A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
This happens occasionally in my town. Maybe
it’s a sort of nervousness or hysteria, even
displaced fervor, as if fervor were a kind
of cloud or the fog that rolls in to envelop
the coast, that chill August fog, really more
of a bandage than a fog. You see how I stumble.
It begins with a man running onto his neighbor’s
front porch. Come on, he shouts, let’s go!
His neighbor hurries out and the two of them
run down the street shouting. It’s coming!
Then another man joins them, maybe a woman,
and from other houses come more men and women,
some pulling on coats or sweaters. It’s coming!
they shout, and their voices sound eager.
Soon there are maybe twenty people; a man
is buckling his belt, one woman as she runs
is taking the yellow curlers from her hair.
They run onto porches, hammer on doors. Now
the street is getting full. It’s like a river,
little streams emerging from separate houses.
There’s the guy who cuts my hair, the checkout
girl from Jack’s Quik Stop. Let’s go! they shout,
and their faces shine as if just washed, as if their
eagerness had erased all other concerns—the baker
who went bankrupt, the wife of the town drunk—
their faces empty of all but anticipation, like
blank paper waiting to be used, or new clothing,
anything ready to be taken up for the first time.
Past the high school and park, brushing the swings
that flop back and forth on their chains. It’s
coming! They shout—a huge crowd and all on foot.
It’s the oldsters who stop first, halting
to catch their breath; then the kids for whom
it’s half a joke, then others, in twos and threes,
they come to a stop, sometimes far in the country
as dogs run barking along the side of the road.
Those in good shape can keep it up for miles
but then they too are forced to halt until there’s
just one, the town cop or high school track star,
sprinting ahead with arms outstretched. It’s coming
he shouts. But soon he also stops, and almost
with embarrassment he begins to make his way back.
Just as they all come back, not looking at each other
or talking. By now it’s getting late. Going
into their houses, they pull down their shades,
turn out the lights so you’d think that nobody
was at home, though you know that all are still
hopeful and stand listening in darkened rooms,
waiting for they next time when someone bursts
from his house shouting, Let’s go! Which makes me
curious about other places, other lives. We must
get to the bottom of these mysteries, discover
what people require to be happy. Otherwise
we proceed in chaos and confusion, like someone
throwing a bunch of confetti into the air: some
blows north, some south and some we never know.
Copyright 1987 Stephen Dobyns
Originally published in Cemetery Nights. Included in Vox Populi by permission of the author.