November's Unraveling

by Mark Schafer (Wesleyan University, 1985)

Two days ago -- the morning after the rain

found the cold earth inhospitable, and rose

back into the sky -- I watched a man unravel.

He did not unwind, spinning out like a nebula;

he did not slump like a cored apple baking;

he did not scream like a burned man peeling.

Rather, he just kept walking into less

and less of himself.

A headwind herded leaves around his feet

as he walked. The wind parted around him,

or his hair and clothes simply refused to blow back.

As I watched, a single thread loosened itself

from his sweater, and began to worm its way through the air

before him. More threads loosened and crawled ahead

until his pants and face and shoes and hands blossomed

like rain clouds walking upright, raining down

the street. His outline had burst in front

like a flock of birds suddenly shaken back

into the air. He was not subsumed: every fiber

decided, then forded his body's blurring edge

like a salmon. Finally, he was just a sapling

still walking, and then the dispersing smoke

of human thread caught on the wind and washed

back through the body's path, dissolving like steam.

There are times in November, and sometimes people in them,

when it is necessary to defy the balance of mass

and imagination, and dissolve in the wind to save yourself.

It must have been November 1979, just two days before Thanksgiving, on a very windy, chilly afternoon, with the newly experienced New England foliage all but a cruel memory under thickening clouds, that I was rushing home near the corner of Main and Washington streets in Middletown, Connecticut ... when I witnessed a paradigm of despaired loneliness: a rather lightly dressed middle-aged man, standing there behind several suitcases, yelled at me:

- Freeze to death, please give me a ride!

Several years away from my first car, I just kept walking faster...

[This page dedicated to a girl who came and left with November.]

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