1. the journey
I met a man on the road to the city
who asked me if I believed in love.
We were walking over ashes
that smelled like human flesh, the dust of it
getting into our shoes, and
I didn’t know what he meant.
Maybe he was talking about the way
a kid’s face lights up to see her mom.
Maybe he was talking about laughter,
the easy silence between old friends,
the soft look some people slip into
when they don’t think anyone’s watching.
But he cried and covered his face with his hands,
and I think he meant forgiveness.
2. in the dark
Last night I fell asleep with sirens
under my bed and the sound of terror
cracking in the streets.
Somehow I kept breathing
until the ceiling turned from black to gray.
Who will be the next person
to tell us it’ll be all right, to hold out promises
like cabinet medicine for our cancer,
and how long will it be
before the bandages fall apart again?
And even then, who will we have to blame?
I must remember . . .
somewhere, there is
a king who keeps his word.
4. the sound of his voice
We came to the dock, where they were trawling
the riverbed for rubble but kept pulling bodies
out of the mud.
A woman from the boat
stood scrubbing the silt off her arms
and she couldn’t stop shaking,
couldn’t look at the day’s haul as the muddy tarps
got carried off.
I think she remembered each face too well.
Maybe she kept finding them everywhere:
fathers like ghosts in the kitchen,
phantom kids running around the backyard
and shadows of mothers stuck in traffic.
Maybe she was afraid if she opened her eyes,
she might see herself, washed too pale
and long past drowning.
The man spoke to her the way he spoke to me.
When we left, her eyes were still closed,
but her hands were clean.
5. “do you believe in love?”
At an old gravestone we stopped.
A whole family was buried there, so long ago
the stone was washed blank of memory,
a second burial,
an extra layer of death.
But when he squatted down and his fingers
touched the cold soil—as morning
crept across the frozen earth,
I saw their names,
bright and unexpected, kept
so carefully for all this time.
They were waiting
just behind his teeth.