Where the first one came from,

we’ll never know, but once it landed,

it did what arrows do—it pointed.

The headlines read New Shape Discovered:

Arrow Invents the Straight and Narrow.

Children who had been content to trail

snails around the patio suddenly made

a gesture we’d never seen before—

holding one arm out in front of their chests

then curling in all but the longest finger.

They wanted to go to the playground

and slide down the slide with determined

smiles. They pointed at the girl with a blotch

of tomato soup on her shirt, the ape with alopecia,

and laughed with an unfriendly new note

in their laughter. Arrows led to purchases.

Arrows led to adieus. A simple shape

had turned us all from cars into ambulances,

keening with intent. The weatherman no longer

ambled aimlessly around our T.V. screen.

When he pointed at Chicago then Boston,

the people sitting on sofas in those cities

suddenly felt how very different from one another

they were. Dogs pulled at their leashes,

sparrows vectored through trees, knitters turned

to welding. Though there was no denying that

the “this way up” signs on parcels meant that

more vases arrived at their destinations intact,

the new words that mushroomed into being

were problematic—initiative, tomorrow, your fault,

mine. Couples sat in restaurants launching them

back and forth over the bread basket.

Soon we’d invent bows, cannons, guns.

Matthea Harvey is the author of Sad Little Breathing Machine and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form. Her third book of poems, Modern Life, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and a New York Times Notable Book.

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