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When I put the small cobalt vase into the shopping basket,
he tells me I had donated that same vase

to that same Goodwill months ago, mocking me only a little
for not remembering. Last night I watched him

put halved plums on a baking dish, shake brown sugar
and fresh thyme over them, add a bit

of water, and roast them until they sank into soft sweetness.
A few weeks ago I talked to my mother

about the different kinds of portable urinals she might buy
to use during her recovery, our grief and mirth

at the one that looked like a garbage bag
you slipped onto yourself. There was the long moment, too,

when I stood before the linden tree by the parking lot
on campus, asking it what it had seen

during the year everyone disappeared, like a tree thriving
inside a ruined, roofless cathedral. This summer

we sat outside and talked about those
who had died. He had been a bank manager and stole money

and left the country. She had had an affair with a priest.
The afternoon, like gossip turning into legend,

got dark. In the winter, in my dreams,
people would appear, their complexions dry and gray

as mushrooms. They asked for directions
or stood at the wall while I did some task that would never

be finished. I didn’t know these people
but understood they knew me, like ghosts, like ancestors,

their old desires thick in our new desires.
It isn’t that I had forgotten giving it away. It’s that I wanted

the blue vase back, having lost it that once.
This morning I watched him lie in bed without clothes

and knew the pungence of every fold
of his body, the way your fingers smell after rubbing

some thyme. A sprinkler was on outside,
a sound like a jump rope on the sidewalk. Then the sound

of children, the neighbor’s children, leading me
to that ladder within the self, with the boy

on a low rung, the man on the middle rungs, and the old man
above us, touching the leaves of the tree.


Rick Barot’s most recent book of poems is The Galleons (Milkweed Editions, 2020), which was on the longlist for the National Book Award. He directs The Rainier Writing Workshop, the low-residency MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington.

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