The Smiths, As I Understand Them

There's a box at the hospital in which to deposit
children unlikely to win the Nobel Prize.

They cradled their son past that box,
though he'd been born with a pillow factory
where his heart should have been.

That first night, they took turns
putting ears to his chest, listening to feathers
being sorted, and wondered what kind of birds
lost their lives so the blood of sleep
could dream through his veins.

Doves, she hoped.

Roosters, his father said, surprising himself.

At the school for special children, his best friend,
a girl whose collar bones were the shadows
of bears, kissed him somehow
from the other side of the teeter-totter.

The boy whose eyes were lighthouses said, now
you have to get married.

Twenty years later, when they did, they came back
and made love on that teeter-totter, in the middle,
rocking slightly up and down, though the far ends
never touched the earth.

Their daughter knew none of this
until one day she cried
because she could not tip over or fall down
like the other kids at school.

Her mother, while explaining the conception
of the girl's incomparable balance, braided her hair
into an actual swan, a black swan
who made the girl feel her head
was a pond on a windless day, which is what
she wrote in her diary: My head is a pond
on a windless day.
Leading the diary to write in its diary,
I didn't have the heart to tell her
I felt a breeze, and in that breeze
I smelled a storm, and in that storm
I heard the screaming of trees, for the diary
had been raised to keep its thoughts
to itself, with perfect penmanship,
in the belief that words are bodies
who would admit, if asked, "my experience
of the transcendental has always been
a secondary one," but go on, still,
to do the work we've asked them to,
to hold everything our arms cannot.

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