by John Graves Morris
All we have of our neighbors’ lives
is noise and the stories we can make of it
Since I have seen spirit flare
in the struck match of photographs,
I keep turning over as I would a rock
the instant I am driving home from work
and glance at a woman as she slams
a car door and thwacks a pack
of cigarettes insistently against
her palm, striding quickly and stiffly.
Has she, too, had a bad day, the kind
on which she has scuttled in late,
chest heaving, a project deadline hanging
over her like the results from a biopsy?
Has she just returned from her mother’s
and dropping off the kids who had burst
through the front door all day
with the energy of lit bottle rockets?
Or has she just come from the convenience
store where the clerk has hassled her
about working for once and not spending
leftover food-program money on smokes?
Why do I worry her as if a chipped tooth
here in my poem about a moment
on a March day in which no event
disturbs the world like a stone crashing
into a pond that reflects vague overcast?
One day in an unbroken formation of days
we slog stiffly through like Army trainees,
calling out our steps only because told to.
Does she remind me of my mother, fatigue
after office sparring raised like welts;
does she stride like one of my sisters,
a bulldozer going up and over shyness;
or does she in some subterranean
way remind me of my ex-wife, nagging
at me the way one of our insistent children
whom I no longer see very often tugs
on my sleeve? It’s a moment. All
I can say about this woman I’ve reclothed
in my worries is that she is probably
going to unwrap cellophane, pinch out
one of the cigarettes, fire it, inhale,
and breathe the smoke out, whatever images,
frustrations, and hopes in her mind
drifting around her in the incense
of tobacco, a secular prayer at the end
of the day for herself, time alone
as she sits or opens the mail, takes
another deep drag and lets that go, too,
giving herself up to a world whirling
and wheeling around her unraveling life,
which is like all of our lives, undone
by time’s steady and undreaming tick.