WAKE-UP CALLThe water is slapping wake up, wake up
, against the boat chugging away from Venice, infinite essence of what must end because it is beautiful,Venice that shrinks to a bobbing, pungent postcard and then to nothing at all as the automatic doors at the airport obligingly shut behind you.Re-enter a world where everything’s much the same, where you’ve gone slack again, and don’t even know it, so unaware that you actually shrug to yourself,I’ll be back
, and yes, for some lucky stiffs it’s true, sometimes it’s you, you’re sure to get more chances at Venice, and Paris, and that blessed, unmarked placewhere you sat on a bench and he kissed you that first time, so many kisses, you hoped he would never stop, you can hope, at least, not ever to forget it,or forget how your babies, latching onto your breast, would roll up their eyes in an ecstasy that was comic in its seriousness, though your joy was no less grave,but you’re not going back to so much, and more and more, the longer you live there’s more not to go back to, and what you demand in your gratitude and greedis more life in which to get so attached to something, someone or someplace, you’re sure you’ll die right then when you can’t have it back, something you don’t even knowthe name of now, but will be yours before receding as an indispensable ache; what you’re saying is Lord, surprise me with even more to miss.
SONG OF THE CHILDRENApril 2005
Two years since the springof the invasion, a well-conductedsymphony of fireworks on the screen,I sit at home, half-humminga tune from miles away inside my brain.I think I know, at least, the song's refrain—In the end it's about the childrenIn the end it's about the children—
What's wrong with me? The music isn't coming."What is the grass?" the child asked Whitman,gathering strangeness in his outstretched palms."All flesh is grass," said Brahmsin well-aimed thunder, merciless and grand.What is the hookthe child is left with, he who losttwo parents, and a sister, and a hand?Who bears the cost?How can I tell him—I who can barely look?A shrug then: fate is fickle;so many soldiers won't be getting older;as another year's worth of recruitshoists its rifles, shoulder to young shoulder,another pen rests on my ink-stained knuckle.I have been spared, it seems, for another yearto compose the awkward rags of my regrets—In the end it's about the childrenIn the end it's about the children—
Another year has curledin on itself;under the wheels of Humvees cakedwith dust, the turning, half-cocked worldis skewered on its axis.My pen is angled too—is glad enoughto bleed into long ranks and files of taxes:before my country's army rolling forwardI write my check, the white flag of coward.POETRY SLALOMMuch lessthe slamthan the slalomgives me a thrill:that solemn, no-fussOlympian skillin skirting flag after flagof the bloody obvious;the fractionallag,while speeding downhill,at the keymoment,in a sort of whole-body trill:the note repeated,but elaborated,more touching and moreelevatedfor seeming the thingto be evaded.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from A Phone Call to the Future by Mary Jo Salter. Copyright © 2008 by Mary Jo Salter. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.