I’ve seen him before, crawling
under church pews, tying

parishioners’ shoes together.
Herding the flock, so to speak.

He forgets birthdays. He kills
without honor. He knows

the things that make us
nervous: burnt toast,

a meeting on a train
and the extra valve in an

alligator’s heart. Raise your hand,
he chides, if your work

is important. Would you believe
me if I told you that for most

of his life he has been busy
answering doors? For him

there seem to be two options:
forget or regret. Two stories

with the same ending: men
in suits with shovels. Now

and now and now, he tries
to convince himself. How deep

is your compassion? he taunts
himself as if he were someone else.

All the world’s a place where he
doesn’t read this. All the world’s

a place in which the water
in the pipes. The world at arm’s

length. In the distance he is sitting
on a mule. He has that childish

look of exaggerated attachment.
Beside him, the single branch

of a dead oak seems to move
a dark cloud like a kite.

Listen:

Author Image

Robert Ostrom is the author of The Youngest Butcher in Illinois (YesYes Books) and two chapbooks, To Show the Living and Nether and Qualms. He lives in Queens and teaches at the City University of New York and Columbia University.

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