Waiting all agog on the Congress Avenue Bridge,
you were worried you’d miss the plague of free-tailed bats, over a million,
fly out from under you, then turn into flecks of legs in your camera.
On a different walkway, in another country, you talked to yourself in the way
you inherited your grandmother’s whispered There you go’s
and There as she fit floral wallpaper inside her mother’s hope chest,
lining it as if letting go of a second coffin.
You didn’t think of passersby in the dark as you told several ghosts you were sorry,
but your attempts at intimacy were like the grizzly’s bluff charges.
People always have to go. Or you got lost on the way to intimacy.
You talked, then waited as Freud’s three-year-old boy turning to his auntie in the bunk-bed,
who he can’t see in the dark, telling her, Talk to me. Talk to me. Talk to me.
Insisting, When someone talks, the light goes on.
And anyone you couldn’t see there with you would reassure you
of their presence, exist in the dark wind as you walked the wet grass,
the pitch with its skeletal goals, anyone you could imagine saying nothing
as a sign of their listening to you. What constitutes agreement?
Even silence or only silence? You leave the library empty, the little magazines
holding a poem by your teacher, the white desks by the windows in the Periodicals,
and head back to your rooms at York where you’d wake to bridges, rectangular pond
and canal, climbing frame for graduate students with children,
nursery turned into place for cricket and ultimate Frisbee, campus that is to appear
contemplative, ducks with the one duck with a missing leg, anklets to identify.
Looking down on the water, along a bridge with a kind of canopy over it,
you see mallard ducks and swans, black and white swans.
Remember your father said when you were a child
to write a two like a swan, although you’d never before seen one.
Remember your first word was duck, the ducks you threw crust at.
The small improvements before a home becomes unlivable
and someone has to leave, so the new garage door, the sunroom
décor with the new theme, or ceiling fans, as the last dollars spent
on the relationship, were a desperate investment. What happened
after the neighbors drove six-hundred miles to pick up the stained glass
window for the guest bathroom, the cuts that shift color when you move,
a mood ring on a mirror, curly purple kale tints to rainbow chard orange
and green, the bubbly truffle-dark glass sheets for the horse’s mane.
Did the old woman cough too much in the night and the husband couldn’t sleep,
couldn’t take it anymore, so he sent her out to pasture? What’s so hard about
sleeping in the newly renovated spare room, the couch, or the maroon
Lazy Boy like most senior citizens do for meshes of even a good day
that’s a three on the pain scale, still eight for suffering.
He clubbed his own wife at the top of the steps with that aluminum bat
meant to defend the fort. Did he guess she would flail and, hurling,
rattle the banister, land on the welcome mat dead? Their love lasted a year or two,
one of those “companionable embraces” one forms after losing a spouse of thirty
years, but they insisted on getting married, drawing up new wills, re-doing the
house, seeing more of their families, and wanting to live.
The stained glass was only there three months, wasting light.
Some people hadn’t even been by to see the glass horse
branded with a red rose and prone on a carousel lariat, or the bride.
Hannah Baker Saltmarsh teaches at Xavier University of Louisiana and has had poems published in The New Republic, Gulf Coast, Times Literary Supplement, Denver Quarterly, and Antioch Review.