“The Fates” by David Kirby

David Kirby


A child is born. It’s you! Family and friends stop by
and then the whole neighborhood, it seems, including
three women who sit in the corner and smile and nod
at anyone who says hello, though mainly they keep
to themselves, nibbling the cookies someone else
has brought and sipping tea, and then the one nearest
the window takes a ball of yarn out of her purse
and gives it to the one in the middle, who is knitting 
something—booties? a little cap?—as the third 
woman just sits there, a pair of scissors in her lap. 
Ten years later and you’re in school now, and even 
the lunchroom ladies are in a good mood as you step 
toward a table with an empty place, and an aide 
says Let me clean that for you and wipes the table 
down and pats you on the shoulder before she heads 
to the break room where her two friends wait. 
Your first job? You’re behind the counter 
in a department store, showing a watch to a woman 
who’s buying someone a present, and she pays you
and puts the watch in her purse and waves to a woman 
at the perfume counter who hurries over and says Come on, 
we’re late, she’ll be waiting for us at the restaurant.
It’s sunny yet cool the day you marry, and the venue costs 
more than your dad had in mind, but the ceremony 
goes off without a hitch, and the band is cranking 
the oldies so everyone will get out on the dance floor, 
and they’re all a little tipsy, and if your aunt’s friends 
are screeching so loudly as they do the Electric Slide 
that you can barely hear the music, it’s a wedding, right? 
Anything goes. In New York a man whose manuscript 
has been rejected twenty times is walking down 
Madison Avenue when he is bumped off the sidewalk 
by a gaggle of women who don’t seem to notice him, 
and a car slams on its brakes, and the driver is 
a classmate he hasn’t seen for years who has recently 
become an editor with a trade press, and the man 
gets in the car, and by the end of the month he has 
a book deal, and after twenty years and dozens 
of books in print he thinks, If I hadn’t stepped out 
into the street, I’d be in the dry cleaning business now.
In Africa a man emerges from the jungle, his bag dripping 
blood: it was a good day, and now his bag bulges with bats,
rats, chimps, even a snake or two. Others have died, 
like the hunters who had cooked and eaten the carcass 
of a gorilla they’d found in the jungle. But who would do that?
Bats are healthy: look at them soar from tree to tree!
At the market, the man’s wives spread the bushmeat
on a cloth and begin to bargain. A ferry sinks off the coast 
of South Korea, and among the dead are seven crew members, 
including three women who gave their life jackets 
to passengers. Your own children are born. They, too, 
go to school, to work, get married. You have a long life, 
a good one. You weren’t the kid who got picked up 
by a guy who was driving a stolen car and sent to juvie
for being an accessory. You weren’t the one who tried to
break up the fight and got knocked down on the sidewalk
and hit your head and never stood up again. You weren’t
those people. Your accidents were good accidents,
and when they weren’t, you learned from them.
A nurse comes in and takes a tube out of your arm
as another adjusts your ventilator and a third says
the doctor will be in soon, and the nurses’ names
are Clotho, who spins the web of life, and Lachesis, 
who measures it, and Atropos, who cuts that thread 
when your life is over, and as they make a fuss, 
you think how poetry entered you and became like 
a mistress in her own home, one you had not 
summoned but who entered your body of her own accord, 
this force into which everything—work, the sound 
of tires on pavement, home, birds, rocks, love, 
the whole world—entered easily and made itself 
comfortable, stanzas rising and falling, one after another, 
in a way that was always surefooted, always a surprise. 
The world rushed in at the speed of a comet, 
everything shouting, “Take me!” and “No, no—take me!” 
and all this without your ever having written a single line 
of poetry in your entire life, though along the way 
you learned to think like a poet, to take this over that, 
to begin here and end there and then the other way around 
until at last you could see your life as it really is 
and make sense of it, or at least as much sense as one can,
and now you are opening your eyes for the first time, 
and now you are eating, and now you are walking 
from one side of the room to the other, and now you are 
a little girl on her bicycle, flying out into this sunlit world.

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022


David Kirby: “Like everyone, I wrestle with what happens and how and why, and then I remember: older and wiser people addressed these same issues thousands of years ago. The no-nonsense title of this poem makes it clear that I’m looking at life as it is tempered by the Three Fates of Greek mythology, only I wanted them to show up in disguise at various points in a person’s life. I also wanted to conclude on a high note: everyone’s life has the same end, so it’s what happens before that counts. And the best thing that can happen is to learn how to look at life the way poets do. Thing is, you don’t have to be a poet—I know plenty of people who think like a poet who have never written a single poem. It’s what you see and what you make of it that counts.” (web)

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