From Navigation (The Habit of Rainy Nights Press, 2012)
He looks around, around, and he sees
angels in the architecture, spinning
in infinity, and he says ‘amen’ and ‘hallelujah’.
— Paul Simon
I wait always for the bells
from the church behind my house.
the neighbors’ yelling, the vacant house
next door. Nine-thirty, they sound
31 times. I’m still asking
about the number, eliminating beads
on the rosary, age when crucified. Maybe
a verse, a psalm, the trinity plus one.
Even the almost-priest doesn’t know.
after the bells, twin spires silent, two carved
angels resting in stone — I hear singing.
Faint — a small joy warming. I lean out
my window to find it, see a man smiling up
at me, waving. Waving back I pull my head in,
move to find my husband, and the singing stops.
The man vanishes. His song fades into children
on the street. I am thinking of how
my cat will die tomorrow — she’s old, wasted
down to bone. Of how the bells return
every weekend. Of how the man
is like a ghost, taken back to the low-income
apartments, the market rushing trash into
the street greens. One yellow tomcat
in my yard watched by two angels.
At any moment
any of them could open into song.
When he’s late, you don’t assume
he’s stopped for milk
or is stuck behind a train.
Instead, you picture metal against metal,
slick streets and overturned cars,
sirens, the voice of the woman
from the hospital when she calls
to tell you the news.
You think about the sound you would make —
first silence, then an opening like blinding
light, collapsing into a slide of scree.
Which friend would you call first?
How would you get to the ER?
And afterwards, would you give up
your life and move away
You think of how the sun breaks
on the window of the church
behind your house, tumbles
down the walls into the street.
Conjure the scent of cigars and rain
as he curls around you from the cold side
of the bed. Wonder why you yell
at the dog when what you mean to do
is change the way you live.
So you’re drawn to the disasters
in the news. The shipwrecks,
plane crashes, bombings. The story
of the ladies of Locherbie
collecting the clothes of the dead —
torn, bloodstained — how they washed
them as best they could, folding and pressing
each shirt, each dress, and returning
them to the families like sleeping ghosts.
When you can’t sleep, you invent
what could happen. You imagine the pain.
You can’t place it, it isn’t yours. But you
hold it in your hands like a stone,
roll it over and over, feel the weight.
You can’t imagine putting it down.
Your shoulders tighten like clouds before
a storm, the deep blue sky moving in.
But then he pulls into the drive, the dog
wakes and stirs, you hear the key in the lock.
And you’re done imagining the woman
without a husband, the husband spinning
into this tree, that guardrail.
The ambulance, the helicopters,
the world a potential falling.
The man at the watch counter watching us
says I don’t question how angels come to me
we have chosen the watch
he didn’t know he wanted
he wants one too calls us
angels I feel the nubs of wings turn
my eyes to him rough something
renegade leather torn edges
his partner thin more frail a watch
for him too two identical watches
identical to the one we’ve chosen
but do not buy I feel the nubs of wings
remember the flocking
sandhill cranes surprising us
among geese taller and voices
lifted the brown bodies walking
through wetland soft rain coming
in wind hundreds walking opening
wings and dancing calling
across cold spring afternoon
how often do we get to be angels
nothing to do with watches
with wings or not wings
two men buying identical watches
us turning away from timekeeping
I don’t question how angels come