The cross words spoken earlier
now abated, if not quite forgotten,
we concentrate our energies
on the jigsaw puzzle laid out
on the kitchen table on a chilly Sunday,
one of our scarce days together lately,
an image of Neptune’s fountain in Florence,
a place we’ve visited only once in person,
but haunted often in memory.
A narrow, jagged blade has ripped
the blown-up postcard photo into a thousand pieces
that we slowly try to reassemble,
sipping from mugs of coffee growing cold.
After sorting out the flattened bits of frame,
it’s easy to reconstruct the fountain itself,
and even the stone-faced buildings; their
edifices sinking inevitably into the sea
have shapes and colors that lend clues.
The sky’s the hardest part, of course,
the cold and subtly differentiated blues
of our highest hopes, the ones we can’t reach
without the ladder we lack the skills to build,
the clouds with their unstable forms.
Some pieces finally click together,
some deceive or perpetually slip past us;
perhaps they’ve fallen to the floor
and slid beneath the fridge,
somehow remained inside the box
(we shake it to make sure),
dropped out onto a shelf
or been left out on purpose
by some disgruntled Christmas elf.
We work at it in spurts of inspiration,
and then wander off to brew more coffee,
wash some clothes, dust a bit, or sweep up
some crumbs (and maybe find a piece or two that way)—
against the ambient background
of some mediocre film we’ve seen
so many times we slightly
misquote half the lines
before the actors have a chance to speak.
It’s all to divert attention from the
ticking clock and pre-packed duffle,
the antsy dread of airports,
the jet-fueled climb
into that uncertain sky that
one of us must take alone.
We cry a lot these days, it seems,
not so much about our grand disasters,
but often over nothing really, or over
something vague we can’t express
without that one elusive final item
in the backward-diagonal word-find,
a gap, a space, an open wound,
that we can’t bridge, fill up, or heal.
For a while, I have myself convinced
that we will never get it all together,
that our building blocks of life
make up the one defective Rubik’s Cube,
the one assembled by the factory slacker,
not paying attention.
But then—finally!—the jigsaw’s done,
though even when complete, it holds together
only by grace of gravity and inertia—
try to lift it up, and it will surely fall apart.
But for a moment at least,
those little pieces loosely locked convey
an image that beautifully coheres,
despite the squiggly lines.
T. Allen Culpepper