at Length

Elegy for the Routine

—Lauren Camp

The future wants to stay alone—
a small box with small items,

but we are broke down
to his daylight swervings,

the extension of two dimensions
and the narrows from his mouth to door.

Fricatives flick through my headset.
Unless you know he is flying

into the last part in danger
of attack from inside, unless you know

our work of slaying apparitions,
you might ask the event:

body, love, unceasing taxes,
the freeway? Every thought bright

and lost. To understand willing
we must not know our anxiety. It is punishment

to hear the swift pitch of some pauses.
I was about to go he said

and Don’t, I reply, respectful
of the code of his upkeep.

In the mornings my sister writes
with her fidgety worries. Again

the breath of the ruined clock
and we wander

the tall sound of trust as it loosens.
Is he eating?

Soon again evening and swallows,
and after most of the last laments,

we let him carry on
with his inclinations while the glass trees

keep rising,
one day and one day

toward the least. His voice unzips
the few words he has formed

for this purpose, what he says
of coming apart. All together a dictionary

of five seasons, eight years
or some other steady rate

of invisible sticking
points. After loneliness, there remains

such loneliness. We speak its narrative
every morning. I’ve had a good day

and I don’t know how to solve it.
If we must exterminate

our house-sized blame,
let the heart move

to the hereafter. Tell me to be
at the mall listening

to his slap splitting
the phone line. Every fragment of this

small story is true. Every day all its strange
exhalations. A conversation

that bends. Sometimes I can’t
identify all the right

angles, but in my notebook
I write his daily fixations. My brother says

it sounds like his brain is breaking
and the forgetting of pleasure

takes my ear. But more than that. Every line
that lets us be family. The images turn

and I hold them. I want
to repair them. If we both could

see him, he’d be sitting
in a tired suit

rattling his fingers while a trumpet shouts
the underside of awe,

of rising and letting go. The suit on the chair
as the sun nearly depleted weeps

into violet. The suit and the touch
of intrusion. We hurry off

to make words in another
room. Several people keep peering

in our windows, and we’re missing
composure. The unsaid hope

all broken. Again with
the experimental drug and how many bottles

we’ve committed to. The tablets
—white, oblong—

the mind of the suit to be worn.
Motionless, we try to stop the edges

from lurking, the crack of suspicion that keeps
aiming its brass at rows and strokes

from long ago and his inadequate
aim. All truth is the signature

static on paper, the worn suit
of the mind. What he says

is to anyone now
with its shaky brightness. The mind

is the geography. The mind is the giant
and its incessant informing

is final. Again I return
to the messages and how he wept. Desire to

tenderness. The past is bending over
to see what is no longer

there. When he is this far
out of focus, we pay for his money money

and again money. Are they poisoning—?
No, now I see the corner,

muttering. Around him, x-ed selves
who keep tossing him stones.

This means you will think it hurts
to love. But no. This is the tall sound

of summer getting paler. How do I know
that this man with redundance will still

breathe at the shore
of his thoughts? Why water again? I want

correct answers. Then calm. And the afternoons
leak to a house of ranunculi

or ubiquitous Florida. Enough later
to care. He wouldn’t go

and then wouldn’t not. The flap
of his staggers, and glitters

of memory. Stubborn. My sister and I take up
the rumple of praying

without supervision.
A woman has the will

and sends his will—without a wrinkle
through the mail. We make it through

the weekend with all its singing,
then receive every email

with again. More very old
grimaces. Notes (mine)

and loops (his). Have you heard—?
The shoved-in ellipses. Time repeats

its September, October,
and meanwhile only hours. Then September

a lot. The fear
that we are reducing

life to a suit jacket.
It’s all he has. Into the again

again. Every necessary name, the opposite,
oppositive. The names he knew

dangling. The straightened names
unmanned. We tell him

in thin moments, and he slips
beyond them. After hours and days his freedom

is sweaty. He is criticized for the shock
of his odor. Prepared to show better

he sits soaped in the shower
after a tantrum. Time in and out,

soaking and heavy. Now
he’s by the ocean and is marveling

at his old habits. Or he’s advancing the car
over cobblestones

to a corner. He can no longer
drive. Between terraces, he unfurls

a hat and walks window
after window. The immense city. He dresses

in beige day after day. Tells the sister, the cousin
what he can’t remember:

every fault as it escalates. He’s off
to the temple wearing his

threadbare jacket. The rest of the year begins
today. It moves around

and we attempt to restore it. My sister
texts more inaudible news. I can’t

concentrate. The emails end
in hours and there’s nothing in front

for me to cross back from.
He calls. It’s night now. Somewhere

he hangs up. We keep talking, the words
subdividing. I sleep with his face

in the case of my brain. Sparrow
and anger from a blanket through night, flailing

limbs. Nowhere more blackness. He knows
my name is something that was said

earlier. The next day is launched
loud from a distance. I swear

to sift through the depths
when the holiday is over. I promised

we could be in the city
of love without reason and this most of all

will not save him. He tells me who
he is. Good dad.

This is every tree. This is gravel; look
at the sunset. Look how the blues spread

through his suit jacket. Blues
browse our names. Time is entirely shallow

sounds. Those last daylight hours
eat and eat and morning comes,

rearranged. What’s been praised are the margins
of childhood, the pulp

of our old tudor, two years
and all the clocks

disillusioned of new possibility,
the drain and the bugs that came up,

winging. His mind ate the language. Language eats
every landmark, and now

we’re all smudges. Can’t more blur
house or ransack what’s stuck

in its nest. Love is each
complicated sadness. A checkbook

with holes in the sides. This will be the last move
to return. The prayers speaking

and he’ll remember only the splinter
of nights and how rescue

became subtractions, and again
our abrupt coordination when he needs

absence. We practice mouth-blame
till he loosens. His mind refusing

to solve every fragment.
A weak cloud moves past

with the insignia of leaving.
We estimate, then go to twenty four-

seven, all the clocks back
to humming. A small room. Many counters.

We used to say we didn’t gamble.
Now we have to.

He shrugs. Does it have to be
constant? He utters another

tragedy. Each phone call is all sky, and then error
from the flesh of my heart. I am

what he cast, and my promise
is crooked. No must but all leaping. The cool

of the pane and later a scotch to calm
the hippocampus. Let it be

spacious where he stores his awkward
artifacts. Don’t worry, we say

to ourselves. We’ll get past
the ripeness. Every tree in this town

has been broadcasting
pollen. Even driving slow, we break

toward time with no
signs. Snow is already scratching

the ground. Check the seasons
and let out their flutters.

Lauren Camp is the author of three books, most recently One Hundred Hungers (Tupelo Press, 2016), winner of the Dorset Prize. Her poems have appeared in New England Review, The Seattle Review, Beloit Poetry Journal and elsewhere. She is a Black Earth Institute Fellow and the producer and host of Santa Fe Public Radio’s “Audio Saucepan,” which interweaves music with contemporary poetry.

Photo credit: Anna Yarrow.