The summer that dolphins were found to have a self-concept, I housesat.
I read about them, turning before the glass,
in a house that remembered the forties.
Cut loose in wide rooms, I swooned over surfaces.
Look! I have appliances! I had space and furniture and corridors,
a plangent German piano. I folded my hands at a rolltop
desk, lost a needle in an upstairs room.
The resident cockatiel faked an illness; we made eye contact for an hour.
She lapsed first.
But the obliging cetaceans slipped and sidled,
soaking up the company of their own reflections.
Then: a biologist’s paintstroke on their backs,
and they squirmed to scrutinize the mirrored mark.
I don’t look like that! they were presumed to think.
Behind the two-way mirror, exultation.
Time stretched itself between borrowed walls.
I put some of the bird’s millet on my fingernail,
venturing a bite with my gaze averted.
I waited for mail. In a classical mood, I spun down hallways,
sized up photographs: a child on a gate; a market pig,
square as a sideboard; a Salvage Campaign Queen
– somebody’s relative? – colourized after the fact.
Crowned in a piece of twizzled scrap, she was Rockette-cheerful,
holding a pyrite sceptre ornamented with wingnuts,
bolted fast. On a crate to her left, a stencil: DOUGLAS AIRFORCE BASE
1941. Her suit, smart grey, made her a satellite
to the mountain of virtuous scrap behind her.
Its austerity gave my self-sufficiency game its loft.
At six o’clock, the televised dolphins were true
to themselves once more, stymied again
by their changed pearlescent bodies.
Did they scorn me as I pulled my hair up
like that Queen’s? Tomorrow, I’d rise early,
deny myself chocolate, write letters, learn canning,
reserve the fat from the evening’s ham, scrupulous.
I’d go out in the garden and cull the edible things
in the last light of vespers; I thought I saw some mint.