Each night we cross a threshold where
No good can come of it: the hour's too late
For any friendly call. And if it rang?
Either a wrong number or something elseworsewrong.
The ring's so much louder once we turn off the light...
And so we drift off to an unformed prayer:
Let no word come to me tonight
From anyone out there.
A guest in an old summer house, you navigate
Dark hallways to a room whose antique tub is brimming
With moonlight, find the switchand hesitate.
They'd vanish at a touch: all those who, down the years,
Stripped and lay naked here. Everything disappears
So easilywater to light, light dimming
To memory, memory slipping into dream...
Here's your wan lover, waiting in a wash of steam.
A light turns on inside you like the light in it
And you half-wake from your half-doze:
Its sleepy hum's the sated hum of someone who
Ate nearly everything. It ate the halibut,
The ham, the Jello, the ragout, the jam, the fake
Crab roll, the capers, ketchup, frozen wedding cake...
And goes on humming while it grows
Hungry for you.
Maybe it comes up from below,
Or through a raised window. Anyway, there's no choice:
You listen to your neighbor's radio...
Or listen to his listening,
Since you can't make out anything
Beyond the murmur of a tale whose narrow plot
Is clear: somebody else can't sleep. You're hearing not
A voice so much as hunger for a voice.
All but white in the moonlight, a stripped skeleton
Under a February moon, the tree outside
Your bedroom window has been purified
Gradually, losing all signs
Of life by slow degree, except the one:
The way, when the wind's right, the bony branches bend
To the glass, tap-tap a few lines,
As thought greeting a friend.
It watches over you from down below,
Singing the Lullaby of Warmth. They all
Join in, none of them dead, a choir
Of parents, grandparents, grandparents' parents...Small
As a thumb, you're back in a cave once more.
Time hasn't started yet. We do not know
We do not know. Outside the cave's mouth, predator
Howls after prey. Within, the old ones tend the fire.
Brad Leithauser, Poetry, The Poetry Foundation, July/August, 2007.