“Go ahead,” I say to my neighbor at the Putney Co-op who tells
me he can’t complain. “Let it out. It’s mid-March and there’s still
two feet of snow on the ground. Fukushima has just melted down and
the Washington Monument cracked at its pyramidion. Put down your
bags and sing. How many times dear father, graybeard, lonely old
courage teacher must you walk down the aisles as a randy eidolon
humming your tunes for us to start? Our song begins in silence and grows
to a buzz. We make it up as we go along, then watch our numbers swell—
ten thousand members who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Who fly
like a swarm to join us in our chambers, which are these aisles.”
I’m singing without knowing it, carrying the tune of main things,
lamenting the prices with Bernie Sanders. My neighbor joins me
for no other reason than singing along as a member of the cast we call
the multitudes of lonely shoppers. I roam the aisles with the sadness
of America, juggling onions, blessing the beets. It’s a local stage on
which the country opens like a flower that no one sees beside the road.
In my hungry fatigue, I’m shopping for images, which are free on the highest
shelf but costly in their absence—the only ingredient here that heals my sight
of blindness. I see you, Walt Whitman, pointing your beard toward axis
mundi by the avocados, reading the labels as if they were lines, weighing
the tomatoes on the scale of your palms, pressing the pears with your thumbs
the way you did in Huntington, Camden, and Brooklyn. And you, also, Ruth
and Hayden, at the checkout counter with empty bags you claim are full
of apples, almonds, and bananas. What can you say to those outside who
haven’t read your poems? Who find it hard to get the news from poetry
but die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
It’s night. The Connecticut slips by across Rt. 5. The moon is my egg
and stars, my salt. I score the music of the carrots, scallions, and corn in
the frost of the freezer windows. The sough of traffic on 91 washes my ears
with the sound of tires on blue macadam. The doors close in an hour….
We’ll both be lonely when we return on the long dark roads to our silent
houses. I touch your book and dream of our odyssey westward to a field
in Oregon, Kansas, or California where we plant our oars and die ironically.
Where we finish our journey as strangers in our native land. These are the
lyrics to our song in the aisles—the buzz of the swarm with our queen
at the center. What America did you have, old howler, when you scattered
into the sky, then floated like a cloud as another form in the making outside
of time, forgetful at last and empty of all you sang?
Chard deNiord, “At the Putney Co-Op, an Opera” from Interstate
. Copyright © 2015 by Chard deNiord. Reprinted by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.
Source: Interstate(University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015)
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