Three Poems

by Elizabeth Volpe


He wants to manage the light
and so he changes all the switches
in the house to dimmers, just as he did
in our last house, and at the children’s houses.
While I putter, or read, or cook,
he fiddles with the circuit breakers,
and then I find myself muttering in the dark.

True, our evenings are softer
with my husband’s muted light,
free from the blare of bulb and lamp. See,
he says, as he rolls the switch between finger
and thumb, and the room lightens and darkens
at his direction. I wonder what it’s like
to live in his solar system.

Across the street the neighbors’ house
is alight. Last week it was a twenty-foot glow-in-the-dark
Michigan State Sparty. Now gigantic spiders and witches spin
through tree limbs, and orange lights pulse, pulse. I can see
it’s driving my husband nuts, all that fanfare,
and the yard lit up, blinking
into our bedroom as we try to sleep.

He doesn’t know what a traitor I am in the night,
enjoying the company of their carnival. Soon his soft snores
remind me how simple it is for him
to silence the light
and the dark. I move away, reach
for my bedside table, feel around for a lemon drop,
let it slide to the back of my tongue, imagine
it’s a small cool moon
I’m diminishing.

Suffering Borne by Two Is Nearly Joy

after Prometheus Bound by Peter Paul Rubens

This, I suppose, is the ancient definition
       of suffering: a great
               eagle with no personal grudge

sinks his beak
       day after day
               into guts and blood,

a vicious circle
       of punishment and redemption.
               Prometheus, I think, had the edge,

for he grew to know
       his tormentor fully, could forgive,
               even love,

the great bird whose mighty talons
       tore his groin. I wonder if
               the grand eagle could

ever forgive the man
       whose flesh he gored
               daily, all those years—

his tongue numb from sameness.
       Perhaps over the years
               like any married pair

they would look in each other’s eyes,
       a braided thread of light and dark
               stitching one to the other.

To Sixty

At this junction between old
and really old, a mere step between the salsa
and the waltz, the three-inch heel
and the pump, you’re a shadow I can’t shake,
even in the shade. I feel you
in my fingers and my knees, hear you
in the wheezings of the wind,
the joint-crackings of ancient branches, see you
in the way morning unclenches,
making me feel bruised.

These days I wear risk like a flak jacket.

I see you in the crow perched on the neighborhood
jungle gym. At first I thought it was a child,
black-jacketed, sleeves flapping. Who are we
without our illusions?

I never thought I’d admit to
laughing with my legs closed, preferring footbaths
to rollerblading. So what if my skin hangs
like old wallpaper, if my children have never heard
of canasta or pedal pushers, if my prescriptions
are delivered in bulk from UPS.
Elasticity? I used to have it,
now I wear it.

Sixty, I’ve got to hand it to you. You do know how
to milk the publicity teat. Time’s cover story
this week tells us to make peace with aging.
You’ve got to be kidding. Peace?
I picture a long table with you on one side
and me on the other, God standing at the head
looking like Henry Kissinger. No one understands
a thing he says so it’s weeks before we agree
on anything. When the negotiations finally begin,
I propose coffee, but you hold out for green tea.
I suggest bagels, you counter with prunes. Okay,
you win. Don’t worry, this is not going to be
a stormy settlement. I know when I’m outnumbered.
Forget munition dumps, demilitarized zones. Just let me
get my knitting basket, and I’ll come quietly.