Let's start with this coffee I just spilled,
stain spreading, steadfast as the walnut floorboards
that must still swell with moisture
in the room my family swarmed for dinner as a boy,
window shades filtering the adamant,
decaying sun of summer evenings.
I focus all attention on the earthy, robust smell
that seems darker than the coffee,
and I refuse to recognize the way something dark,
and completely simple,
like this now half-cup of coffee, trembles,
then stills a second as I hold it,
and stare into it a long time,
until I am remembering that man⎯
how heavy he was the morning
he dropped from the South Tower⎯
and that house where I watched him on the television,
ten years old, with a certain sense, bewildering
and paralyzing as the takeoff of a plane is to a toddler.
And despite a looking back
that said goodbye before I could say anything,
and his deep breath, his wave,
he still turned carefully away, forever,
scrutinized the skyline, face tilted upward
as if supported by the feeble sunrays
girdering through the smoke,
and stepped off.
Like light he desired darkness.
Sometimes, when I try to imagine myself as that man,
I feel released for seconds,
and if that release persists, terrified.
And to be honest, as a child, I was terrified of everything:
clowns, report cards, the filthy fingers of a family friend all over me.
But that other fear is different.
Even so, I thought I could forget that man
cascading through the chaos⎯determined, free⎯
and whether or not his fall was soothing.
Bathed in the television's tide of light, I sat,
a moth fixed to the flame of what it wanted,
and watched as the camera trembled,
going out of focus…
Then came a reporter, sweat glistening her forehead
as she talked, calm as habit,
the microphone shaking in her hands.
And all the youth I felt,
whatever left me in my nervous laugh,
did not return in the deep breath I drew in,
slowly, a second later,
the first breath of a young man.
And who knows where that boy went,
too numb to speak about what he thought
was only someone's cowardly surrender.
But maybe, after all, he's here,
in this coffee stain on the carpet⎯
its shape not a body flattened on concrete,
but only the random result of gravity,
a blind design with a silence and force
that transforms everything.
"Man Painting a Fishing Shack on the Pier"
There's the possibility, of course, you'll plummet off the scaffold,
yet as always, as I walk here every morning, thinking of something else⎯
how lobsters navigate the mystifying forests of the seas,
or how the water reflects the final strands of sunlight,
reflects all that's left⎯
I see the stubborn progress of your brush.
But I beg for you to keep in mind:
if you slip and plummet, swallowed by the ocean's
constant folding and unfolding,
I cannot hurl myself out there to rescue you
in swells like that. Surely you can understand?
I can't be the fisherman to hook, and pull you up,
drowned, covered in seaweed⎯
It can't be me searching in all directions for help,
alone, hearing the shush of high tide decompose
the pier's wooden support beams little by little,
the way, perhaps, downpours decomposed the swing set
in your backyard, while your mother's voice called you in.
And if you do die, don't make me try to confess
what every moment of your life⎯
all the heartbeats, all the grinding forward, inch by inch,
of your body through every second⎯
signifies, when I'm only twenty-four, so overwhelmed,
like a sea lion plucking floating bits of food,
then suffocating with surprise
when the torpedo frame of a great white launches from below.
Do I really need to tell you why it all matters?
I mean, you'd be dead,
and a crowd would crane to see your corpse
rolling in the waves without breath,
which somehow escaped from you in all your carelessness…
Clearly, it would be cruel⎯You wouldn't be ready.
But would you recognize it works that way for everyone?⎯
My being there would be cruel, too,
because of my unpreparedness, my shock,
my lack of anything to say except:
you drowned, you drowned,
I didn't help, I didn't help.
Silvio Vincenzo is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His poetry and translations have been featured in Poetry Quarterly, Reed Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Belleville Park Pages, and many others. He is currently an adjunct professor for the Changing Lives Through Literature program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, New Hampshire Technical Institute, and Plymouth State University.
His first book, Walk-in Closet (Yellow Chair Press), is forthcoming in 2017. He currently reads manuscripts for Hunger Mountain and Ink Brush Publications.