Talking on the phone


Reading Poems at the Grange Meeting
in What Must Be Heaven
Collected in: My Brother Running


How else to explain that odd,
perfect supper – the burnished
lasagna squares, thick
clusters of baked
beans, cole slaw pink

with beet juice? How else
to tell of fluorescent
lights touching their once-familiar
faces, of pipes branching over
their heads from the warm

furnace-tree, like no tree on earth --
or to define the not-quite
dizziness of going
up the enclosed, turning
stair afterward to find them

in the room of the low
ceiling, dressed as if for play?
Even Dolly Lee, talked into coming
to this town thirty
years ago from California,

wears a blue sash,
leaving each curse against winters
and the black fly far
behind. And beside her
Francis, who once did the talking,

cranking his right hand
even then, no doubt, to jump-
start his idea, here uses his hand
to raise a staff, stone silent,
a different man. For the Grange

meeting has begun, their fun
of marching serious-faced together
down the hall to gather
stout Bertha who bears the flag
carefully ahead of herself

like a full
dust-mop, then
marching back again,
the old floor making long
cracking sounds

under their feet like late
pond ice that will not break --
though now the whole group stands
upon it, hands
over their hearts. It does not matter

that the two retarded men, who in the other
world attempted haying for Mrs. Carter,
stand here beside her
pledging allegiance in words
they themselves have never heard.

It does not matter
that the Worthy Master,
the Worthy Overseer
and the Secretary sit back
down at desks

donated by School District
#54 as if all three were
in fifth grade: everyone here
seems younger – the shiny baldheaded
ones, the no longer old

ladies, whose spectacles
fill with light as they
look up, and big Lenny
too, the trucker, holding the spoons
he will play soon

and smiling at me as if
the accident that left
the long cheek scar and mashed
his ear never happened. For I
am rising

with my worn folder
beside the table of potholders,
necklaces made from old newspaper
strips and rugs braided
from rags. It does not matter

that in some narrower time
and place I did not want
to read to them on
Hobby Night. What matters is
that standing in – how else

to understand it – the heaven
of their wonderment,
I share the best
thing I can make – this stitching
together of memory

and heart-scrap, this wish
to hold together Francis,
Dolly Lee, the Grange Officers,
the retarded men and everybody
else here levitating

ten feet
above the dark
and cold and regardless
world below them and me
and poetry.



Photograph: Meeting House on Easter Day, North Berwick, Maine