It was unanticipated, the birth,
and late at that, stormy and close,
as we were gathered in by the hearth.
Nothing about it called for words,
though the widow had no children
and taught a game with playing cards.
A fisherman brought an octopus
that sizzled on a metal grate
over the pulsing olive coals.
The widow’s father leaned to the fire
and with a dark blade sawed off a leg
and laid it burning on my plate.
It tasted like a briny steak
with tentacles like tiny lips
oozing the savor of the sea,
my first octopus, its brain afire.
And the illicit cards—Don’t tell the priest—
a wink at caution in the game of living.
That night all human struggle ended,
or recollection wants it so.
That night all murders were forgotten
in the salt abundance and the storm
and the warm fire in the widow’s house
when the vast peace was said to be born.
That night I carried a bucket of coals
back to my rented dwelling, wind
trailing the fading sparks behind—
a small fire, for the warmth it made
as the stars held steady in the dome,
and sleep became an open grave.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 35 Number 4, on page 54
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