A weekly poem, read by the author.
June 23 1999 3:00 AM


I'd been doing that, going out just after sunset--
the sky a bowl of blue-green light,
a basin filled with cold, still seawater.

Shops in the advancing dusk looked like fish tanks
flooded with neutral overhead lighting that fell
on personnel about to close up for the day.
When I tugged back a sleeve, the wrist was naked--
forgot my watch again--and both hands chapped and rough.
Why do our hands have five fingers, no more, and no less?
Zoologists would know. Meanwhile
one of the routine, strictly business
clocks glimpsed through windows
during the rounds of my unofficial beat
could substitute for a watch. The first said 6:25;
the second, several storefronts down, 6:22;
a third, 6:29. Time didn't agree with itself.
Tonight, it didn't agree with me, either;
but then it never entirely had (and never will?).

A white-haired man with olive skin and tattered clothes
limped into Met Food and panhandled the clerk,
one I recognized, her face mild and familiar as bread.
For half a second--strange--it felt permanent,
indestructible as the tiny gleam
that pearled in the dark pupil of her eye.
6:33 ... And now a go-getter poised at 6:45.

Evening star in a sky by then blue-black ink,
and I roughly fifteen minutes older,
arms dangling at my sides.
But no wiser, only a bit farther
into the walk, with a sudden hunger pang,
the gut's alarm bell, sounding dinner hour.
All I'd seen, the streets, the clock-faces,
menagerie of the populous city, were saying
(so to speak), "Feast your eyes on this."
If the banquet had agreed with me,
and if I'd had a shelter to return to ...
Time had moved in back there, a silent
dimension unconcerned that it would turn us
out on the street (first you, and after
you'd gone, then me), according to some
ironclad schedule followed or policed
at glacial speed by supervising hands ...
Or, worse, when my door swung open,

by spidery digitals that glared
across the darkened room with their 6:58--

numbers reflected counter, greener, flame-like
(detail, the lost-and-found of deity)
in the crystal of the watch I left there on the table.

Alfred Corn's 10th book of poems, Tables, will be published this January. He spent the earlier part of this year as a visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge, working on a new version of Rilke's Duino Elegies.



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