On a Shaker Admonition

First published in the American Scholar, Winter 2017

Reprinted in Best American Poetry 2017

All should be so trustworthy, that locks and keys shall be needless.

Needless, useless, pointless, moot: stripped of every honest purpose,
nothing so haplessly worthless now, so meaningless.

Needless, needless: the deadbolt, the strongbox, the padlock
lolling from the tall spiked gate, the little metal teeth all
jingle-jangling mindlessly on their rusting ring, the all too
obtuse fitfulness of pin and tumbler, every chain known to man.

All melted down for scrap: the whole clanking, tinkling, delirious
mess spaded into the pitiless furnace for our trusty smiths to put
to good use, all that glorious blazing gloop walloped anew into
buckles, skillets, wind chimes, wind-up toys, more spades.

Needless, worthless, baseless, daft: the locket, the lockbox,
the lockers slambanging in the winless locker room, the secret
hasp in the desk or the case to trip for the stash, the fireproof
safe, the bulletproof vest, the chastity belt, the countless
stacks of patents for atomic bombproof vaults kept under
lock and key, all gone the way of relics, ruins, fossils, flesh.

Useless, useless as useless gets: the dupe under the doormat,
the blanks on their hooks, the plink of trinkets (church key,
poker chip, bronzed trilobite) from this or that set, the cutting
kit's merciless shriek in the back of the shop, the brassy tang
on the tongue when wrangling hands free in a breathless rush
to slip in or out, the endless cat and mouse of
masters and skeletons laid to rest at last.

The heartless turnkey, the nerveless safecracker, the latchkey kid
scared shitless, the relentlessly dauntless escape artist trussed
in shackles and manacles in shot after shot: who among us could
even make up stuff so specious, so spurious?

No cutpurse to fleece us, no jackboot to roust us, no half-assed
excuse to detain us, remand us, debase us, reform us, no iron fist
or invisible hand to quash or unleash us, no righteous crusade
to destroy us to save us: just us, just us.

All of us no longer shiftless, feckless, careless, faithless: no
losses to cut, no charges to press, nothing to witness, nothing to
confess, no one to cast into the wilderness, no caste to dispossess,
no shamefulness, no shamelessness, no cease and desist, no
underhandedness under duress, nothing to peer into or peep at
with a flickering eyelash, each cloudless passing hour lusting
after less and less.

Should be, so be it: so trustworthy, so noteworthy, so rock-steady,
so truth-hungry, so war-weary, so far from foolhardy, so otherworldly
already, no guest or ghost would guess that any of us were ever
less than blameless, faultless, spotless, blessed.

Needless, useless, pointless, crap: the polygraph, the wire tap, the
clink of cuffs, the accordian gate, the ankle bracelet, the
honeycombed spy-cams, the blueprints for the deluxe panopticon, all
that superfluous refuse shipped off to the pawn shop, the swap meet,
the flea mart, the boundless county dump, the bottomless dustbin of
clueless things past, all dead as the doornail that held fast
against the hopeless crush of us.

No senseless wish-fulness, no useless ruthlessness, no goods to get on
us to bust or traduce us, no clauses to bind us, no cause for redress,
no one on the loose, on the make, on the case, nothing for us to jimmy
or pick, nothing gone missing, not a thing amiss, no No Tell Motel, no
Big House, no Pale beyond us, no tragic chorus in a rumpus over
the worst in us getting the best of us in spite of us,

just all of us lapsing less and less regardless how rootless, witless,
gutless, pissed, all that thankless cussed nonsense
now behind us: just us, just us.