Standing Beside You, for Michael
by Marita O’Neill
Rolling expanse of prairies, Midwest vowels,
wide and flat, lumbered always through
your voice, your gait, the round stone of your back.
In your absence, I listen for the crow’s fuss,
catch glimpses of you in strangers wearing
leather jackets, gray, unruly pony tails.
Standing beside you as you smoked Pall Malls,
you read us poems, gathered us in, drawing
words out from the inky blackness of your voice.
Once, you cupped your hands into a nest, offering
the moon, one earring with no match, one star without
a sky, and, lastly, a doorknob with no door to a room
we both considered but never entered. You knew
the temper of wood, the space of thresholds:
the way they hold a coming and a leaving.
You hated war and wanted only to write
until your hands bled, till the blue black pacing
of crows stopped like clock hands, telling the work
is done at last. Always teaching.
If a man has to die, if a man’s heart has to fail,
let it be like this — writing words on birch bark, dancing
around fire, singing with young people, whittling
a carpenter’s pencil, telling anyone who listens,
you love your wife.