In wool coats the Watchtower ladies arrange themselves on the low wall between the Walgreens and the bus stop. “If you sit here, I can sit here, in the sun. Let’s see—‘We are living in the last days. How does that affect us individually?’” Behind them, in the bush, a mouse makes heroic dashes to a crushed McDonald’s wrapper. “Good morning. Good morning.” They are just warming up.
It is Monday morning of spring break, and three staff daughters work the counters at the bakery—twelve-year-olds, cutting scones, delirious with capability. Sunday’s “Sorry, sold out for the day!” sign still hangs on the door. The floor has not been swept. The sun approaches the corner bank of windows, and then they are lit.
The account clerk, crossing the street, sees a pothole patch and thinks Voulkos—losing her precious train of thought about the newspaper article on Colony Collapse Disorder, and the claim misattributed to Albert Einstein: that if the honeybees disappear, human beings have only four years left on earth. She ascends the curb, clutching at the one thought she has left: how to make her day’s work like that pothole: a work of art.
Today might be the first Monday like this on earth.
The first Monday with golden plumage.
The first Monday that laughs at itself.
Four years left on earth, the library server goes down and coworkers who were just about to scramble out for morning coffee look at each other, cradling the good idea. No one who works here is happy this week. One by one, the fluorescent rods in the ceiling panels fail, yet it’s difficult to see the growing dark. The most important part of the job is to remember the feeling that something they have done has made someone else’s doing something better. The boss is on the cell to Downtown about the server. Says “hang on,” looks at the two whose gaze has begun to waver, and says “Weren’t you going out to get some coffee?”
The day propels itself toward everything it’s never been.
The day rubs its belly, fondles its ears.
The day begins to hum quietly to itself.
Four years left on earth, there is a press of bodies at the counter for sandwiches at the noon hour. Seven aunts and sisters call out in different languages, “Yes?” and “With peppers?” and “Four-seventy-five!” Polite people never get to the front until everyone else is gone, and this is how they spend their lunch.
Four years left on earth, and at the backside of the Farmer’s Market, ambivalence tests the air, balancing it against oblivion. The air wins out. The vendors are starting to close shop; they’ve got a long drive home still. At the corner, late lunchers sit on the stool-edge of the hour with their hamburgers. How long can they be only halfway done? The waiter begins to lose his glassy smile. And one vendor is still weighing the fruit for a woman struck by afternoon with nothing sweet. His hand hovers above the scales as he thinks of the color the sky will be when he turns into the last mile home. She watches the fruit swing back and forth, like all of her desires, offered up. The needle stills enough. He whips the bagged fruit off. But the scale’s basket swings with that energy, for a moment, as if her heart was visible, then wasn’t.
The hours are getting ahead of themselves,
unlatching like a knit snagged and pulled.
Like one caught the Rapid and one the Local.
The crows move in as the minutes drag.
Four years left on earth, the contractor comes home after a terrible day. An earlier unscheduled transgression had seemed propitious: a sale on recycled lumber, he’d bought two-hundred twelve-foot lengths of two-by-three clear fir tongue-and-groove. But, having lent his truck, spent the better part of afternoon calling round to borrow one, and showed up twenty-minutes before closing (“pick it up today or it’s gone”) to find it had been double-sold it for cash. Now the light is almost gone. Now is when he wants to turn to stone. But now the kid from next door bursts up the stairs, needing to borrow a Phillips for his project, and this is the sort of kid who could de-limb himself with a butter-knife—
Today might be the first Monday like this on earth.
The first Monday that makes a list.
The first Monday with a little humility.
Four years left on earth, the pianist sits on her stoop with a beer and cashews. The sun in her eyes so she can barely see. Up and down the street, her neighbors are coming home. She scrabbles in the bowl for the last nut long gone. She is waiting for her husband, for that ragged trill of the Mazda as it rounds the corner, the way he closes the door. The sounds of the freeway, the trains, the port, the planes wash over her ears like the landscape of a spring-shot hill. She rehearses “How was your day?” until it soothes even her.
This is the sort of day that could burn forever.
The sort of day that has enough ambition.
But here comes the fog, puts a hand across its shoulder,
starts to bank the fire.
Four years left on earth, here comes the bus, and the father on the bench holds the waistband of his daughter who prances, shouting, “Mommy! Mommy!” as the hinged doors open and recede like waves and the mother steps down into evening.
It is the first night of spring. The first night this newly hired bus driver roasts a chicken. This is his first night in his own kitchen. He sits down with his dinner and the remnants of the morning’s paper, in which he has been reading about the disappearance of the honeybees, and what Einstein probably never said. Who cares who said it? He tears into the leg, taking a turn for the deliberate.
Four years left on earth, and it’s late. The bakery owner comes down from the apartment, to the street. Someone in the past few hours has crow-barred the newspaper box again for quarters. It greets her, mouth agape and empty. The baby is asleep, her husband too. She unlocks the shop, restores the light. Here it is, her space, as if before success. Just stacks of hopeful corrugated cake pads, and racks of sticky buns rendering proof of their own existence. The shop: its own square lit box upon the spinning face of earth. For all she knows this could be our last night on it; so she sets in to mix her scones, as if it is, and because it isn’t.
Since five of Nina Lindsay’s poems appeared as Mudlark Poster No. 77 (2008), her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, The Columbia Poetry Review, The Bellingham Review, and other journals. Her collection of poems is Today’s Special Dish (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2007).