I have a friend who is learning about presidents.
My friend is fifty-seven and dying.
I care nothing of presidents and would as soon
hear nothing more about them.
What I would like to learn, as I approach
the end of my days, is how a butterfly
came to die on my doorstep and what God
felt about it and whether it was brought there
to give me pain. In their excitement the birds
I love and love to feed will often nip a flower
in two and sometimes kill their young
and I would like to know why—or why I turned
left instead of right when the puppy was going
to cross the road. I would like to know
why my mother, now eighty, still knows what
I ought to do, and I have never really known.
I would like to know why some people cut down
trees or fire off cannons to keep the birds away.
I would like to know why every weatherman
must be so cutesy and why American newsmen
and newswomen must destroy people’s lives
and get their kicks from it. I would like to know why
I put down in words what no one is apt to read
and what I will repent of later anyway.
I would like to know why Plath had to kill herself
and why no one is still crying. I would like to know
why it took forty-five years to notice that my bait
was alive, that the barb of my hook pierced its eyes
and I was not struck dumb. I would like to know
why to love life like heaven is to hurt like hell.
Today the fields I walk upon have snow
as their late companion. The memory of it
lingers on the tops of posts and in the wrinkles
of shaded crevasses. There was a girl once,
I remember, who loved to go with me, in winters,
first to the highs and then to the lows.
We would sit there in the snow and pretend
we understood the world, she with her beauty,
I with my new beard and shotgun. The memory
of her is in my boot heels and I would like to know
how that could be, how with every step
along the fencerows I can still hear her laughing
and humming Mozart. I would like to know why,
then and there, I did not say this life is a poem.
Let’s do it as right as we can.
Steven R. Cope, Winchester, Ky., is the author of several books, both fiction and poetry. His most recent collection is The Furrbawl Poems, Uncollected Poems 1973-1993,
published by Broadstone Books.