Among the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
This vexes the one-eyed man, who’d hoped to
play upright bass for a living. He loves
that four-string simplicity, steel or gut,
a job he can do with his one eye closed.
Yet his mother is so proud. He can’t bear
to describe the castle — gray walls gone bare,
tapestries torn for rags by some past king;
the royal bowling alley, long since closed,
with its last seven-ten split. Trying to
learn his favorites, the blind cook tests his gut
with salty pie after pie. He is loved
by his subjects but he knows it’s dog-love,
the hand licked so it will scratch. They are bears
dancing for bread because the sack of guts
is out of reach. The sack of guts, now king.
His eye whips bookies and bankers into
honesty, aligns the maps, tailors clothes.
He debunks monsters, declares cases closed,
deciphers elephants. He tries to love
the small permissions: adding an hour to
Fridays, his mom’s chauffeur, appointing bears
the State Police of Twilight. They say kings
are born to rule, power grown in their guts
by childhood frictions. But in this king’s gut
churns loneliness he can only disclose
to his coy and courtly dates. When the king
blinks the world goes dark. Stocks fall. So he loves
what is safe to love. Pirouetting bears,
strutting peacocks, the kangaroos bounced two
by two toward his high throne. Who is he to
demand baser thrills? But he recalls gut
strings, thrumming, almost more than he can bear —
her upright and maple body, hewn closed
except for that wide, singing mouth, a love
cradled between his feet. Among the kings
the one-eyed man goes blind. Don’t get too close,
his gut growls. What a man hungers to love
makes him a bear. What he bears makes him king.
From Count the Waves, 2015, W.W. Norton