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You’ve probably seen them often enough

around town: men in softball team jackets

or worn leather coats, shoulders

hunched, their faces

flexing like catchers’ mitts

awaiting pop fouls, worrying

at some private and utterly

commonplace grief. You’ve noticed them

out of the corner of your busy life, guys

in their thirties, or in late middle age,

coming out of the 7-11 in

no hurry at all, getting into the muscle cars

they might as well drive, having no more use

for mini-vans or sensible wagons.


You know, if you’ve been around at all

where the orbit of their damaged lives

leads them: every night tey go back

to the house where they once lived,

to the woman who is someone else’s

wife now, or no one’s; to the kids who resemble

the script of her scorn more than anything

human, especially

that bastard who used to be

their father. Every night

after midnight, when the streets are deserted,

they appear beneath the windows

of their lost children’s bedrooms, the Camaro

in Park and the headlights dug under,

and sit staring up, through the haze

of cigarette smoke, imagining

not the imprint of their vanished selves

on the buttery light of the bedroom,

the ghost of a man with his child in his arms

making whole again the remnants

of his mortgaged hope, the shard

and seed and twisted pod, but rather

the taunting mirror-image

of the man who’ll take his place.


and if you’ve known them, perhaps,

looking down from your own bedroom window

at your own father’s beating heart, diminished

to shuttered parking lights, the blue plumes

of car exhaust and distant

cigarette smoke, or perhaps

if you have been that man and know

how it is to have slipped, to have fallen

inside yourself, into the drag

of your own gravitation,

then perhaps you have already decided

that what motivates them isn’t

psychology, but physics—the curvature

of time and space, bent inwards by the force

of loss, so that everything they know and own

is projected inexorably backwards

toward a singularity, the one true

point of origin, the moment when

they opened fists

they’d closed in grief or anger,

and saw the future turn to ash

and ribbon through their hands.


From Understanding Heaven

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