Book Nine

One man prays: How shall I be able to lie with this woman?
      Do thou pray thus: How shall I not desire to lie with her?
      Another prays thus: How shall I be released from this?     
      Another prays: How shall I not desire to be released?
      —Marcus Aurelius

Photo by Chris Keeney.
"When we are lost in our longings, Aurelius, already it is too late:
there is already nothing we can do. I have rarely desired an end
to my desires. We are so in love with our wanting. Last week,
though doctors were quick to repair it, a baby in India was born
grasping her own beating heart in her fist. Today, a Dumpster
arrives from Dave’s Trash Removal & I begin to fill it. I toss in
a transistor radio that hasn’t worked in years. A man walking past
asks if he can take it. Later, he returns & carries off a broken TV.
A neighbor salvages the dented gray fuse box; a girl wants a window,
a paper bag full of tangled cords. All night I listen to the wind
& the echoes of feet kicking through rubbish, like a mouse nesting
inside a drum. My older brother is dead a decade. Yet here
in its enormous gold frame is the familiar, pastel portrait
someone named Maxwell drew for our mother, an inaccurate
rendering of the two of us when we were small. I can’t look at it;
I can’t throw it away. Every change is a death, you tell yourself,
turn thy thoughts now to thy life as a child. . . . One day, I tell myself,
I will shut all the doors, leave everything behind. The museum
is showing a hundred tricked-out Victorian photographs
of that other world: the hoax of floating fairies, women haunted
by ghostly blurs. Another century & still we want to believe
in what we know cannot be true. Your words, Aurelius, have found me,
but you could not. If we are disappointed, we have only ourselves
to blame: Wipe out thy imagination. We fill out hands when they are
empty. We empty ourselves when we have held too much too long."

Kathleen Graber, “Book Nine” from The Eternal City. Copyright © 2010 by Kathleen Graber.