No one knows the question we should be
asking, the one that leads to the answer
we will not otherwise conceive. Possibly,
each possibility will remain unknown
until the moment—if it does—arrives,
its presence stepping forth into our own.
Once, I was an orphan, caught between
one world and another, and then I stood
on a library ladder, reading “the soft
breeze can come to none more grateful
than me.” There were other shelves, other
lives, words that might have granted
a mind beyond the one I wander now.
History mumbles through so many drafts.
A soldier sleeps in snow in woods he’ll
never quite return from sixty years later.
Belief is merely one horizon, assurance
another. One song I found pulled me up
out of a miry pit and made my footsteps
firm. All my words have been spoken
to death, which, as an idea, is not as
interesting as the sound of a temple bell
coming out of the flowers in Basho’s poem.
Once, someone will say of me, trying
to remember, breaking off into nouns
and verbs, into phrases, a few of which
might come close to revealing how often
I stooped to a lily’s face, how I wept
upon hearing of refugees lost at sea.
From one step to the next, one breath
to the next, we are always one word
from the last one we’ll breathe. How
long, O Lord, can love waken in us?
What if the sniper, just today, chose
a different allegory to abide inside?
There’s what we see and what we can’t
see and what we don’t know of what
we won’t conceive of in the first place.
There’s a boy stepping onto a train because
it’s 1942. There’s someone translating
Shakespeare in the ghetto. Each word,
each moment, is a miry pit. There's
the silence of an emptiness at the core
of each thought. There’s a word we
might find that redeems all the others,
yet tomorrow and the next day we still
won’t have found a way to altar our voice
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