As though the nights here hover, as though to cover other nights behind them, every word
is the veil for another word, every step the future of another step: a lantern,
hung from the hand, just the hint of another lantern, and the hand, too
is the memory of an older hand, itself a memory, perhaps, of a sculptor's hand,
or a penitent's. For what is work if not the effort to atone? Each step
is the echo of the next steps, the village asleep with all the echoes, all the names
that hide behind other names. There is the field that covers up another field in which a life
was taken and covered with other, lesser lives. The tree that marks the hovering memory
of another tree. As though the night hovers, as though a name is memory enough for itself.
Step out: perennials seething, something flickering in the underbrush: a boat breaks
through the ice, choking toward a city floating somewhere past what you can see
in the haze. But what could yield itself, numinous: what shimmer through all
the palpable clutter: the threadbare cloth you hold, the knotted wood over which
you stretch it? There are pages missing in the catalogue of the sensible world, pages
gone from its sequel—no matter. Something walks through these streets narrower than God,
something balanced, no attention called to itself in the late snow fallen on the budding dogwoods.
Step out: what have you missed in this expanse of bodies yearning for the minutest touch,
of shifting eyes, telephone numbers, temporary addresses? So many psalms, unwritten,
but opened, lined up to greet you, as though to yield is to discover: at first, the road
empty under an inexorably yellowed sky. There's nothing more to welcome, or to gain.
Jett McAlister's poems have appeared in Center, the Columbia Poetry Review, Hunger Mountain, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. He is currently writing a doctoral dissertation on contemporary American poetry at the University of Chicago.