Sundays in the Cemetery of Lost Childhood
Jack Butler

the tall couples come, graceful and serious
but not too somber, and lay at the weathered granite
such particolored tribute as they can think of--
doll's mirrors, batteries, loose change, the lace
from ballet dresses, glass aggies.  They choose, each,
the stones with their own names, although she may
drop a used lipstick, fire-engine red,
into that slight depression earth settles to,
never quite all heaped back, his plot, and he
may tether helium to a budding twig,
the young elm struggling from a mossy fault
in her rectangle's casement.  The favor, silver,
beats brightly in the little breeze, a heart
of lighter air.
                      They are, improbably,
their own kind parents, and now may stroll or sit
in easy silence, hats off, coats over arms.

For all its hallowed and dappled slant, the light
leans less to prayer than relaxation, playing
in ripples across the river-gravel walks.
The birds are wasting time from branch to branch,
making it whistle as it disappears.
And something in all of this is like acceptance,
and something in all of this is like well-being.

Soon enough, the sun shifts, presses against them.
He loosens the car-key on its chiming ring.

They nod to others coming in the gate.
A slight sweat prickles at his hairline, on
her delicate upper lip.
                                   Her door, swung open,
releases volumes, the fragrance of heated leather.

He starts the motor, engineers a burst
of colder air.  The locks snick shut in concert,
and they back out, devolve in stately S-curves
upon the access bridge, the stony creek
beyond whose fixed and glittering accident
they see their bypass arcing:
                                             A quick impression
of warehouse tenements, of railroad tracks
like stitches over the Frankenstein monster's brow,
and farther, a blur of tidy flower-beds,
frame houses, cyclone fences.
                                             Perhaps they exit
to winding boulevards, a thoroughfare
which rises to address great oaks, grand pillars.
Call it home.  In a southern room, all glass,
someone has thought of sunset falling across
red gladiolas on a wooden table.

They think of the other possibilities,
those rooms that may be out there somewhere,
and therefore are:  in which a man says, Here,
come here--I promise it won't hurt; in which
a woman pushing a market basket stops
to leave her print forever across a crippled mouth;
in which, cross-legged, abandoned, a five-year-old
watches, as someone else might watch a face,
the window's image brightening on a wall,
that water-stained silk of rainy after-light.

These things happen, are happening now, and worse.

Certainly there are hopeful agencies,
and decency occurs.  They're here by grace,
but grace is a matter of chance, statistical.

Whiskey from crystal, then, lifted as if
it held, distilled, the best that one might hope for,
not health, but clarity and anodyne.

Later, they tuck themselves in.  Sleep tight, they whisper,
and settle to those careful dreams in which
they never, not ever any more, ringside
at circusses, go naked, terrified
before that treacherous clown, their own happiness.

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