Steve's work is also online at:
Whatever the Story Requires
Sunday, at the park, and they are left alone again—
two tennis shoes stuffed with socks, sun block, water bottle,
and a canvas bag full of books.
Close by, ants busily scale blades of grass:
the world's smallest armored machines scenting new territory,
recovering crumbs for the masses living underground, in labyrinths.
Up here, fat bees drink at crunched-up pop cans,
a tied-up black poodle yelps for attention,
and wild flowers bend under the blind fingers of God.
If you follow my finger, you'll see motorboats pulling water skiers
in the shallow lake, waves lazily toppling over each other until,
reaching the sand, they make their way up water trenches
made by squawking toddlers and become motes,
swimming pools, or deadly lakes of fire—
whatever the story requires.
Near the blanket, not more than ten feet from the shoes,
a woman stands, talking on her mobile phone.
She is furious about her ex-husband's neglect.
Her young daughter watches her pace from the edge of the water,
glancing between the boats and her mother and kicking
lightly at the sand, her hand tracing the rim of towel around her waist,
as though she were divided between wanting to play alone
and knowing that if she started now, there would be no end to it.
It's the last Sunday of the summer.
All that is ordinary is slowly revealing itself,
the way clouds swirl into horses, break apart,
and become something else again,
over and over.
The Prince of the Middle Kingdom
On a day when the sky is flat gray and dull
as a butter knife, the boy runs down into the hollow
where maple and elm trees grow. Without hesitation
he jumps for the lowest branch of the first tree he sees
and begins to clamber up the rough wintry hide.
Half way, he pauses between muscled branches
and considers the region of tentacles above.
Frozen and brittle, the way up is fraught with peril.
He looks down. It, too, is dangerous, but for reasons
only boys can know. So he sits there, a prince
of the middle kingdom, with closed eyes, conjuring
images of swords and dragons, sunlight—
a whole history of boyhood longing.
We know, of course, that he cannot climb higher,
for he is a boy of some intelligence, so when he opens
his eyes and finds that caution has dulled the pallet
of chance, he becomes angry. He begins to climb anyway.
He looks into the sky—the plain sheet of it snapping
with a crack of thunder—and feels the first
yawning pitch into the unknown.
Poem for Mia
The cat howls at night while I'm trying to sleep. She's gotten thin
as a shadow, her bones an outline of an essay
on loneliness. Moving through these rooms,
she looks for the other cats who've come and gone over the years,
who must be hiding somewhere, but where?
The indignities are endless. Ants have invaded her food dish,
her joints ache, and this gnawing in her stomach is driving her mad.
I try to forgive her for these nightly intrusions. I was
the interloper, and I married her mistress. After all these years
she has finally begun to doubt her ability to outlast me. This is why
she comes for attention the moment the alarm rings.
I'm better than nothing and, being a narcissist, she's aware
that she's only condescending for my pleasure. I do my part
to pretend she's still queen of the house. I tell her
she's beautiful and scratch her back. As my fingers follow the necklace
of spine and pass over her balsawood hips, she pretends to accept
my empathy. Fear is the darkest of all shades of emptiness,
and she is the only one who sees the ice behind my smile.