Only with dogs and children and sometimes a woman weeping on a bus station bench, hands folded across her face like a veil.
The stranger passing can only bring himself to stand beside her, allow his hand to settle on her shoulder, fingertips touching, then lifting, then lighting poised, muscles taut for flight at the first ripple.
Only in a public place: soldiers too sober to notice a plain woman on a bench. Widows on pensions, touring America, passes clutched deep in pants’ pockets. College kids lost in travel diaries.
Only the janitor, himself invisible as khaki, sees as he kneels beside the bench to save his back retrieving the paper coffee cup—its handles the halves of a valentine, unfolding wings,
a woman rising in a man’s overcoat, wiping her eyes with a wadded hankie and laughing at nothing . . . nothing at all.
It stands in the water stilted head cocked like a hammer; faster than the eye it hooks a flash of gray and then a glimpse of silver quickly swallowed. I wish the canoe to silence, hold breath with the day a ruffle of air and feathers an explosion into grace and it’s gone a hundred yards away. I begin the painstaking task of easing oar and self across the surface towards this totem an avatar granting pure life, motion, a reason to be. It wings forth again in perfect silence and falls perched on the stillness that stretches its hand out over the water down deep into the mud the fish that are blind to the roots into me where even now I am winging
The oceans feel the pulling of the moon. The whole earth feels it. Why then cannot I? I am too fragile, small to face that doom. The oceans live millennia; I die. The oceans churn me under in their power. Their force is mighty, and their mass is more. The moon climbs high and falls, led by the hour. If time is known, location then is sure. But what predicts where we may be and when, When even we don’t know? Command the sky To turn, but what’s the will that orders men? The heavens say it’s either God or “I.” At waning gibbous, just a bit past full, I see the moon, but cannot feel its pull.
As I stood, rooted, winter-locked, my hand outstretched in southern sun, the lizard leapt to the branch of my arm as if there was nothing at all to fear. As if I was the tree he sought, he rested, weightless, green as grass, pink throat-fan ballooning with each small breath, and I felt something ease inside, a sweetness rising, as he ran, quick as raindrops, up my trunk, toe pads tickling as he touched, oh so lightly, neck, cheek, hair, like a blessing, or a prayer.
These days, as some people are bent on making war and others equally determinded to keep peace, I return to my former teacher, Yehuda Amichai, a German-born Jew who migrated to Palestine and grew up with the nation of Israel, a soldier, professor and poet.