Depicted by Hieronymus Bosch
The forest creeps a little closer
to overhear my phone calls
and learn if I think the sky
will fall in pieces or as one
gigantic plastic membrane.
The trees have reason to worry.
Their plumes of foliage droop
in a toxic atmosphere no one
should breathe unless depicted
by Hieronymus Bosch. You agree
that we should fly to Holland
to enjoy the Bosch exhibit,
but your passport has expired
and you won’t be photographed
for a new one because you look
too old and tired to travel.
The forest nods as we converse.
Crows spackle the windy glare.
Chickadees percolate at feeders.
I want to hang up on you
and recover the youth wasted
on being young. The city
you haunt looms taller than hills
in Kansas or Wisconsin.
Its lights bleed the night sky pallid.
Its bridges knit together worlds
that don’t really love each other.
Hearing your voice originate
two hundred miles southwest
of me generates sensations
trees would mistake for beavers
gnawing at their trunks. I wave
to the crows, the windy treetops,
the bobcat who daily prowls
for mice that gather seed-scraps
beneath the feeders. You note
how distracted I seem. The trees
agree that the sky will fall soon,
but I can’t speak loudly enough
to assure them that such collapse
will only slightly mar the cosmos
and leave most of the stars intact.
An exploded map of Paris
marked with arrows of varied
thickness tracking tendencies
of pedestrians to wander this
way or that, pursuing the error
someone called “dérive” or “drift.”
gradients are difficult to trace,
but I catch them in your expression
as you grind gears while mired
in memory, a sinkhole into which
the ugliest silences creep
to reproduce and fester in swarms.
We can’t determine who asked whom
to marry on a drab August day
when cicadas chirred in the elms
no more than we can follow this map
because Paris has not exploded
and the erring ways of flaneurs
entered us well before our births.
Drift threatens, yes, but the cries
of unborn generations tangle
in the shrubbery where last year’s
strings of Christmas lights still lurk.
Your face, a map of our long,
long lives together and apart,
accommodates a smile so brilliant
that being beheaded by it
would be a privilege. The map
amuses but doesn’t instruct.
The arrows look like schooling fish
and the white space flowing amid
selected and depicted quarters
reminds me how blank you look
when your featured ghosts appear,
dragging us both behind them.