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.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper