The Portal of the Years
Whole days try to crowd into the portal. It is a portal or it is a switch-board. A big party line, each must wait a turn. Inchoate twittering of porch chickens. Rain barrels full after the storm empties. A small place, everyone speaks and everyone listens. Though in the portal, it is not places but times that converse, while inside the switchboard, it is only the one time. Early summer, a barber in the front room shakes talcum onto the neck of a janitor. An operator named Eunice places the calls, and they race through the feet of crows. Eunice overhears everything: she can describe the new baby’s crib-cap, the voices of father and son raised in anger before the shooting in the motel room. But omniscience is discreet, nods knowingly, chews gum. God imagines nothing. A man kneels to the meat on the grill and knows the unsayable thing. She has been dead weeks and the Zippo she slipped into his pocket still makes a ?ame.
REQUIEM FOR REBA PORTIS
I (Cleon Portis)
Deaf raconteur will talk your ear o?
(just a loose reckoning, the ratio
of saying to listening might
run anywhere from 80:20 to 97:03) —
the children wait, sort, analyze.
Then respond on a yellow legal pad.
He reads quickly and never replies.
They do not expect explanation.
These are anecdotes, after all, and in each
some especially vivid or sentimental
image: the theft of a slave’s only socks,
a hole in the woods with no bottom.
The lung sounds in his words click home.
A gravel road winds past a quarry.
The house sits on a limestone blu?
between a spring and a cemetery.
Today the daughter is very happy
and writes to tell the father why.
After much phoning, she has found
a capable girl to stay with mother.
The father has a way of making himself
handsome when he does not wish
to reply; it is the look of a good boy
who has been gifted a pony with one eye.
The eyebrows rise, the head tilts
like a bobber when a bream nibbles
but will not take the hook. This
is Morse a new anecdote is forming.
A cousin previously unknown to him
has written from Texas she wants to see
the old homeplace and will visit
once she gets out of the penitentiary.
Well, it is a hard kind of thing to answer.
Brooke looks to Cleon and Cleon to Brooke.
White in her wingchair the mother taps.
Seth debrides anecdotes that concern him.
From visit to visit, anecdotes cycle
like painted horses on a carousel.
In one, sailors ?sh for monster cat?sh
in the mouth of the Amazon. The bosun
fashions a hook from a steel piston.
The cook pro?ers a whole chicken for bait.
Another is of a widow and son,
cotton pickers — once the mother
questioned the way he sold it. What
was that word she used? Untoward.
And how can she forget now?
His voice drags a tarred sack. At intervals
the widow undoes her blouse,
and the son, who is so tall he stands
?atfooted to nurse, wears
a rooster feather in his hat.