Oct/Nov 2016 Poetry

The List of Wishes

by James Underwood

Image courtesy of the British Library Online Photo Collection

The List of Wishes

You whisk up a dustpan full of luminous stones
clattering one morning at the bottom of the driveway
and sifting their shapes from debris carry the bunch
in two hands to the workbench in the corner of the
basement where you spread them on an aluminum tray
and begin their examination rolling each between
the calluses of your forefinger and thumb.

The prettier stones, the ones like children's candy—
a bright and lemony yellow, fat farmyard peach,
a licorice black that's almost chewy—you pop
between your teeth and press with tongue
against the palette until your mouth is full of saliva
and swallow as fast as you can while blinking twice
as if to hide from yourself the thing you've done.

Your neighbor rings the bell and you shout to her
from down the steps and she takes the stones
you haven't eaten, sits on the floor and with a jeweler's
diamond tipped drill bores each a hole and squints
through the tiny openings into the light of the lantern
you place beside her then slides the stones
along the wire unspooling from her pocket.

She clears the tray and you pass to her from the pit
you're digging fossils, rocks, chunks of rusted metals,
pieces of green pottery, earrings, combs,
shattered bits of doll, and a number of agate pins
and seals in different shades of red which she smells
with solemnity then brushing away loose dirt
drills their holes and adds them to the ragged ornament.

When the ends are cinched the two of you drape the chain
several times over your arms and shoulders
counting to three in silence with your eyes
and nod your heads then straighten your backs into
this burden and bear what seems a hundred pounds
up the stairs, through the door and to the yard
where you unfold it in a giant circle upon the grass.

Life continues with regularity around this odd artifact,
balls are thrown inside and out of its boundaries,
weeds are pulled, leaves are raked, snow is shoveled
and heaped until the days start to lengthen and burn
out of the somber wintriness like something issuing
from the center of the earth until all that's finally left
is a hoop of pale white skin ringed around your abdomen.


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