Three, I thought,
or four at the most
by all the signs we never
know we’ve socked away as mother
no longer a toddler, but not
so far removed as would have
lengthened his stride and still
a toddler-like ratio
of torso to head so I was
was he walking like that was he
was rubble in the street no
others I mean who might
have picked him up and offered
comfort whoever it was
with the videocam preferring
footage instead how else
could the rest of us take it in.
was from behind, that is
the camera shot, but later
on the news which means
there must have been two of them,
real time, in the ravaged
cameras, they screened
the same five seconds, frontally.
I had not, said
the pilgrim in the underworld,
I had not thought death … undone …
The miracle is
that some of us should be allowed
to live at a distance from active
harm. Illusory distance, I’ll
grant you. Still.
The slender man, for instance, fishing
cardboard from the Camden Council drop-off
cardboard, good for sleeping on,
he’s not about to cross the street and
demand my purse though
God knows in any rational world
the money I spent to pay for the chair that came
in the box would be his
already. His before
I walked in the shop to buy the
The sirens in the street last night,
they weren’t for me.
The fires are safely elsewhere.
For the moment,
I’ll grant you.
We’re told the asbestos has been removed.
You’ve seen with what wonder, if your life
has been a blessed one,
the youngest among us begin to explore
that friable boundary. Self
The perpetual astonishment
of moving parts. The toes
you can feel from both
sides when you
put them in your mouth.
And quickly in succession then:
the rolling over, four-part locomotion
in its apt improvisations, and at last
triumphant prospect of everything-at-
if all goes well, before the third part
of the riddle.
You may have seen,
if you’ve been blessed
to keep them long enough,
your older loved ones beginning to alter
their gait. Less
confident on stairs, uneven
pavement. And have thought,
as we are meant to do, we are not here
was different. This
was something we hope only
to encounter in dithyrambs,
made stately by the chorus, concerning
a king or someone otherwise
to be as guilty as we are. But
the boy was three.
Four at the most.
the masks they wore at Epidaurus were
hyperbole, meant chiefly to be seen
from the topmost seats.
But grief can do what art
can only bow before. The child was wild
This poem appears in the December 2022 print edition.