The Fall of the Fearful Biped
Things got complicated when we started to walk upright (you know,
the constant threat of falling).
—Kate Greenstreet, “Where’s the Body?”
What separates us from the animals
is that we have farther to fall
and, having fallen, fear it. Fate
and all of her accomplices. Burden
of this brain case. We can’t just migrate
in a herd, thundering across the steppes
though I think that would be lovely,
a leader I could really get behind.
I dreamed I had a sodden pelt
and a mighty set of claws.
I dreamed I lost my language.
It’s in the dresser drawer, you told
me, underneath the gun. Only
human to believe it, to retrieve
this story. In the crowded theater
you call out to the heroine, Behind you.
In every plot, a monster. Every
dream its hemisphere, the match
that flares in a darkened room.
Our bodies were not designed for this,
for bearing our own weight: that’s why
our backaches and our sagging
disbelief. It isn’t language that marks
us, but longing. Look in the back
of the book, you told me: the index,
the pattern of it. A taxonomy,
a migratory map.
What is it binds the world?
The tremendous rorqual leaps into air, bursts
through surface, then dives deep, deep
in dreams, there is that split second of opening
my eyes, the animal breath,
knowing nothing more
than that I am alive again.
The day we buried my father’s body in the earth,
as his casket was wheeled from the chapel
into the broken cold of that January day
and his old musician friends played on,
I closed my eyes and gave myself
to music. The repeated phrase of it,
how my body swayed with pleasure though I didn’t mean to.
There’s a reason we love more than anything
that first nub of green breaking
through the spring-dark, fragrant ground.
Stitch by stitch we repair one another,
the very cells of all we’ve lost
entering into our own bodies,
interstitial, this suffusion.
The Animal in My Attic
There is an animal
in my attic, scrabbling
against the rafters, making the cats
inside my living room look
up at the ceiling, startled.
It is a heavy winter animal,
circling, warm beneath
the dubious shelter of my aging roof.
When I flew through Dallas
last week I looked
into faces, hundreds at the airport,
every one with a story and some-
place to go. Lost between terminals
I watched the sun rise over business
buildings, fat and orange
against those gleaming towers.
Chilled, I huddled deeper
into my sweater, made my way
to the departure gate. Flying
over Texas and New Mexico,
all those miles of brown
and red, I knew there were stories
nestled under every roof of every
house I could not see,
thousands of people I flew over
in that crowded noisy machine,
every one with a story as vital
as the blood inside her body,
as detailed as the fingers
on his hand. The father
murdered, house swept away
in the flood, the child saved
from perishing or not—
every story as old as
love, as loss of love—
what does it matter if I tell
mine, or yours, or anyone’s?
Thousands and millions, and this one
no worse or better than the rest.
Some nights I wake and hear it
scratching. Some nights the silence
weighs down this house with its winter
coat, its stolen sleep. It must
leave sometimes, climb down the walnut
tree with its claws I know so well,
lumbering off to forage.
Or does it hibernate,
sleep the sleep of the dead up there,
dreaming mammalian dreams till winter
cracks and opens into spring?
I surround myself with treasures,
this crowded house, as if
they mattered. As if stories
had an ending. Let me
be warm and dreaming in an attic,
turning and turning in the still
of winter night, believing
in nothing, surviving into spring.
Anne Haines’s chapbook, Breach, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2008. She has recent or forthcoming work in a number of journals, both in print and online, including Field, Barn Owl Review, Coal Hill Review, Sea Stories, and others. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana, where she works as the Web Site Editor for the Indiana University Libraries.