Dorothy McKibben: Gatekeeper

Each day a stream of new lost souls succeeds
the last. I number the innumerable hosts
in triplicate. My office door should read:

“Through me the road unto a town of ghosts;
through me the way to join an endless war;
through me a path among the Lost Almosts:

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
But what it really says is “U.S. Eng-
rs,” an unlikely ensign to inspire

the many tribes of man, that motley bunch
of carpenters, machinists, plumbers, cooks,
barbers, statisticians, butchers, spooks, trench

diggers, metallurgists, welders, WACs,
doctors, draftsmen, scientists, and wives
who wash up on my doorstep among stacks

of suitcases and trunks, some only half alive,
some screaming for a missing Van de Graff
or Steinway grand. Most, thinking they’ve arrived

at last, collapse into a chair and, only half
in jest, refuse to budge. “You’re nearly there!”
I point out, brightly, earning a dark laugh.

“Bus leaving for the wilderness up yonder!”
I hustle them outside and pack them in
the Army’s surplus schoolbus. The GI driver

ties the front door handle shut and grins.
“The General hisself said I mustn’t lose ’em.
Seems they’re scarce.” I wave and they begin

the long descent, as the desert’s dusky hues send
purple shadows up the Pecos and
the Jemez float in gold. Where Santa Cruz bends

to meet the waters of the Rio Grande
in Nambe valley, they will turn to climb
the dark escarpment, over coral sand-

stone and old lava beds, white pumice, time-
etched tuff, along a road scrimshandered
in the bones of what one tired soldier termed,

“That beat-up land.” But my horizon’s bounded
by mops and mirrors, boxes, bags, and parcels,
cots, cribs, potted plants, and candles. Stranded

here on earth, I sort and catalog the mortal
fragments of a flock of scientific gods.
I man the gate, forever at the portal,

paused, poised to ferry, usher, prop, or guide.
I’m operator, concierge, den mother,
babysitter, bus stop, getter of rare goods,

dog walker, comforter, solver of other
people’s problems, everyone’s best friend.
Fractured by war, which one of us knows whether

we’re doing right? I cannot guess what ends
they’re aiming for, or if they will succeed,
but I believe they’ll make me whole again.

 

 

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