Per Annum

Joseph O’Brien

Time takes miles from life, years rolling out, tolling mpg’s,
From a perpetually restless motor. The past, awkward and unwieldy,
Is a highway map folded in confusion’s haste.
It goes too far back for me to follow.
You become an absence, the might of a subjunctive ghost,
Expected as a radio station
And the time and place its fading signal finally dies.

Attuned to time best beneath an A.M. static cloud, I bridge
White swarms of aural cells blinding mind to all but one thought,
Make, work, do, provide, provide.
Intransitive hands work wheel and knead radio knobs, loom-like.
As if broadcasting lifetimes through me, miles from you
Are so many electric shards of Damocles’ sword,
Hang-fire dangled in dead air.

Travel is always per mile and per annum
To hedge on the litter of signs and wonders along the highway,
Leading to some out of the way station where loneliness
Itches at a payphone’s coin-slot
And breathes dial tone into a cracked mouthpiece.
Slanted names etched in a phone booth’s glass
Become an occasion to fill a doorway at the end of your days.

There are no machines that can traverse two points in time.
Even the heart, like compass or clock, can only comprehend all points
At once within its combustion:
A gallon of gasoline, a gallon more of coffee,
Pushes octane’s narcotic
On steel and flesh to remember to turn over one more
One-tenth mile of sleeplessness nearer home.

One more nth part of a lifetime passes on the right, a stranger’s taillights
Glow with blood and put the hurt on speed
Hurtling down the road toward and swallowed whole
By early morning darkness. In my final approach to another red-
Letter day, once again
Temporarily I am glad upon taking to
My darkened house, its windows slowly dawning pale with scorn,

Glad to tune in to it, room by room, I hear the going on of it
Gather into separate categorical silences:
Poems, bills, letters of intent,
Homages to emotions of the private moment,
The one-hand-clapping of long-distance telephone conversations,
Violent quarrels, visits, last whisperings, lost long-ago’s—
All like dew or residue shimmering against the ear.

Such is the annual noise of days to give compass to your absence.
I steady myself in its roar
And attach a time and date to hands
Folded into darkness that once reached for midnight
As for the front door—as for an answer: though immeasurably gone,
For years now your stark beauty alone
Has a way of reimbursing shadows in an empty room.