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  • Absence, and: Quixotic Propositions
  • Elizabeth Cox (bio)


for the family of a veteran

The house has been empty all day.            High in the sky, one bright star hovers, but        the kitchen is clean, the closet full of old shoes,                boxes piled upon boxes. Early, the worldlooked cloudless, unbalanced until noon,            the bright sky still holding that thin curve        of an inconsequential moon. My father wakes,                wonders if something is wrong.

On the porch one limp American flag lifts, barely.            My brother will not come home alive.        My mother's legs collapse beneath her dress.                She will not stand again in the same way.Small plants swell with spring,            their dark buds may, or may not, open.        The stage of ice is here, large phantoms                hover over the yard, and in our rooms.

One gray sheet rides toward the house, as the morning            sun climbs over a bank of clouds.        By noon the yard and trees scutter                with squirrels and leaves.The sky is dark by suppertime.            My mother takes pork chops from the oven,        puts each one on a plate in front of us. We sit,                separate as thieves. We chew and chew, [End Page 350]

but cannot swallow. When my father tells a joke, we smile—            a renascence occurs, as though nothing has been lost,        marking a space, before all goes back to what it was.                My brother's chair expected to be full again,to scrape against the floor, to lean back on two legs, bragging.            My mother turns to the empty place. We hold our breath,        waiting for falling debris, for planets to change their orbits,                splitting the ice, bruising the songs of our bodies. [End Page 351]

Quixotic Propositions

I. Beginning

Q: Does anyone tell me the truth?A: When you open your eyes and it is morning,    that is the truth. In an empty house    the door slams and slams.

Q: Will it matter if there is no love?A: Only if you need it.    From this waterfall a river rises.

Q: What if I make a mistake?A: Give it some name in French.

Q: In April, should I fear the snow?A: Only if you are Alaskan, or keep your teeth in a cup.    Alaskans wake to darkness as the world shifts    below them. What are you afraid of?

Q: If four ladies ask me to a luncheon?A: Say, "Finger sandwiches are too thin."

Q: Riding bareback, is it safe?A: Only if you are in Indian camp.

Q: What about choirboys walking to the chancel    carrying long candlesnuffers?A: These boys, who smell like mice and yucca plants,    listen for the sounds of a girl undoing her dress.

Q: What are these questions?A: Translations of simple hope to something hard. [End Page 352]

II. Middle

Q: Will I find wisdom in school?A: You will be washing elephants.    You will have to keep them clean.

Q: What can I do when cows come into the house?A: Close the kitchen door on their tails.

Q: Are my friends far away?A: Only the blind beggar. He sends his love.

Q: What if someone lets all the animals out of their cages?A: You must come up from the basement and yell, Hy-yaah.    You will need a whip and chair.

Q: Why does the rooster wake so early?A: He and his wife are responsible for breakfast.

Q: What is religion anyway?A: A task of experience, not without hope.

Q: Are these answers like haiku?A: No, but every pond has frogs.

III. End

Q: Can I stay here all night?A: It is your birthday. Split a cord of wood.

Q: What if my daughter cries for me at night?A: Pull her close. Tell her something new.The white of her neck will surprise you. [End Page 353]

Q: What if my son calls for me many times?A: Tell him nothing in words.    He knows all of the stepping-stones    that lead to the moon.

Q: Is it too late to plant a garden now?A: Take off your clothes.    Dig. Grow two vegetables.

Q: If the candle flickers?A: We come back to...


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pp. 350-354
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