Anyone who ever wrote three consecutive paragraphs
and admitted it
has been told by uncles, drunks, and coworkers
that the stories they’ve lived
would put all best-sellers to shame
if only someone
would set them down on paper.
Billions of stories
die every year
untold, unread, unheard.
For those who live at the end of the line,
New Lots Avenue or Dover Plains,
Bay Head Junction or Babylon,
the names of their trains and neighborhoods
bear the magic of destination.
In Danbury, Port Jervis, Port Jefferson,
the tracks don’t stretch to infinity
in both directions; they stop
at stones or steel. Sure of seats,
commuters dream their way to work.
When the sun is gone, they’re the last
reaching home to rest—at Netcong,
Ditmars Boulevard, Greenport,
My father didn’t read like the rest of us; he played
Solitaire, dealing through the deck again and again
by immutable rules, toward the strange end of “winning”
at the game. We knew he was home if we heard the rapping deck
as he straightened the cards for shuffling. Isolated, pointless, it seemed
like his life. The British ascribe virtue to the game by calling it
Patience. There’s no reward except completion of the pattern,
skill less important than the luck of the shuffle—whatever
happens, you can blame the cards—and thus it’s a paradigm
of existence. Sometimes, instead of working, I sink in addiction
to the computerized game, moving and clicking the mouse
till my arm aches. I try to control myself, to keep
from clicking the Solitaire icon, which will summon up
the cards—crisply pictured, almost real, waiting
for clicks to reveal what’s hidden. W. H. Auden
asked T. S. Eliot why he played Patience
so much. Because, said Eliot, it’s the nearest thing
to being dead.
ON HAVING MY HAIR TOUSLED
BY A DENTIST IN BROOKLYN
The dentist, having filled my tooth, tousled my hair.
I had not had my hair tousled since—well, in fact,
I couldn’t remember ever having had my hair tousled.
I don’t mean having someone romantically run
her fingers through my hair. That kept happening.
I mean the way a grown-up chuckles and does it
to a child. Perhaps I wasn’t the tousling type,
but not everyone would see that on first acquaintance,
and some just like to tousle children’s hair
as they go along on the sidewalk or on buses.
Besides, though it’s hard to believe now, I was
a very attractive child, with hair brighter
and fuller, very touslable. Curious that I can’t
remember an uncle, my father, or a family friend
tousling my hair, not even once.
So when, as a 27-year-old with many
mature responsibilities, I felt the dentist
tousling my hair, I was puzzled. I’ve never tried
to guess his motive, but it was good to have
a moment of warmth in the dentist chair.
DARK BEFORE DAWN
There’s a time when the night sky changes
from black to blue that’s just as dark
but things in the distance are more distinct
and you see that what you were looking for—
a lover, an answer, a break, or sleep—
is not in this night for you to find.
But no one goes mad in this quarter-hour.
This is the time to rest from your searching,
to buy a cup of coffee and then go home
to lie on your bed and listen
to the people wake who search by day.