What If This Life by Al Maginnes

I can say this night is a wheel grinding fine
the edges of bone-white stars so that they gleam
with the cold shine of new knives, the pepper-fine dust,

residue of such honing, falling, invisible, burning through
of night sky, no longer needed by the bodies it falls away from,
leaving only glare, essence without adjectives

to soften what the eye encounters.


I can say that the night is one gear turning against another,
tension that keeps machinery whispering through
its low and unheard cycles, uncounted repetitions

that are finally the strokes we mark across
the unmoving faces time offers, the way my officemate crossed
days off of his calendar, a counting downward

both useless and satisfying.


The next blank always waits to be written on.

I can say time is the board the teacher wipes clear
at each hour's end or the chalk that is diminished

each time it makes a mark, each mark
simply record of its motion. I can say we are worn away

by the things that shape us, that each time
we write our names or stand in the backyard to watch

the progress of the moon, some uncounted portion
of the self drops away, joins the dust we wipe

from counters and tabletops to become
the hidden and burning debris of stars.


But we wake not among stars
but in the world of the ten-hour shift,
the skinned knuckle, where rusty nails wait

to bite the unguarded foot. This is the world
of pavements yellow with pollen, cars whose starters
grind the slow notes of their demise, dogs

that come home bloody and torn.
This is the world that waits each day to take
what the simple human body brings.


It's too simple to say this life is finally
a silver ring circling a finger bone, a watch

ticking on the bed stand after the heart is done.
I can say my route is planned, that I have

maps and supplies, that I know exactly
the day of departure, the angle of return.

I rode a horse at night once, bareback, far past
any sign of house or road, but when we stopped,

I breathed the smell of someone's orchard.
I took a knife from my pocket, cut

the star-white flesh of an apple so sour
my mouth burned and so new its juices

rolled down my fingers to drop
sugary circles on my shirt, dark as bullet holes.

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