The Den of Finitude


Before the first cars steamed the air with exhaust
and headed for St. John's Presbyterian,
St. Clement's Episcopal, and The Holy Spirit Chapel,
before Lamonica led the Oakland Raiders
raging across the Sabbath,
before lawn mowers growled at each odd-numbered address,
a gang of neighbors' dogs was chasing something small.

At the curb was the Coombses' '55 Dodge
dead so long even the rust that powdered the chassis
had retreated.
In the side yard by the redwood staves
a clump of daisies
clenched its petals in the cold.

In the middle of the street a park
round, grassless, humped with climbing rocks
shaded by palms.
In a plot of rooted soil
we had buried a bird's wing in a can.

The dogs came toward my window
looping the park's northern edge
cutting the dirt and barking for meat.
Before the end
a squirrel reached the rough-cut telephone pole.
It shot up and searched for limb
tried to master the insulated line

dropped like a stone into a dry pond
of tongue and teeth and tearing fur.
Its tail drifted from the repulsive snarl.
The slow rise of the sun pushed shadows into the room.
I was ten years old. The world's only witness.


They said she was asleep
when the car rolled into the wash
by the highway and mustard field
For the funeral Joey learned "No Man Is an Island"
I waited all day for his return
Home again
away from the closed coffin
the strangers
and a friend who would never wake up
his suit settled on his shoulders
I could not look him in the eye

My father began finding me
in the halls of the house
afraid the blood would be drained from my body
full of the fear of forever and all its stars
I was fragile
illumined by the last light
tumbling from El Camino Real
We agreed we hibernate
and come back from our rest as flowers.


After the narcissus turns its blossom into paper
the bulbs are dug from the dirt
and shelved in the dark by the Pendleton blankets.
They will bloom again
as pilgrims
in the next dying season.

Poems by John Waldman:

The Water Month
The Heat
Of Madrid
The Lake on the Border
The Woman in the Hat
The Jewelry Box
The Corner
Huber's Tavern
The House in the Town
From the Home of Furious Wonder
From What Is Left Behind
The Den of Finitude
The Story of a Mountain

TIMES TEN: An Anthology of Northern California Poets