Signs of Future History
As we hover above our luncheon plates, the question
of whether to cut with or against the pot roast’s grain
need not distract us, nor should the carnations leaning
against fluted glass like teenagers flirting with shadow.
We maintain a nursery of rituals during the reign
of toad and coyote as when the distance yawns
and the dictator parts his hair. We guard talk taut
as one leg of the tuning fork you could tap on crystal.
In that singular gesture, a point about soundings, depths,
and the unexpected. When did we mark the onset
of the worsening? We turned away when we could.
There were favorites instead—the ibis, its long bill
slicing a crescent through river bottom mud.
The hotel lobby where a water wall whispers
infinity. Sand sprinkled onto a scald. The blind
refusals of the dead. A red scarf at the throat
of the future. The young seek a mark of forgiveness
on the faces of those they dream to replace. Meat,
not potatoes—the dark and the rich. The white
and the hollowed skin fork-pressed to smear.
We had what we demanded and we still do.
But in the mornings the sun won’t get out of the way.
It pursues its track up the picture window and hastens.
We outrun and then shower and the shower tastes of acid
but is not harmful. And the rest of the reward, the day
itself, is lost somewhere behind maples. Accept
the music if you will. It can’t even cast shadows.
Talk boils from loudspeakers, the men in suits, the women
in wigs and obligatory skirts, and the meat is carried in
on trays with knives and you may be photographed.
The potatoes still simmer in the broth. The sausages
hum inside their unspeakable skins. The danger
was always in riding the edge of the embankments
as if dirt were a tame donkey. A tyrant’s tastes for meat
run to the crude, but they give us somewhere to go.
We can drop down safely, no one will notice but
the compromised. There might be nations where you
are no longer welcome and children who will no longer
kiss you good night. But you will stand before your mirrors
as before, painting. Meat, not potatoes, for lunch, the same
for dinner, but salty, or you will think so. There, costumed,
only just aware of the pretenders beating drums on the street,
not in protest but protest of protest, you will still be able
to trust the juices in your belly to tear apart the big bite
you almost choked on. You will devour in heaviness
and substance, the heat of rage, the grandeur of
perfect satisfaction, what is always yet to come,
the waiter’s quick step turning the corner,
his shoulder balancing the platter and his history
all his own as long as he doesn’t try to talk to you
gleaming in the front window like the mink coats
of the fifties, the black stitched eyes of fox stoles
dangling their clenched jaws to earth where they
were not dragged down. Or so the story goes.