The Midwest is a huge flat kitchen table I am sitting at,
drinking rusty water, looking at a huge flat field
out the window. The field’s the actual
size of loneliness, emptied of people.
With my looking, I try to gather
its birds picking at some seeded thing, its combed
pattern of plow-strokes, its gravel on a road
dividing field from field, to pull them all in close
against the way looking at it feels
like a dispersal. As if to feel how each
bit of gravel could be back
with its mountain again or deep in the ground,
or at least to understand how it isn’t, & won’t be
in this life, I roll the fragments
between thumb and forefinger, every
jagged edge and ridge, each smooth lip,
scallop, curve, non-descript
pebbles upon pebbles of it. Where have you been. Loneliness
whose sheep I gather from pasture,
herding them now into a very small pen. Always, one
is missing, or I lost count, counted wrong, never knew
how many we started off with. When is it
that the singular became
this countless many, as if a thing bearing
no name to begin with
had shattered. What’s that called, at the beginning—
whatever grew in the field or grazed there.
How we blink and chew and find ourselves
cubicle-hunched, tightened under humming fluorescents,
shrinking down in rented mud. Dutifully visiting
the raised square of dirt someone called garden, poking it
with little heart, having signed the shitty contract
for the dim apartment where the appliances
only half-work, and each passing night
breaks their backs even further. I counted wrong.
I remember what a mountain was
was dry macaroni glued to a sheet of paper
in a kitchen in the later part of the last century. I picked
the pieces off each by each in boredom or nervousness;
they ticked dryly against the side of a paper cup.
How many fields like this there are ahead of us, blue
with the absence of tallgrass.
I am sitting at the table, and what do I know of sheep.
Ari Banias is the author of a chapbook, What’s Personal is Being Here With All of You (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2012). The recipient of fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, he will be a second-year writing fellow in 2013-14 at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Transom, Gulf Coast, Subtropics, The Volta, and elsewhere.