All That Shimmers and Settles Along the Roads of our Passage

By Mark Cox

Featured Art: Portrait of a Lady with a Dog (Anna Baker Weir) by J. Alden Weir

After seventeen years, I return home to my ex-wife,
without the cigarettes and bread,
without the woman and children I left her for,
older, empty-handed, and yet
to the same clothes
still in the same drawers,
as if nothing has changed.

My torn T-shirt is still splotched with paint
across her left breast,
her hair has not gone gray at the temples,
and she does not ask a single question:
not where have you been,
not how could you,
not where were you when I needed you,

just, hey baby and a smile,
the Vermont air cold,
the old mattress flat on the floor,

because the frame and box springs are still in the Ryder truck,
because my first students have not entered the classroom,
I have yet to fall in love with my own bourbon-soaked voice,
our dog has not died arthritic and stroke-plagued,

there is, instead, the kitchen faucet still running,
the beans rinsed and splayed in the colander,
and there isn’t the slightest anger in her voice,
that I have missed a good dinner,
that I will have to warm it up if I want any,
it’s ok, in fact, if I let the dog out
one last time and just come on to bed.

And so I could re-enter
the dream’s cold, pine-paneled walls,
knots bleeding through their sealer,
I could, after seventeen years, step back
into that unblemished body,
shrug back on the aspirations and worries,
and begin again, sorrow by sorrow,
to destroy her love for me,
my own confidence and faith.

Because this is the nature of time,
or at least the relation of our nature to time,
to idealize that kitchen,
the string beans in the sauce pan,
the dog bed by the door—
if we can still see it, it must be real,
it must still exist there,
not frozen in stasis,
but still playing itself out,
forever, without repeating,
as the moment it is.

It is my dream, then, that is the repetition,
my return, the problem,
but if I don’t extend my hand into it,
do not turn the knob,
if I can step back outside, quickly, before we touch,
press my face to the storm door,
it is clear the young man I was
and the young woman she was
can still love each other
and have not turned away.

Mark Cox teaches in the Department of Creative Writing at UNC Wilmington and in the Vermont College MFA Program. Recent work has appeared in Brevity, 32 Poems and The Colorado Review. He has authored six volumes of poetry, most recently Readiness:Prose Poems (2018) and Sorrow Bread: Poems 1984-2015.

Originally published in NOR 6

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