you cannot see his face,
only the ghost of a reflection looking in from the outside,
an over the shoulder glance he makes
without moving, continuously.
possibly he sees in both directions,
at once looking out the window and back into the room.
outside it rains. it thunders. a limb falls suddenly.
the contrast is striking, really.
consider the sheath of hand-knotted brown and beige zig-zags.
one wonders: is this the stillness of death
or life: zygotic, nascent, and vaguely oedipal?
surely life, you think, these sticking-out toes are
the moisture-hungry radicle pushing down
into the dark inbetween of couch cushions,
where nutrients lie; this neck and single hand
turned to the wan light, mid-furl and hopeful,
the timid cotyledons. one and two.
a dicot, then. perhaps an avocado.
(we grew one, once. miss howler kept the stones
wrapped in wet paper towels
incubating coldly in her underdesk darkness.
by april they had become fat-bellied and skinny-necked,
like native dancers on television,
at once more willowy and more burly
than anything i had seen. i held one, not breathing.
i got to take it home and plant it and, later,
kill it by neglect.)
still, you cannot tell by watching whether something is alive
or, for that matter, what it intends.
this lump of afghan could be waiting
for a break in the weather,
for a chance to sprout,
for a time when no one is looking.
or for a chance to die. i am a realist.
(the next year miss burdette tried the same thing,
with the avocados. we knew what to expect.
but somehow, we lost interest, or she did.
she did not remind us; she left in the spring.
then came a spinster substitute who smoked
on the playground. yellow fingers. lips with vertical wrinkles.
we found the plants that june, just at the end of the year.
maybe it was too hot, maybe too late,
maybe there was too much water:
the seeds had turned to mush and grey fuzz
was growing. right through the paper towels.
i remember the softness of that disappointment
was like the grey fuzz: the slump of missed potential
softened by not-caring-much-anyway, with a twist of guilt
over the not caring bit. it seemed like a shame
to throw them away, but that’s what we did.)
you’re still in the doorway.
is that what keeps you in the room?
some grade-school helpfulness wonders whether he
should be given more water? given less?
and is he looking outside because he wants more light?
you want to go to him and ask.
childhood takes over:
you think of shaking him to see if he rattles.
let’s plant it in the sandbox. let’s feed it to the dog.
i shall put him in my mouth, you think.
you cannot see his face,