That and This

Listen to Alan Shapiro reading this poem.

There was that, and there was this.
There was that need for vindication,
there was this notion to forgive.

There was that pure amnesia
forgiveness insisted on, and there
was this insistence on the facts,

and then that enraged refusal not
to make a fine, that is to say,
a just, that is to say, exact

accounting of all the facts that made
it hard to sleep. Yes, there was still
that sleeplessness, and still the children’s

lingering suspicion that divorce
must mean he was divorcing them
since after all he was the one

who left. Still that, still this, and still
there was that night, past midnight, when
he noticed it was snowing hard

too early in the year for snow
and woke the children, and this way
their voices, thick with dream, kept asking

what? what? as he fumbled on their jackets,
and then that standing out in the street,
snow falling soundlessly about them,

snow that as he watched it falling was
one moment this or that single flake
that turned hypnotically in slow

and slower spirals, and then the next
was nothing but a rushing mass.
There was that too, and there was this too:

this walk to town, the children holding
his hand so tightly that he knew
they were a little bit afraid

and that his being out there with them
so late in snow and darkness made
the fear itself a keener pleasure.

There was the town entirely deserted,
the sidewalks gone in lunar drifts,
the street an incandescent whiteness,

And the traffic signals over the town’s
three intersections dimmed to a gauzy
radiance, the colors merely colors

that signaled nothing, though they kept
on changing, flashing from that red
to green to yellow, trying, it seemed,

to recollect only enough
of what they used to mean to sharpen
this feeling of now forgetting it.