a river’s endless silky measuring
of language we lose when we waken
only to water and clay horizons,
I step quietly: five students sprawl.
Two at bookbags are curled, fetal.
Three appear like bags of flesh,
shot in chairs, robbed of cash.
Yet no cash is lost for no crime
enters this room, safe as home
where a door slams after parents.
What is missing here? I feel it,
like decay I sneeze at when I take
my chair and sigh and open my book,
and somebody’s digital watch beeps
ignored, papers, notes dropped,
all drifting past tests as if on water.
What stories do they dream? My fear
of factless hours, of history’s blank
answers with each breath panicked
me: I see me, their age again,
dead asleep, unready, my head lifted
toward who I thought I was, a man
foreswearing civil style, ratty jeans,
no socks, ravelled shirt, loud tie.
We combed our hair like JFK.
Like these we wanted every edge.
Who stopped us? What badge
wanted to know what we knew and how?
We studied and cried aloud
names of kings, wars, social forces.
Old theories float up with choices
of party and weapons I can’t explain.
Did our fathers find it this way,
this room of the lost thing? Vexed,
a professor wanders the stacks,
as I often do for something to read,
some tale of the open road.
Isn’t that where light twists
a leaf and drops it, and happiness
somehow goes on, like sun on the river?
I feel the good of dreamers
though it’s only minutes I spend
watching each face, book down, the end
of things as closed as tombs
within the darkened words, home
after all to ultimate secrets, facts,
rumors, names, causes, and the lost
thing each comes here to find,
and lose as soon as his test’s done.
What? my head beats. I rise, toe
by toe passing hearts thumping slow.
They will go fast, faster. Then stop.
This thought dogs me to the steep
hill my car’s parked on, sun’s rays
hammering my head. I finger keys.
They believe they will always wake
guiltless, unused as new wicks.
They read and droop. In white
and wet light they might be penitents,
nothing to me but distant masks,
travelers of which the books speak.
Breath. The pool and rush of rivers
where I sometimes kneel for answers.