In middle age Tolstoy apprenticed himself
to a boot maker. He labored at learning
the skills of that trade. Sometimes his fingers
bled onto the leather as he punched the awl
or drew the needle in the outline of a foot.
Blisters, he knew, are holier than ink stains.
The boots were ugly and they pinched,
Sonya complained, and she refused to wear them.
Yet she copied Karenina by hand
how many times? It was his words she loved,
how he formed souls out of air. Just breath.
She preferred the page’s purity to his
restless hands. If he were a man made only
of words she’d give her whole self to him.
So you’ve lost your keys,
your life’s in ruin, over-
turning your simple afternoon.
Maybe it’s the accrual
of all those other losses—
the stolen wallet, a shattered window,
the peach sweater stained
a deep cranberry red—
that’s pushed you over the edge,
made you bleat your woe is me
to every neighbor.
What about your house? Intact.
The car: parked exquisitely
at your pleasant curbside.
Your dog: wagging a doggy tail.
But maybe you’re thinking
in bigger terms, one loss leading
to all the others, first cousins
to the final disappearance
of everything you love.
Frankly, today, it’s only made you
late for the movies, where your wife
has already found two seats together,
her head finding your easy shoulder
while a river of credits rolls along
and the music rises,
and the ticket stubs in your hand—
in spite of everything you know—
feel like crisp hundred dollar bills.
One afternoon in thick fog and summer
rain, I climbed out of a preacher’s car
near Parkersburg, draped
my orange poncho over me and drifted
north like a bobbing traffic cone.
I hitched your river road toward
Martin’s Ferry where the beautiful
autumn bodies threw themselves
at each other in the suicidal lights.
I never made it that time. Night
fell in Sistersville and an old woman
who harbored runaways, kids whose
fathers beat them and suffered other
sundry problems, called me off the street,
gave me a meal and a place to sleep.
The next moming I said enough
to homage and hitched into the valley
and the refrigerator that waited for me there.
I knew where to find you.
Time was still on my side.