Who Are These People

who do not know how to
measure six feet apart

we’re all vulnerable
to routes six feet deeper

dirt disguised as escapes
beyond the fathomless

Photograph of Those Two I Can Never Know

I found it tucked between
pages of a used paperback copy
of Charles Simic’s
The World Doesn’t End.

Between “The dead man
steps down from the scaffold”
and “My guardian angel is afraid
of the dark.”

A color snapshot. The 70s?
The shallow end
of a motor lodge pool
sparkles in the background.

Married? Siblings? Friends?
Strangers who have come together
to squint away an afternoon
under a warm sun

without having to look
directly into the camera.
Reflections of reclining
chaise lounges in the mint blue water

match their half smiles
and a memory of almost getting away
with drowning in another pool
off some other highway

between the Midwest
and East Coast.

When Simic says,
“It’s so quiet
in the world,”
how could he have known?

I return to the photograph
of those two I can never know,
realizing how they are nowhere near
the deep end yet.

“Do Not Go Hand in Hand the Whole Stretch of the Way”*

Occasionally, we lick salt
and loneliness with the tongues
of forgotten owls. Our heads turn

to the rhythm of another
Virginia Woolf sentence before it flies
silently into the unmuted night.

Occasionally, we stretch our necks
to their breaking point,
the inevitable snap swallowed whole

by our incurable thirst.
Occasionally, we misunderstand
the howling in the distance.

Trees and their wounds, our anger
crowds branches, leaves a permanent mark. Occasionally, we still dream

of touching flannel to felt,
feather to bark, linen to polished
whale-bone, skin to roughed-up skin.

Rarely, we remove these
false faces long enough
to see how, occasionally,

the masks we wear
may protect our smiles
from disappearing altogether.

* Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill,” The Moment and Other Essays