Marge Piercy

No one came home

1.
Max was in bed that morning, pressed
against my feet, walking to my pillow
to kiss my nose, long and lean with aqua-
marine eyes, my sun prince who thought

himself my lover. He was cream and golden
orange, strong willed, lord of the other
cats and his domain. He lay on my chest
staring into my eyes. He went out at noon.

He never came back. A smear of blood
on the grass at the side of the road
where we saw a huge coyote the next
evening. We knew he had been eaten

yet we could not know. We kept looking
for him, calling him, searching. He
vanished from our lives in an hour, My cats
have always died in old age, slowly

with abundant warning. Not Max.
He left a hole in my waking.

2.
A woman leaves her children in day care,
goes off to her secretarial job
on the 100th floor, conscientious always
to arrive early, because she needs the money

for her children, for health insurance,
for rent and food and clothing and fees
for all the things kids need, whose father
has two new children and a great lawyer.

They are going to eat chicken that night
she has promised, and the kids talk of that
together, fried chicken with adobo, rice
and black beans, food rich as her love.

The day is bright as a clean mirror.

3.
His wife has morning sickness so does
not rise for breakfast. He stops for coffee,
a yogurt, rushing for the 808 train.
Ignoring the window, he writes his five

pages, the novel that is going to make
him famous, cut him loose from the desk
where he is chained to the phone
eight to ten hours, making cold calls.

In his head, naval battles rage. He
has been studying Midway, the Coral
Sea, Guadalcanal. He can recite
tonnage, tides, the problems with torpedoes.

For five years, he has prepared.
His makeshift office in the basement
is lined with books and maps. His book
will sing with bravery and error.

The day is blue and whistles like a robin.

4.
His father was a fireman and his brother.
He once imagined being a rock star
but by the end of high school, he knew
it was his calling, it was his family way.

As there are trapeze families, clans
who perform with tigers or horses,
the Irish travelers, tinkers, gypsies,
those born to work the earth of their farm,

and those who inherit vast fortunes
built of the bones of others, so families
inherit danger and grace, the pursuit
of the safety of others before their own.

The morning smelled of the river,
of doughnuts, of coffee, of leaves.

5.
When a man fell into the molten steel
the company would deliver an ingot
to bury. Something. Where I live
on the Cape, lost at sea means no body.

You can't bury a coffin length of sea
water. There are stones in our grave
yards with lists of names, the sailors
from the ships gone down in a storm.

MIA means no body, no answer,
hope that is hopeless, the door
that can never be quite closed.
Lives are broken off like tree limbs

in a storm. Other lives simply dissolve
like salt in warm water and there is
no shadow on the pavement, no trace
They puff into nothing. We can't believe.

We die still expecting an answer.

6.
Los desparecidos. Did we notice?
Did we care? in Chile, funded,
assisted by the CIA, a democratic
government was torn down and thousands

brought into a stadium and never seen
again. Reports of torture, reports of graves
in the mountains, bodies dumped at sea
reports of your wife, your son, your

father arrested and then vanished
like cigarette smoke, gone like
a whisper you aren't quite sure you
heard, a living person who must, who

must be somewhere, anywhere, lost,
wounded, boxed in a cell, in exile,
under a stone, somewhere, bones,
a skull, a button, a wisp of cloth.

In Argentina, the women marched
for those who had disappeared.
Did we notice? That happened
in those places, those other places

where people didn't speak English,
ate strange spicy foods, had dictators
or Communists or sambas or goas.
They didn't count. We didn't count

them or those they said had been
there alive and now who knew?
Not us. The terror has come home.
Will it make us better or worse?

7.
When will we understand what terrorists
never believe, that we are all
precious in our loving, all tender
in our flesh and webbed together?

That no one should be torn
out of the fabric of friends and family,
the sweet and sour work of loving,
burnt anonymously, carelessly

because of nothing they ever did
because of hatred they never knew
because of nobody they ever touched
or left untouched, turned suddenly

to dust on a perfect September
morning bright as a new apple
when nothing they did would
ever again make any difference.

For the young who want to

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don't have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.'s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else's mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you're certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

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