The Agonist Journal


At four days, far too soon to mean to smile,
The baby’s laughing in her sleep.
This January afternoon, each small
Outburst, like sunlight glancing up
From the pond’s green-yellow depths, random, unwilled,
Shivers me as, room to room,
I walk with her. She’s heavy on my arm
Already, her face pinched and old
As my late grandmother’s. Would the dead return
For another run at life? She laughs
Because that’s funny. She feels no more my own
Than a dog I can’t keep. She laughs
Because that’s funny too. Bleak winter rain
Fills the windows, bows the trees.
She mutters, kinks her white-stretch-suited knees
As if to cry, and laughs again.
In warm lamplight, a wrinkling pink balloon
Nods, the friendly neighborhood
Crone who’s come to see and bless this newborn
With some needful, dreadful word
That grants happiness: conscious, willed or sought.
For now, mere reflex must explain—
Reductively?—the barely-seen
Soul whose dreams are ciphers of delight.
She laughs today as time and rain tick down.
What’s funny now won’t be again.


Alone on his ridge, in a slant of evening sun,
The hermit finds it half-dormant in the woodpile.
Against his better thought, he reaches down,
Seizes it, a late hatchling whose pointed pale
Head he squeezes at its base. Seeing it yawn
Imprecations and thrash the chilly whip of its tail,
He recalls how far he lives from anyone.
Who should live? The world seems made to pose
This question. Whom should death bypass today?
The hermit holds his snakelet like a rose,
Quick and thorny. Can he safely cast it away?
It glares at him, each golden eye a ray
Of calculation. Who should live, who join the dead?
He blacks his thumbnail hammering in its head.