Until You Come

J.S. Absher


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Taipei, ’97. I walk past side-street

vendors selling lychee nuts and black

rice cakes, to an acre of bare dirt,

concrete pylons lifting a cloverleaf.

A grizzled man by a beat-up Buick

throws gobbets of meat from the trunk

to a growling scrum of gaunt,

scruff-biting dogs, their flying spit

bright yellow in the headlamp.

They’ve waited days for this.

I turn back before they see me,

dogs or man, fearful I’ve seen

things I shouldn’t.

Cherbourg, ’71. Hair cut short, shirts

bleached white, with copies

of Mormon’s Book, we reach

the lone house facing a field

where the North Sea rigs are being built,

on the paved yard a graying woman

and her mewling, hissing cats

hunkered head down by lumps of flesh.

Five years since I came here,

the woman says, in answer

to a classified, to help madame

tend these cats. She disappeared,

left me a car, this house, a note—

‘Look after mes minous, I’ll

be back.’ No, not interested

in your religion, unless it’ll

help me eat as well

as these cats. Hard to swallow

the bread of patience,

the salt of courage. Bye-bye

(she dismisses us in English),

tell Maman you’ve met

the viceroy of the absent.

And now it’s me who’s gray

and waiting,

at times almost undone,

having neglected nearly all

I should have tended:

undo me further

till I am wrecked, not

man or mammal,

bird or insect, but

elemental,

till You come to heal

or break.