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The Undoing

Sidewalk bricks upended by winter’s freeze and thaw–
no looking up here, we take mincing steps,
and our talk turns to everything undone—frayed
boot laces, laundry, taxes, bills, books—so many
books piled up unread, sliding off the night stand.
Even the universe, you say, is not done
expanding into whatever lies beyond.  Once I thought
aging meant arriving at a plateau beyond struggle
and change, a thought first challenged by church ladies
in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, sitting with Mrs. J
in the hospital when I went calling, surprised that
with all her faith she panicked at an inch of river
running through her cellar.  Didn’t belief mean
she was beyond such undoing? Oh how those ladies
threw back their heads and laughed!  Slapped their thighs,
who-eee, then laughed again, Oh honey!
Now, along these winter streets, ice hangs in thick cords
where gutters have been overrun.  You grab me
as I start to slip, and it brings back that Cambridge night
we held each other on sidewalks full of glare ice
and packed snow, when behind us a window flew open,
and an old woman’s frail voice called, Yoo-hoo,
as she waved a change purse and asked us to buy
groceries for her at the corner store.   How is it
I can recall the small shriek of that raised window,
and yet have no memory of taking the purse,
returning with milk, bread, eggs jiggling in their little cups?
Could we have left her dangling there, unanswered?
No memory of the restaurant we were headed to,
or what came after, either.  It’s all undone.
As if the night stopped there, on that street,
midsentence, whatever we’d been saying.
The night, that quick jolt of a window thrown open,
a paper-thin hand reaching out—





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