One wore an ogre’s mask and chased
the kids through the makeshift maze. Another,
more vamp than vampire, tended
the punch and pulled modestly, with what
appeared to be some regret, at her skirt.
Another told us about the book she’s writing—
some doubtful, marketable story involving
a dog, a witch, and redemption—
and we nodded as if we liked it, as if it were good.
Today I can curse the idols of false courtesy.
Maybe it was the look of her costume,
maybe the thread-bare tights,
the frayed feather earrings and that tail, maybe
the preciousness of what was meant
to evoke respect, that provoked me to pity
that provoked me to lying silence.
Maybe I am simply a liar,
like most of us, who mislabel what we name.
If only I were the sort of tenured-to
eternity person who said what he thought
when he thought it, who knew better
from worse by instinct, who
walked freely away from people, places,
and serialized TV that no longer held his interest,
who owned his days and no one else’s.
If every intersection is held in tension—
like the angle of repose
that defines a pile of grain as a pile—
then every compositional fiction
is always on the verge of collapse, of making
a dust at risk of combusion
if only a few gentle conditions are met.


Any and all of what isn’t known

must be plowed into serving the work at hand
even if that takes redefining work,
redefining means and the nature of using.
It’s all for use if dignifed by use,
but anyone familiar with kids’ Halloween parties
knows that Dignity—like the veil of Isis
or the speed of light, like a Theory of Everything
or a kitchen sink cookie that doesn’t suck—
may be approached but not exceeded.

The specter of mercy appears
in the chance for polite extraction. I scan
for an escape in the shape
or face of my child, but nothing is familiar.
Nothing in the room is still, nothing not monstrous.