Shift

by SARAH V. SCHWEIG

 

 

*
We all have our jobs and we do them.
We have our lives and our rented rooms.
We pass through time. We are born with our mouths
open. The glass diminishes, the bartender fills it. 
The broken clock, stuck, still ticks.
Sometimes, the day passes easily and we rejoice
at how we’ve been brought seamlessly
closer to death. We work and sleep until somebody slips. Until
somebody leaves. One thing I’ve learned, and it still needs work: 
The stranger the lights the more arbitrary the lord.

 


*

He’s from South America, so the suits named Sir call him Tequila. 
He cleans the marble lobby with Windex. Spritzes, wipes. 
Have you seen the trees? is a question that deflects
almost successfully. Without weather, what would we say
to each other? White petals blossom and fall. He whitewashes
the red brick wall. For just how long can a person be treated
like a wounded swan before growing wings to complete this hall’s
thankless decoration? In Arlington Cemetery, on New Year’s Day, 
I watched the outcropping of marble grown suddenly over new graves.

 


*

Our expectations are tempered now, 
like the hard soil where my mother once planted simple flowers, 
tamped town. Today, I’ve decided Beauty can still be found.
Under hung lights, he pours across the spotless floors
a tonic of water and bleach. To chart obstructions is also
a profession, disclosing wreckage on the cruel sea floor.
The German painter goes through the door. 
No man is born with mop in hand.
We’ll work and sleep until somebody sings.
A woman clutches fistfuls of change.
When the phones ring, my arms lift like wings.

 

 

*

All day, by glass doors, Isaiah stands guard, hard of hearing, 
bad knees, humming Tchaikovsky. Give a man a square inch plot
of shoddy land and he’ll put his whole life there, 
he’ll put his whole mind there. The German painter paints
ruined temples the way they might have been. There is
no reason. On the street this morning, a bird’s severed wing.
Wind blows across an old sun.
I too have tried to move through the world without thinking.

 

 

*

Some things we write down so we can forget; others, to bring us back. 
There’s a song. It goes, The cloud of ash is coming
to ruin the corn, to wash away the stalks, to coat the fruit in dust, coming
to blanket the flock, and cover us. 

There’s a song that goes, Someday I’ll take off, and won’t come back.
Someday I will have been traveling. This, then, to bring me back.