Still Life

The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.
Robert Frost, “The Oven Bird”

After your letter arrived I left the oven on
all night and never once
put my head in it. After your letter arrived
I let one foot follow the other
through the better part of the day. Your letter
lay on the kitchen table by the paring
knife on the stoneware plate with the apple core
like a Dutch still life restored to
its muted color.

In the sink a spiral of lemon
peel twisted like smoke toward the past and I
think that I let it lie.
The first day of night these eyes you opened
were glassed and dry as your late martini.
The next they brimmed into morning.
It was time to rehearse the Sunday phone call,
the new role laid out for learning.
When you asked,

Did you get my letter? I picked up
the cue as if you had wired me
roses in winter or proposed
a pas de deux. Then partly for your sake I taught
myself to sing the best song I could make:
the burden of the oven bird’s diminished thing. Sang

wash of sunlight on the sill and apple core,
sang water glass half full of emptiness. Sang body
all in shadow that I must bathe and dress.

From Blue Dusk: New & Selected Poems, 1951-2001