For Miz E–Reading Locke, and Other Things

Good lord but you did time in the library.
Strolling through once, I saw you holding
An Essay Concerning Human
Understanding
at arm’s length, looking at it
as if it had arrived early for dinner
just to tell you it didn’t love you, had
never loved you, and twenty years later
you’re still standing there with a naked face
and a spoon in your hand.

In a lull in a seminar once,
you said, “What was that song my father
sang in the bathtub?” The professor said,
“Miz E, I don’t know what song
your father sang in the bathtub”
as if to say you should have looked it up
before class, along with Maxwell’s Demon
and concatenation. He called me
an angel among paysans. Bad angel.

Oh all the heady things I knew then
that look now like distant hills or army
tanks in some damp country where I
don’t have a map and don’t have a tongue,
now that I know what I don’t know.

But I get you now:
nothing ever stands between you and
the look of things when you’re fifty
and nobody knows you and you don’t know
who you are. Everywhere you are, some
traffic cop is posing, looking at you
sideways as if to say you dumbass, why
didn’t you just gun it through the light?

In the middle of some night, your father’s
singing wakes you like Billie Holiday
inside your brain: do nothing till you
hear from me.
How we obeyed,
how we never heard from any me.

. . .

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