Rita Dove

The Stroke

Later he’ll say Death stepped right up
to shake his hand, then squeezed
until he sank to his knees. (Get up,
nigger. Get up and try again.)

Much later he’ll admit he’d been afraid,
curled tight in the center of the rug, sunlight
striking one cheek and plaited raffia
scratching the other. He’ll leave out

the part about daydream’s aromatic fields
and the strap-worn flanks of the mule
he followed through them. When his wife asks
how did it feel, he won’t mention

that the sun shone like the summer
she was pregnant with their first, and
that she craved watermelon which he smuggled
home wrapped in a newspaper, and how

the bus driver smirked as his nickel
clicked through — no he’ll say
it was like being kicked by a mule.
Right now, though, pinned to the bull’s-eye,

he knows it was Lem all along:
Lem’s knuckles tapping his chest in passing,
Lem’s heart, for safekeeping,
he shores up in his arms.