All That Shimmers and Settles Along the Roads of Our Passage

by Mark Cox

Featured Art: Still Life by Ben Benn


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.


Originally appeared in NOR 17.

Mark Cox has published six volumes of poetry: Barbells of the Gods (Ampersand Press), Smoulder ( David R. Godine), Thirty-seven Years from the Stone (Pitt Poetry Series),  Natural Causes ( Pitt Poetry Series) and Sorrow Bread (Serving House Books). Readiness, his latest book of prose poems, is newly available. Cox has a 30-year publication history in prominent magazines and has received a Whiting Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, and numerous fellowships for that work.   He teaches in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and in the Vermont College MFA Program.

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