It was on evenings like this,
in spite of the good talk
and drink, no more love-worries
than usual, and a fine commotion
of crickets in the late summer heat,
it was on evenings like this he knew
his true life lay elsewhere, it must,
so much acceptable pleasure here
yet so much yearning. He was home,
some muted pinprick of unease
prodding him, dully, from afar.
He told a story about a black bear
who swam the Delaware Water Gap
to get to New Jersey, where bears
can’t be hunted, a story of animal wisdom,
survival. As if the bear knew,
as if there were a secret network of bears.
His guests were pleased.
The state of Pennsylvania wanted its bear
returned. In fact, New Jersey owed them
nine bears, there was proof.
Like certain departures, betrayals,
it became a matter for the courts—
the rights of bears, of hunters and bureaucrats …
You can walk out of your life
if sadness properly instructs you.
And can’t humiliation send you,
knees bleeding, over the forbidden wall?
That’s what he was thinking
as his wife poured more wine for the guests,
as a beneficent moon half-lit the yard
and the erotics of friendship
made its edgy argument against despair.
The guests left; it was time.
He and his wife cleaned up, talked,
made sweet, drunken love.
Nothing was wrong. Nothing was wrong
except there was this life,
He suspected she sensed it too, hers,
something more utterly hers.
Elsewhere bears were trusting their bodies
to take them to safety, but what did bears know
about water and wind and chance?
He could see a bear caught in turbulence,
swept downriver, where no law
could keep it from being killed.
It’s a comedy, he thought.
His hand was resting on her hip,
it could be anybody’s hip,
anybody’s hand … In a dream
Stendhal heard Don Juan speak:
“There are not twenty different sorts of women,
and once you’ve had two or three of each sort,
boredom sets in.” To which Stendhal said,
“A man who trembles is not bored.”
Maybe it was all about trembling,
some old trepidation before the next step.
Maybe, like Stendhal, you connive
to give yourself a wake-up call
in the middle of the night.
He kissed her, and in the settled dark
rolled away into the other world
of their bed. It was easy.
No, that was not applause
coming from the crickets.
He understood that relentless buzz, more
than mere desire, less than misery.