Robert Farnsworth

Don’t Start

Over the phone, through which we struggled
so clumsily those many years ago, I now try
to describe the process of loading the camera.
But I haven’t the vocabulary to convey the steps,
which aren’t difficult, just (for a decade’s worth
of my having done them by touch) inarticulable.
And we almost tumble back into something like
those old set-tos, but save ourselves. The boys
are asleep in the suite’s next room after a long day
sightseeing, and neither of us could bear having
bickered at such a distance. Yet we used to bear it
somehow, didn’t we, remember? Now because
I know it’s coming, I’m charmed by the rehearsal
of your aversion to cameras. You keep fumbling
the leader into place across the tiny room behind
the shutter, and while I ask if you can feel little
cogs through the bordering perforations, I am
thinking of our wild cousin -in-law, who calls
monthly for commiserating sighs to punctuate
her own ventilations of pain, and how you
hand me the phone with a good luck look that
maybe says you’ve forgotten those anguished toll
call silences between us twenty years ago. Now
I’m judging the progress of the fire I’ve read beside
all evening, and then you divine somehow,
perhaps in a faintly anxious mid-sentence quaver,
my intention to be off soon, to leave the house
for some hours (the theater and a beer)–
you hear my intention to be gone, you hear.
And in your voice I hear, with an exquisite quarter
swoop of spirit, I hear your consequent shift
in tone, a certain cool flatness there, even as I
also hear the camera click shut and the auto-winder
whir. But we don’t start, as once we might have,
no– I say where I am going, and you where you
are off to with the boys and the camera tomorrow,
and you yawn goodbye, until Sunday at the airport.
For better or for worse (and it’s thrilling not to
know which), we don’t, as once we might have, start.

Robert Farnsworth
Don’t Start first appeared in The Southern Review, Vol 17, No. 2, Spring 2001.