Plumb Line

“The shrine may become so important that the idea
it stands for is consigned to oblivion.”
………………………………………………—Abraham Joshua Heschel

The plumber’s flashlight shines on the meniscus
of water atop the drain’s face, blank obsidian
to full moon in an instant, moon for a drunken
cricket to drown in. I’ve yet to count our losses

within the flooded basement, as his light
catkins water drops & stray puddles still
budded on the floor. All around us, piles
of half-soaked boxes: maternity outfits

& baby clothes, first steps taken, first words said.
From the people we were to who we remain.
We turn from the past & back to the drain:
a sunflower from the city of the dead.

A life, a marriage can open like that—bloom all
at once in the dark. Out of nowhere, or because
of nowhere. A strange animal washes its paws
in the river you are, if you’re also the animal,

the moon & the past shining on your fur.
Tell me the difference between need & distance,
between rain & want, who has made sense
of time. What geometry for the years,

the tesserae of days, what divination
or chaos theory. We carry the past upstairs,
& briefly see a plumb line to the future
in a firefly’s torch-lit flight—the decisions,

words we use each day become our lives. This town,
in the shadows of steel mills & prison walls,
is a waking dream atop an ever-voweling
labyrinth of pipes beneath the ground.

Our here & now. Has it been love or prayer
or chance alone that directed us so far—
whatever it was, steer us a while longer—
this night full of wings (that birth storms elsewhere,

floods in other lives), steering by constellations,
above & through the flowers we planted at this house
we’ve rented for years—petunias & irises
& roses, which are the voices of our children.

Mark Wagenaar

Mark Wagenaar

Mark Wagenaar is the author of three award-winning poetry collections, including the Saltman Prize-winning Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining. His fiction and poetry appear widely, including The New Yorker, Tin House, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Cincinnati Review, and River Styx, among many others. He is presently an assistant professor at Valparaiso University.
Mark Wagenaar

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Author: Mark Wagenaar

Mark Wagenaar is the author of three award-winning poetry collections, including the Saltman Prize-winning Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining. His fiction and poetry appear widely, including The New Yorker, Tin House, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Cincinnati Review, and River Styx, among many others. He is presently an assistant professor at Valparaiso University.