Mnemonic for a Homecoming
The house, about to empty, fills with hammer rings, iron on iron. Close calls. It’s a pounding
to remember, as he and his classmates used to say. A skin hand against a skin cheek had a
certain logic. Clever reminder, skin to skin: a map so to scale it scares itself, wondering
which was real, which ink and satellite. These rings grow broader by the earful, sounding
out the lip of a lake’s ripple at the lip of shore, or the topographic web of a hill’s slow
decline. What is he meant to think of, suddenly, when water soaks through sand, when
sound bottoms out at sea level? When he turns to look, what will be nailed to the ceiling?
Maps tucked in the glovebox. Who will refuse to see them twice, who’ll peel back a little
corner just to read the key? Overland, who will make a U-turn, land in soybeans; who will
wonder at the all-Chinese bank tellers; who will ask for substitutions at the diner, then say
she, oh I think, remembers now, it’s this way, that shallow creek and mattress warehouse
Late, the left headlight of an eighteen wheeler, then the right, will vanish, reappear, two
blinking pools of blindness. Who won’t be listening when white-tail and cab recognize each
other, skin to steel, ringing with remembering. That will be their cue to recall something:
presidents, names of the bones in the body, all the California counties, the way some stars
chase and eclipse each other all their lives. Then the hour to cross into Nevada.
Words for My Mother Moving House
Let this luggage/ these birds/ these notes
drop/ cluster/ harmonize
around the line of your leaving
I have gathered the following cutouts
to cover you/ on your way:
filings around a magnet’s field/ skywriting/
tea leaves/ a conference of birds/ parted
by the wind’s voice
only/ passing through
Without your glasses, let this book blur
that your path out of our home
may be the light of stars
sometimes seen in brilliant threes
at night at intersections.
The ancients called them: Stop.
Straight on. And Slow.
Their constellation’s name
used daily, but forgotten.
Peter, where do you live?
Second star to the—
That’s what they put on your letters?
Don’t get any letters.
But your mother gets letters.
Don’t have a mother.
Some words for you.
Synonyms: but there are thousands.
like you, your boat-rock step. Hom-
onyms: looks like home, but isn’t.
House of Doubt
Show your work, the tree teacher tells the trees.
One pulls on a white blindfold: it can’t see
the problem. Snow is no excuse, the teacher says.
In the thickness, branches finger into possible solutions,
scribbling answers (2x? (3x + 1)?) no one hopes will
come to pass. (The problem, birch suspects, is modeled
on the poor decision-making of its peers,
although it hasn’t studied). Trees are sure to check
their computations: just think of the limb sawed off,
the yellowed crown shedding in the sun’s direction.
But also on the page: series of turns in the dendrite maze,
heartwood to chlorophyll, that stops at one of the body’s
doors to nowhere, hollow hall at whose end a dormant
bud, downy with a crop of gray. In it, one more fraction
waits, the collecting of like terms and naming the whole mess
the numerator. But today, just as light closes the door behind it,
just as high heels down the hall and the shuffling of
phantom foliage, some late animal wraps its toes around
that nub of a potential question: will I? will I?
The calculus to come to such a point. From a position
at the bottom of the hill, mounded with a blind-man’s-bluff,
the branch is seen to sink and rise with a sleepless weight.
Where Were You When
At the memorial, something turns a microphone
toward you and waits. Suddenly you must hold still
in your mouth what was air rushing back and forth
to be breath—the clothed body then in the classroom,
folded at all its angles, that rattled a foot and picked
at a mote in the eye. Folded not like a piece of paper
whose guidelines, if followed and creased, yielded
vertices and their opposites—no, everything about you
sloped, even the elbow, the slow bends that kept you
seated, the legs that could not talk of a time before
or after the knee, retina spelling a word on a screen
that, in the time it takes to fire a shot, covered
the country. I would give my eyes a hundred times
again, a soldier is quoted. The president plants a flag
on a worried moon. In the interviews after, journalists ask
how deep the canyon, how many square feet across
is a hundred times blindness. Each change in your topography,
unlike water, steel, or glass, could barely have declared
a shadow. Astronauts walking its surface for the first time
would have said they had no memory of the earth.
LEAH FALK is from Pittsburgh. Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, FIELD, and Smartish Pace, and have twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her texts for music and dance have been performed in Vancouver, Indianapolis, and Ann Arbor. She also runs the blog MFA Day Job.