
to be this near zero.
I’ll stay up all day.

In summer we have time
to think too much.
The dawn is a book
printed clear red,
in the language of this
gray world. I imagine spending
the whole day folding lawn chairs,
feeding the columns of insects
that march past my porch.
But there’s more to it than that, why
the possibilities are endless, words
clutter every page!
I watch the neighbors leave
as if moving toward
a softer trajectory,
a more eloquent ending, but
the target’s the same, always
halfway to somewhere
you never wanted to go.

What I’m looking for
is a straight line to anywhere,
through the shifting bridgework
of messages that connects
our separate cliff dwellings,
the metaphor
that makes it across.
It’s too late,
but this careful trail
of consonants on every blank
page I fall in love with still
won’t let me rest.
What I need is closer
to body language: a hand
held out at arm’s length,
a foot on the floor, something so
specific I don’t notice it.
What I climb over
getting out of bed.
What I leave behind.

It’s like noon, a brief
pause in the pattern
of events falling past each other.
I don’t believe in this rain the way
I don’t believe in anything
that constant and unchanging.
It’s all a question of belief,
the whole shebang, until
an unexpected passenger swims up
to the side of the boat.
Should I take her aboard, or ride
on in my tiny cup, bailing
thimbles full of tears back
to their own kind, the sea?
I send out for help,
get back an angry reply.
The clouds drift by like
surgeons in their white smocks.
It’s hopeless, hopeless! I welcome
the scalpel that will cut me free.

The destination forgotten,
I only remember I was to meet her
there. The place is nameless
but something steers me, the string
that surrounds her waist,
attached to the emblems
I tuck gently beneath each eyelid,
across the cavity where an ocean
should be. This guidebook doesn’t help
at all; I need to know
what page to turn to, who’s saving
the place where she waits.
I’m toying with an idea,
that one tunnel enters another
and you can’t tell them apart.
I’m lost, a murmur
as of voices behind
a stand of trees reaches me;
the only light I see is late
afternoon. It doesn’t seem right, somehow…

I imagine the life I’m to lead,
pulling a pushcart endlessly
up a long hill.
At the top I roll
the groceries one pound
at a time down the other side,
start again. I’m so busy
I don’t have time to translate
the hieroglyphics above cave
entrances I should turn down
and don’t. One
by one the starfish
appear in the sky, but I don’t
blame you that the days
are getting shorter, or that
this one’s almost gone.
I don’t blame anyone, and I won’t ask
anyone for help. I’ll find
an answer myself, if the question
would come back to mind.

On another shore a net
is spread to dry.
I see a web of wires
stretched across
the whole field of vision,
a huge screen on which
all the scenes of my life
are played in an instant.
I’m tossed by the flurry
of too much, too soon. I have
to alternate nightmares, there
are so many and not
nearly enough time to pursue
a normal, unconsidered life.
— All of this in the sky
and twisted stars. He’s alone,
about as high as you can get.
He’s on to something,
the rocket descending faster
than expected.

Can you feel it? Something
has changed inexplicably, a new
voice picking up the chant.
But the soldiers are trapped
on the wrong side of the river,
they’ve failed,
nothing’s crossed over.
This long orbit turns back
to its origin, still nobody knows the score.
In a halfway house in New Jersey
a mean drunk raises the bottle.
The celebration has gotten out
of hand: we’re past
the hump of the year and headed
rapidly downhill.
I’m repeating myself again.
I’m rehearsing
the step I step back
into bed with,
but it’s not time for that.

I can’t just sit around anymore,
waiting for her kiss to leave
its stain on my cheek. My orbit
barely grazes a hundred
other orbits, passing stiff
shoulder to shoulder.
I’m not getting through
but I have to, because
this tightrope is suspended by nothing
at both ends, and because even
the best known of all angels
is dead. I’m surrounded
by those who’ve survived
uselessly, after-images
cluttering the camera, shutters
snapping closed. I won’t stop here.
I want to follow catastrophe
with an even lovelier garment, like
sleep pulled up over every day
we live though.

The night is longer than it
has been in months.
In this much darkness I feel clumsy,
tripping and stumbling
over literal translations of nothing
I care about: blank air turned
into tables, chairs, the back of
an old calendar soaking up beer,
and the floor of this room
or any other a scale
on which we weigh our lives.
There are more important crossings
than this. I believe
the small boat leaving
the shore is a dream. The man locked inside,
waving his bride’s gun,
is more. His battle
is private, almost done,
but the image holds out
longer than it should.

(Ken Zimmerman 1976, appeared in Plum Creek Review)

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