for K.O.B.

I.

Candle-flickered shadows on a beadboard ceiling,
the porch a private haven, parents sleeping
or unaware, maybe conspirators to our susurrus
of quiet talk, hoping after all we’d tie the knot
someday far off that never came nor could,

though we couldn’t know it, lost as we were
to kisses, rustlings, hour after hour
of life turned into dwelling, a wicker settee
cushioned, floral, a pot of lemon tea
under the foxtail fern’s white-flowered spill

still alive somewhere, or maybe not,
the screened-in porch itself a cipher
you knew, I knew, engraved upon each other,
shadows mixing on that beadboard ceiling,
unhoused, unscreened, swallowed by the night.

II.

Planets maintain their orbits, stars their drift
of constellations, so why couldn’t we,
given our bond with one another? Gravity
some would argue. Times change others proffer.
And both are right. But then there is the sea

surge of those shadows, the ribbed beadboard
like an inlet’s rippled sand, candlelight tidal
as memories that now and then come sweeping back
to crash ashore, each wave’s funneled wake
a parody of itself, the next one coming on

punctual if not perpetual, but finally not
the replacement for what’s loved, complete,
and wholly there: rain pearls threading the eaves,
steam curled from a pottery mug, undulations
of that iris-dotted blouse you used to wear.

III.

Life is habitation, all that we carry with us
through and toward the terminus of was
we can’t let go, and so instead transform,
behold, encounter, remember to relive,
awake inside a dream we know we dream,

and dreaming, love: light fluttering the ceiling,
present as that porch within this votive nook
and its own shadows chuckling like a brook
so easily vaulted, the same crossed never again,
yet inspiring once more that causal thirst

found in a tea cup, soft purling candles lit
four decades on inside the accidental
screened-in replica that gives rise to this
evening’s testimonial, the beadboard’s rifts
inflected by shadows, the shadows not there.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 41 Number 1, on page 29
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