Translation Between Friends
There’s a rightness to this argument we’re not exactly arguing,
my new friend and I polite but stubborn, too.
We’re talking about cooking and I won’t stop saying “buffalo”
no matter how many times she says “bison,”
but we’re okay, we’re getting along, finding common ground
like the buffalo finds it, sometimes on buffalo grass,
which I sometimes think I will use to replace
he weary weeds sprouting my yard this year like every year,
waving seedheads to any passing ruminant,
whatever they’re called. My friend might think she’s right
for being high-toned, I might think I’m right
for being common. But there is no grazing animal
walking here at all, and neither of us knows
the next time we’ll dine together. In the broader pastures
the great split hooves of wisdom still grind down shadows
and grass, and all we can do is be grateful.
There are worse answers to small problems, humans
finding their way through what it is to be small ourselves
with a hunger that we turn to greater things to fill.
How We Become Murderous
She was not always so serious. But she could think,
and she could look to me for answers, words
to taste for tone or more, I couldn’t ask even as she did.
We say we are living until we begin to die, though what marks
the change may be slight, an accrual of signs. As with her,
the delicate, quick huff in the throat after dinner.
Pressure in there, I thought, around the tumor the kids found
at the veterinary college year before last. Clients don’t get
to talk to grown-ups there, I guess, though I have,
when the last dog needed the needle and I hauled her
to the table over my shoulder. I remember that sound
as extended howling, or screaming, or tearing.
Whatever it was came from us both. Now the blue puppy
who rolled her over in the yard two nights before
is meditating on her own end. She knows.
She is profound, again more than I can ask. I am not
planning to handle the day well, not today, with its maddening
lonely chill, or tomorrow, when I will teach the poetry
of a wealthier woman who possessed everything I wanted
but will not own no matter what or how I earn,
or any day, not ever, especially not the day I will not name
but you know. The radiograph showed her belly full
of fluid. From the lungs, or the tumor, which has, as predicted,
grown slowly. I thank you for the indulgence, tumor.
I needed the time. Eventually everything is lost
and after some months or years no one is able to care.
Or if they do it is like the look in her eyes this afternoon,
in the light that is not worthy of the name the only truth
that shines, and on the television I had to turn off
the echo of impeachment lawyers killing us both
more than they know or care in crisp black suits
with white spattered here and there, cuffs, maybe.
On the faces and legs of dogs such flashes lend depth,
and beauty, sometimes humor. But you know
how humans are. We lie down in our beds to dream
of lies and we lay waste, even in the name of kindness
to everything we love that we deem ready before time
makes matters worse, and thusly play a game of courage
we refuse one another except in secret or in rage.
Lisa Lewis is the author of several award-winning books, including Silent Treatment (Viking/Penguin 1998), winner of the National Poetry Series. Taxonomy of the Missing (Word Works 2018) is her most recent collection. Her work appears in many journals and anthologies, including Kenyon Review, New England Review, Third Coast, Fence, Seattle Review, and Best American Poetry. Recipient of awards from the American Poetry Review and the Missouri Review, a Pushcart Prize, and an NEA Fellowship, she teaches in the creative writing program at Oklahoma State University and serves as poetry editor for the Cimarron Review.
Image: “Hold Me” by Bobbi Le’Rae Valentin