Alternate Endings to the Same Day
1. March Snow
A white fog creeps into the corners of the night,
Tracing the contours of the moonlit neighborhood,
Twisting its fingers through the limbs of broken trees,
Caressing vigilant trashcans, capped white like painted waves,
And terracotta pots like ice cream cones with flowers
Buried in deliciousness, and sleeping houses’ eaves
Jeweled with glittering and unreflective daggers.
This is the end of winter, the storm-gods’ final rite.
Soon badgers and raccoons will journey from their holes
To sniff the daffodils dangling in curious sunlight
And nibble at the hollowed corpses of smaller creatures,
Emerging like secrets in the green awakening.
Soon Spring will cast the seeds of judgment on the mud
Scorched black by ground-frost, and the earth with fresh wildflowers
Will blaze as bright as terror. But now the somnolence,
The snowfall lullaby, the midnight street wrapped tight
In a cerement of white repetition, a gauze curtain
Transparent as habit, through which stars glimmer yellow
And cold, like wolves’ eyes in dark brambles. Outside,
I stand amid the swarm of soft white flakes that fall
Like ash from an invisible wildfire over everything
And stick my tongue out like a child to taste and see.
Within the dream the house is burning,
The stairs, scrolled balustrade, and walls,
The ceiling and the floor alive
With molten gold and orange and red
Tongues, manifold and hollering,
A glossolalia that baffles the outer dark,
In which a crowd of half-dressed onlookers
Have assembled in reverence and dread.
The blaze excoriates their eyes.
The women’s white nightgowns and chests
Glow lurid pink. At the edge of the yard
On the corner sidewalk, they gather together
Beneath a stop-sign, saying nothing
While smoke and cinders whirl constellations
Through starless darkness overhead:
There is nothing to be said.
A few of us move, vague as shadows,
Across the yard and through the house,
Holding large cardboard boxes full
Of smoldering wood and burning embers,
The boxes slightly cumbersome,
Slightly too warm to carry comfortably
And self-evidently useless,
But we must bear them: this is a dream.
There is no water for the fire
And we must bear the fire away,
Whatever of it we can carry
Held in our arms like a terrible love.
There is no place to put it down
And no one will offer help, or guidance.
No one has any words to say.
There’s just the fire, the house of fire,
The muted movements of the night:
We hope for no apparent reason
The boxes we carry will not break.
And now I’m running, frantic, shouting
Words swallowed in the fire’s jealous roar,
Arms weary with the weight I bear,
And know I’ll bear eternities,
Into glacial light where I wake.
Small Fruit, Possibly Edible
Pinks, greens, and yellows, spring’s bright gaucheries,
Enraptured by the logic of the light,
All quiver with the slightest wind like kids
Who’ve seen a corpse. You put your hope in these?
A messenger of the unending night,
Aloof, a plague of grackles held suspended,
A bodied shadow, I’ll endure my time
Here with these dears so long as nature bids,
But I’ll be proven, when brightest things have ended,
Strongest, who was a darkness in my prime.
And maybe we would be
With afternoon cascading
Through windows its clean light
On tabletop and chair,
Perched here, uncertainly,
In peppermint-thick air,
As on life’s final shore,
The horizon’s bouquet fading
Into the kingdom of night.
The kids roll on the rugs
And cry for sandwiches.
Women, richly perfumed,
Excavate their purses.
We all know we’re doomed,
All dreaming of the drugs
That will, like Orpheus’ verses,
Charm the shades that claim
Whatever ever is,
And soon call every name.
A mighty meaning gleams
Now from the delicate
Acts of each blessed day,
And sweetness seems the fate
Of all life, however brief:
Sweetness beyond belief
In children’s violent play,
The neighbor washing his car,
Our secret, desperate schemes—
In all things, as they are.
Let us forgive each other.
Let us be quiet and kind.
It all ends, and so soon:
A passing afternoon,
This splendor and this glory.
There is no other story.
What you seek, here, you find.
Lullaby for a Suburban Summer Evening
When the wind-up figurines wind up on dusty shelves,
And the lamplight pins shadow-butterflies up against the walls,
And the silence extends to us a presentiment of unknown selves
And the evening we have begged for all day quietly falls;
When, over the chimneypots, the bats go flitting by
And fireflies wheel brief constellations through the yard,
When the clock’s chipped new shapes from the marble alibi
And the hackers have maxed out another Discover card;
When the uneaten food rots in the glutted garbage bin
And the rabbit unearths nuts squirrels hid in the flowerbed,
And the last light circles the horizon like a savage fin,
And smoky tresses undulate around the world’s untroubled head;
When the Gmail account can offer us no new messages
And the laptop, and the children, are falling asleep,
When the pulse of the crickets is all that there is,
And, through open windows’ curtains, the astral breezes sweep,
And the house is no shelter, but only brick and wood,
And the barflies keep drinking more drinks till their throats parch,
When tranquility sifts down on the drowsy neighborhood,
You can hear, if you’re quiet, the dark night on march.
“Lullaby for a Suburban Summer Evening” reprinted from The Stranger World, Measure Press, 2017, with permission from the author.
Ryan Wilson is the Editor-in-Chief of Literary Matters and the author of The Stranger World (Measure Press, 2017), winner of the Donald Justice Poetry Prize. His work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Five Points, The Hopkins Review, The New Criterion, The Sewanee Review, and The Yale Review. He is currently the Office Manager and C.F.O. of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW), and he teaches at The Catholic University of America and in the graduate program at Western State Colorado University. He lives with his wife north of Baltimore.