After the Flood
We are walking, slipping on the ice.
Earlier today, someone asked me,
“What stake do you have in this?”
Later, I ask you
“Did the flood come through here?” and you, gesturing to the expanding field:
“It was a fast-moving river, all water.”
Here’s the gap,
the place where we once knew solid ground
and now is all movement—
Calling over the man who was flying a sign at Arapahoe and Broadway,
I handed him the thawing, sloppy food I’d carried down the flooded hill.
Stupid with trauma. All of us.
The loudspeakers blaring, “Leave immediately. Seek higher ground.”
But the flood didn’t simply rise from below;
it rushed down from above.
Later, when the man suddenly shows up at the shelter
after months gone,
I hit him with a rolled up newspaper:
“Where have you been? You had me worried!”
Then we both laughed. Then
he’s gone again, limping in memory.
My attentions are crude, raw.
I begin to think that all attention is a form of loss
because it cannot create perfect reciprocity
with its focus.
I remembered trying to cross the street and
being unable to. That current.
How to explain the utility of loss and fear?
How to explain that the fragmentary quality of my love for
and you and
you is enough,
even if it is as inconsistent
as the comings and goings of the many who
present themselves to be loved.
The logbook says he returned, got a bus ticket,
one day when I was out sick.
Exhausted with the effort of paying attention,
of making present to my awareness
the ones whose presence is fundamentally
Those whose presence is fundamentally unhoused.
What is your stake in this?
We love, if we love, inside every increment of error, forgetfulness, panic.
I stammer, “I believe—my
there is a Divine who loves
all of us—all of it.”
You ask, “And why would some people never
Incomprehension is not always the same as doubt:
“I don’t know.”
Walking outside in the cold with you, I do not say that I have a dying tooth and its
dying will reassert itself as pain when I am inside again, in
the warm air.
The weather, captive to its own movements, may freeze the ground,
but it doesn’t tell us who we are as we fall and scramble to right ourselves.
It doesn’t awaken pain by its warm absence.
This partial, this fragment, this self-as-errant
The world, we may agree, is ending badly.
But inside despair
there are ameliorating coincidences.
There are pleasures. I have a loving
to hearing the erotic talk of the two owls
who perch on the dark peak of the garage across the street.
A man disabled by his stutter tells me haltingly that
on the best of days he can say this much:
—he shapes his hands to a small box in the air—
when there is this much
—broad gesture of arms—
in his mind.
I lack the whole story while
the story itself corrodes or the current
out of reach.
I have peace only in some part as,
in passing, it attends to me.
Despair may always be true, with its glare.
Its greedy light
blanches the surround of all color.
Beside or aside it, rapture has its own kind of patience,
groping in the dark.
I, with my keen scent, sniff it in, but am still dim, thick not knowing whether
presence is coming or going.
Elizabeth Robinson is the author, most recently, of Blue Heron (Center for Literary Publishing) and Rumor (Parlor Press/Free Verse Editions). Vulnerability Index is forthcoming from Ahsahta Press in 2019. With Jennifer Phelps, Robinson co-edited the critical anthology Quo Anima: innovation and spirituality in contemporary women’s poetry, which is forthcoming from University of Akron Press.