Country people rise early
as their distant lights testify.
They don’t hold water in common. Each house
has a personal source, like a bank account,
a stone vault. Some share eggs,
some share expertise,
and some won’t even wave.
A walk for the mail elevates the heart rate.
Last November I saw a woman down the road
walk out to her mailbox dressed in blaze orange
cap to boot, a cautious soul.
Bullets can’t read her No Trespassing sign.
Strange to think they’re in the air
like lead bees with a fatal sting.
Our neighbor across the road sits in his kitchen
with his rifle handy and the window open.
You never know when. Once
he shot a trophy with his barrel resting on the sill.
He’s in his seventies, born here, joined the Navy,
came back. Hard work never hurt a man
until suddenly he was another broken tool.
His silhouette against the dawn
droops as though drought-stricken, each step
deliberate, down the driveway to his black mailbox,
prying it open. Checking a trap.
She leaned over the sink
her weight on her toes
and applied lipstick
in quick certain strokes
the way a man signs
his hundredth autograph
of the morning.
She tested a convictionless smile
as the lipstick retracted
like a red eel.
All day she left her mark
on everything she kissed,
even the air,
like intoxicating news
whispered from ear to ear:
He left it all to me.
I could easily be honest
if I were certain of the truth.
You remember the day as sunny and hot,
the car an oven, the air
rippling over the green chile fields.
I remember clouds building in the western sky
as quickly as if there’d been an explosion
out where the military tested
something big and vastly expensive
over and over.
Everyone seems so confident.
Those letters to the editor: “Get real” and
“Wake up, people!” The man from Pengilly
who keeps “loaded guns in readily accessible locations.”
I honestly don’t know why I had children
or why I sew, or garden,
except that if it’s true we’re made in God’s image
we are born to create, or to try-
though when you smile at my earnestness
I see that you’re right, I am naive.
I remember when our daughter realized
it was possible not to tell the truth.
She was three years old.
I saw something pass over her eyes, a petit mal,
leaving a kind of bright residue,
the shimmer of a most attractive lie, a fairy tale
no one had told her; yet she suddenly knew,
about a girl who never pinched a friend
however much she deserved it.
A hour passes and I’m no longer angry,
though it’s true I was.
Sunlight streams through the screen door-
a late clearing, just as you predicted.
We’re together in the kitchen,
a friendly bumping as we wash and slice
the green and red, yellow and white
ingredients, and stir them all in the kettle
until nothing is exclusively itself.