Where do they come from?
Some jerk tells you it can’t be done.
Or maybe it can, but not by you.
A stifling August afternoon
kicking rotting apples in the orchard,
counting days left of summer,
not a thought in your head.
From themselves. They come from themselves.
The prime mover, the big cheese,
the first life stirring in a lifeless world.
Or: Somewhere in your brain
a synapse misfires, lighting up
the dark side of the moon.
Don’t flatter yourself,
it had nothing to do with you.
You just happened to be there,
right place, right time.
And now you are Ishmael,
the sole witness who can tell the world.
He’s still on the porch
just where you left him,
feet up and necktie loosened,
making himself at home.
Spying you through the parted curtains,
he smiles and tips his hat,
just a friendly reminder
that without you he will die.
How could you say no?
How could you not?
Take it from me, you don’t know the half of it.
At first you’ll be charmed by his improbable tale–
the island half-way round the world
erased from the maps by an ancient printer’s error,
the squall that blew him there,
the elders who hauled him from the sea,
the island women who cared for him,
mistaking him for some lesser god.
Who cares if it’s true?
You’re never going there anyway.
It won’t be long, though,
'til he starts to get on your nerves,
sleeping all day and banging around all night,
rummaging through your mail,
strewing his detritus everywhere,
finishing your Post Toasties and
returning the box to the pantry shelf.
A Johnny-one-note, one-trick pony,
he’ll follow you everywhere
peddling the same old tripe
about tropic nights and perfumed air,
amorous women with pendulous breasts,
until you think you’re going to kill him.
One morning you’ll haul yourself out of bed,
half dead with exhaustion,
and say that’s it, you’re out of here,
go ruin someone else’s life.
OK, he’ll say, heading for the door.
If that’s how you feel,
I wouldn’t want to impose.
But by then it will be too late.
By then he will be yours, you.
Without him you are nothing,
just a thin plank bobbing
on the fathomless sea.
So take my advice.
Just pull the plug now and walk away.
fix the broken doorstop in your hallway,
water the azaleas,
call a friend.
They need you too.
You stand at the window, watching.
You should never have let him drive in weather like this.
You’re like an old married couple now,
finishing each other’s sentences,
brushing the crumbs from the other’s cheek.
The story, which you’ve heard a thousand times,
has darkened and deepened in the retelling–
the sea, the rickety boat, the shoals it foundered on,
the kindness of strangers to shipwrecked souls.
Gradually, you have come to think of it as your story too.
The car turns into the driveway and stops.
The car door opens and shuts.
You hear him coming towards the house,
You check to make sure the porch light is on.
He climbs the porch steps gingerly,
scrapes the snow off his boots
and opens the kitchen door.
You could have done a million things.
This is what you did.
Copyright 2014, Barbara Fried