“What the Neighbors Know” by Melanie McCabe

What the neighbors know is so small it might fit in my mailbox.

I wish they would put it there, unfolded, explicit, so I could be
certain of what they think they saw, the shaky black-and-white
reel they have colorized, the beginnings and middles cobbled
to find their way to the end.

No one will sign his name. Each separate letter will be cut
from newspapers, magazines, to keep the scales of knowing
unbalanced: We have a piece of your life that we plan to torture
into something we recognize. We want more pieces. But
even then, we won’t give you this one back
.

I once had all of their names but didn’t keep them. Did they
keep mine? If we passed each other in some far-off town,
I wouldn’t know them, though I have lived beside them
for nearly thirty years. Anonymity is a chosen loneliness,
but a secret in a cul-de-sac has a fleeting life.

Their eyes on my comings and goings, my middling tragedy,
are a kind of extortion, even if they never open their mouths.
If I do not give them reasons, they will think I had none.
If enough people paint me a heart of pitch, a rudderless
integrity, how could all of them be wrong?

Whatever the neighbors know, it is not enough, but the rest
of the story is not mine to tell. See me, then, half in shadow. Or
turn me, if you must, toward your lurid light. I will grow older,
quieter, until no one believes the tale you pin on me. I will wear
sensible shoes. I will outfox you by being too dull to be bad.

“What the Neighbors Know” by Melanie McCabe via Poetry Daily