for Mark, after twenty-three years

At the top of the hillside there is an old wooden fence, wilted and slouching,

fit only as a momentary perch for the chickadees that

swoop down from the woods and test it with their tiny burden.

One footing has slipped on softish ground so the end leans out

like a high wire fellow propelling his arms for balance

and I can't help but look and see the long slow wavering

of its descent,

feel the inevitable




to earth.


Sometimes we go out together

on a Saturday morning -

our cups of coffee, old work shoes,

a sweater I grabbed off the hook -

to examine the fence,

all its new slopes and worries, 

and I run my thumb anxious

along the rim of my coffee mug,

feel the chilly hint of a future vertigo.

But you take the post in your good, strong hands

       - same ones that always cup my face - 

and shake it, say, "This old fence is sturdier than it looks." 

You've got your ball cap on, and the blue coat we bought the first year we moved out here, and your

beard has gone grey at the edges, and at the corner of your eyes there are the kindest wrinkles.