Today's poem is by Cathryn Essinger

Close Quarters

(After hearing Jim Wickwire's account of the
ascent of K-2 and the loss of a companion
while climbing Mount McKinley)

Having never opened a can of sardines,
I decided to have a look, to see
if they really are "packed in like,"
the phrase so common

that even mountain climbers use it
to describe their brush with death
at 20,000 feet: "four men in a two-man tent,
we were packed in like sardines."

True to the description, they are layered
in snugly, nose to toes, men and fish;
there isn't room to blink, but I have seen
things wedged in tighter—

seeds for instance that explode
when you open the pod, puppies
that melt into one congenial lump,
and bees bristling around their queen.

But like four men in a two-man tent,
closeness has nothing
to do with proximity,
and everything to do with choice,

and love, all arms and legs,
can fold in, infinitely, upon itself,
and grief can still crowd
the heart right out of the chest.

Copyright © 2004 Cathryn Essinger All rights reserved
from The Southern Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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