From up here, the insomniac
river turning in its bed
looks like a line somebody painted
so many years ago it’s hard
to believe it was ever liquid; a motorboat
winks in the sun and leaves a wake
that seals itself in an instant, like the crack
in a hardly broken heart.
And the little straight-faced houses
that with dignity bear the twin
burdens of being unique and all alike,
and the leaf-crammed valley like the plate
of days that kept on coming and I ate
though laced with poison: I can look
over them, from this distance, with an ache
instead of a blinding pain.
Sometimes, off my guard, I half-
remember what it was to be
half-mad: whole seasons gone; the fear
a stranger in the street might ask
the time; how feigning normality
became my single, bungled task.
What made me right again? I wouldn’t dare
to guess; was I let off
for good behavior? Praise
to whatever grace or power preserves
the living for living…Yet I see the square
down there, unmarked, where I would pace
endlessly, and as the river swerves
around it, wonder what portion of
love I’d relinquish to ensure
I’d never again risk drowning.
– Mary Jo Salter
I read the line, “the plate/of days that kept on coming and I ate/though laced with poison” and she had me.
A note on the format of this poem: I am unable to get WordPress to “tab” lines for indentation. (If anyone knows how, please advise.) The layout of this poem is an important part of the experience. Please refer to its proper presentation here.