What has kept the world safe . . . [has] been memory.
— John Hersey
But we forget, don’t we?
Not what happened, but the thickness of it.
The rough edges of the table
on the café terrace, moisture
beading on your glass. The way the woman
who would become your wife
kept pushing her hair off her forehead.
The sound of a cicada spinning to its death on the sidewalk,
a papery sound, like someone thumbing through a book.
Think of the man who returns
a year after the five-day war
in which his house was burned.
What’s left of it
still stands on the corner, so he can search
among the black and crumbled stones,
the splintered table legs, for the photo
he didn’t expect to find—
photo of a woman, her hair swept back
in a style no one wears anymore. He’d forgotten
that she used to wear her hair that way,
as he’s forgotten the stretched feel of his skin
in the heat of the flames he watched from across the street,
though he’d tell you that’s the one thing
he would remember forever.
The earth has grown tired of us,
shrugs us off.
Port au Prince, Concepción, Padang,
we all live in Jericho’s walls,
and Joshua only the herald
of the land’s deep upheaval.
His trumpet calls to the bricks:
fall down. Not everyone can be saved.
I need poems, need them bad,
prays the dying man
in his hospital bed. We are all
saying our beads, one word
following another like steps across
a road in the moment before it rises,
before the gates come tumbling down.
Photo of burned house by TheMint, courtesy Pixabay.