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1. Past

This sonnet you once wrote is finished now.
Hospital bracelet on the moment’s wrist,
item not found on the Official List—
I am the snicker when you take your bow.

Call me the whisper in the wings, the baize
on which the dice get thrown, the backward look.
I’m the initials in the ledger book
scrawled in a hand you vaguely recognize.

My accusations glare from every mirror.
I know you well and answer to your name.
Each time you smile, my wrinkles show up clearer;

each time you break an oath, I take the blame.
And though you don’t mistake me for a friend,
trust me: I’m all you’ll think of at the end.

2. Present

What is this threshold Buddha once grew wise on
watching a dust mote balance on the light;
sill over which the swallow floats mid-flight,
as lean and measureless as the horizon?

What am I—swimmer caught between a shore
he can’t return to and one he can’t quite reach,
who makes for a retreating stretch of beach
and ends, with each stroke, where he was before?

Arrow that never finds its target, flower
dying into bloom, door that doesn’t close,
you change the instant that I say you are.

How is it that my life both stays and goes?
Shade of the gnomon inches toward the hour.
Your shutter stills each motion to a pose.

3. Future

I will be good. I will behave next time.
I will be more discerning when I choose.
I will swear off the gambling and the booze
and make a full confession of my crime.

I will repair the foundation brick by brick
to keep my cut-price Babel from collapse.
I will step clear of all tripwires and traps.
I will work hard and not be such a prick.

And won’t things be much different tomorrow?
And won’t I nose the trough to get my fill?
And won’t I be relieved of every sorrow?

And won’t there be some cash left in the till?
Sure. Everyone thinks they have time to borrow,
whispering down to the last: I will, I will.