Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

What Do We Know and When Do We Know It?

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

What Do We Know and When Do We Know It?

Article excerpt

Hot day, an old guy is climbing into a tractor,

bright orange, as yet ungouged by gravel

or tree stump. He's testing levers and gears

and settling into a seat built only for him

while we sit at the signal next to the tractor lot,

next to an oil drum painted blue, bright

with utility. And on the weekends outside

the ballpark a man does play the oil drums,

a dog sits wearing sunglasses with a hat at its feet,

its owner nowhere in sight in these last shabby days

of summer. The days right before the mist

starts to rise in a fusion of twilight and evening

over the neighbor's garden, when the hollow shafts

of sunflower stalks almost whistle, when we think

we can see the golden thread that will lead us

out of the labyrinth despite the stories people stop

to tell us at every turn, the glass bead rolling away

catching light, the ink on the page growing spindly,

each story feeding the one we don't know

how to say yet, the one waiting in us for the right story

to come along. And sometimes it does,

like that moment in The Bicycle Thief when the boy

and his father go off to work and each is proud

of the other and the boy is, I'm certain, my brother

walking to work with our father after the war,

walking down to the Water and Power yard,

and later, when the father is beaten by the crowd

for stealing the bicycle, the boy is no longer my brother

but me, the silvery entrails of failure swirling

in chiaroscuro, the man beating his oil drums

and the dog with its paw outstretched in the last days

of August grimy with dust, blemished by indifference,

when, finally, we know there is no way out. …

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