Vox Populi

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Stephen Dobyns: Scale

For Heather McHugh


In the stratification of domestic perception,

the man walks through the living room and notes 

the mantel’s pricy bric-a-brac; the child stares up 

at a light bulb, brighter than the sun beneath 

the floor lamp’s shade. For the dog, it’s knees 

and tabletops. For the cat, it’s the darting escapes 

of the small. Mouse, cockroach and louse—worlds 

scaled to discriminating ambitions and dimensions. 

How easily overthrown when the man, in his hurry, 

stops and turns, puts a hand to his heart, and then 

drops past mantel, lamp and table top—thump!

Now his eyes focus on the coffee table’s claw foot, 

next on a single burnished claw stretched toward 

a scrap of walnut hung up on filaments of carpet, 

a tidbit dropped by a grandson. After that, he spots

specks of lint, dust motes that grow with his attention 

so huge they change into solar systems with planets 

where he might see cities, rooftops and, who knows, 

even a man mowing his lawn, if he had the time. 

But now his eyes fix on a vortex of pink spirals, ridges 

and rills whirling inward to the labyrinth’s still center 

where at last his focus stops. Why, look, it’s his own 

dear fingerprint.  First there forever, and then not.

“Scale” from The Day’s Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech, copyright 2016 by Stephen Dobyns, BOA Editions, Ltd.

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