Those patches of cold air on the far side
of the barn at night or down the hill
among the trees—what souls are these?
What must have happened for them to linger
as such tentative gestures—the touch
of damp air against the skin, the smell
of wet stone in rain? What disappointments
induced them to deny all shape? The chill air
of cathedrals, train platforms, the stairwells
of office buildings—is this where they gather,
taking solace from human company without
the burden of substance? Men and women
who spent their lives behind closed doors,
who listened to footsteps on the street,
who burned one candle, owned one spoon,
who slept in beds as narrow as coffins.
In some persisted the image of a face,
one who passed by and never looked back.
Others were denied even that and sailed
toward death like ships empty of cargo.
Men and women so soft spoken that even
their affirmations were denials, these
self-effacers, drawing a line with one hand,
erasing it with the other. What could have
raised their voices, coaxed them forward?
How difficult to say, I exist, to take
one’s place among the multitudes.
Walking near the barn at night I feel
the touch of those unable to touch,
of those whose bodies were too heavy:
finger of cold, finger of dampness.
What have they found courage to ask
now the chance of answering has passed?