Where We Are
by Stephen Dobyns
A man tears a chunk of bread off the brown loaf,
then wipes the gravy from his plate. Around him
at the long table, friends fill their mouths
with duck and roast pork, fill their cups from
pitchers of wine. Hearing a high twittering, the man
looks to see a bird—black with a white patch
beneath its beak—flying the length of the hall,
having flown in by a window over the door. As straight
as a taut string, the bird flies beneath the roofbeams,
as firelight flings its shadow against the ceiling.
The man pauses—one hand holds the bread, the other
rests upon the table—and watches the bird, perhaps
a swift, fly toward the window at the far end of the room.
He begins to point it out to his friends, but one is
telling hunting stories, as another describes the best way
to butcher a pig. The man shoves the bread in his mouth,
then slaps his hand down hard on the thigh of the woman
seated beside him, squeezes his fingers to feel the firm
muscles and tendons beneath the fabric of her dress.
A huge dog snores on the stone hearth by the fire.
From the window comes the clicking of pine needles
blown against it by an October wind. A half moon
hurries along behind scattered clouds, while the forest
of black spruce and bare maple and birch surrounds
the long hall the way a single rock can be surrounded
by a river. This is where we are in history—to think
the table will remain full; to think the forest will
remain where we have pushed it; to think our bubble of
good fortune will save us from the night—a bird flies in
from the dark, flits across a lighted hall and disappears.