Monday, January 16, 2006

Traffic Jam (revised)

Inside the sky
a long arch of leaves

and inside the arch
four lines of cars.

Inside a black Mercedes
behind a partition

a man protects
what’s left of his life.


‘Too young by half,’ Joan says.
He is thinking about

Sue’s depression, and finding it
lacking in logic, raises

a can of Bud and drinks in
the news that his wife knows.

What difference does it make?
he thinks out loud.


…Till all thy living altars claim
one holy light, one heavenly

The mourners
mouthed embarrassment

to their chests. Hymnbooks
flapped, ovens whirred, and still

the awful crem harmonium
squeaks psalms in his head.


When does a lie become
a reinvention? He adored Sue

in his way. ‘I’m an architect,’
he told her. Lies worn lightly

are easy to field. ‘What’s wrong?’
she’d ask. ‘I love you’,

he’d reply. The sun flings pins
at the wound-up window.


Cause of death, liver failure.
‘To avoid the stigma,’

the doctors confided.
He slides the verdict

into the mausoleum
of his brain; a half-truth

to each cell. It took Sue
three weeks with paracetamol.


When Joan smiles, her wrinkles
harden like leaves stiffened

in frost. Bullets of light
crack the ceiling

of summer branches. He grieves
for the certainty of a room

rented by the hour, for Sue’s
mild breath. Joan smiles.


He told Sue he liked things
as they were. She showered,

locked the bathroom door
for hours until he promised

a long weekend in Dunoon,
the weekend he opened

the Barolo and made love
to Joan, thought of Sue.


If he tries, he can hold
the dead at a distance

the precise length
of the pastor’s tribute,

or the funnel of trees
that frame the sky ahead,

or the span between love
and rage, short as breath.


Death; he blanks it out.
Cocktails on Monday

at the Clarkes, then home
to twenty-four-hour TV,

feelings blocked in scheduled slots.
Joan says, ‘We’ll manage.’

He has a mind to wipe
that tear off her face.


The leaves are thick,
but thin strips of light

spindle down his black tie.
When the road opens up

to the sky’s vacant glare,
he fears losing

himself in so much space,
in white and boxless air.


Beyond the partition
outside the car, the trees

draw back their branches,
and the sky waits

for a cloud, for a haircut
on Tuesday, for a man

it doesn’t know to step out,
to dissolve in light, in pain.

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