The Other Shore of the Sea
It is time, love, to break off the somber rose,
shut up the stars and bury the ash in the earth;
and, in the rising of the light, wake with
those awaking, or go in the dream, reaching the
other shore of the sea which has no other shore.
Song for the Last Act
Now that I have your face by heart, I look
Less at its features than its darkening frame
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd’s crook.
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.
Now that I have your face by heart, I look.
Now that I have your voice by heart, I read
In the black chords upon a dulling page
Music that is not meant for music’s cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.
The staves are shuttled over with a stark
Unprinted silence. In a double dream
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.
The beat’s too swift. The notes shift in the dark.
Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.
Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.
Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.
Sometimes, when we’re on a long drive,
and we’ve talked enough and listened
to enough music and stopped twice,
once to eat, once to see the view,
we fall into this rhythm of silence.
It swings back and forth between us
like a rope over a lake.
Maybe it’s what we don’t say
that saves us.
How to Disappear Completely
You are quarter ghost on your mother’s side.
Your heart is a flayed peach in a bone box.
Your hair comes away in clumps like cheap fabric wet.
A reflecting pool gathers around your altar
of plywood subflooring and split wooden slats.
You are rag doll prone, contort,
angle and arc. Rot. Here you are
a greening abdomen, slipping skin,
flesh fly, carrion beetles. Here
where bullets found shelter,
where scythes find their function, breath lost
its place on the page, where the page was torn
out of every book before chapter’s close.
This is slippage, this is a shroud of neglect
pulled over the body, this
is your chance to escape.
bend light around your skin until it colors you clear,
disappear like silica in a kiln, become
glass and glass beads, become
the staggered whir of an exhaust fan,
a presence only noticed
when gone. Become origami.
Fold yourself smaller
than ever before. Become less. More
in some ways but less
in the way a famine is less.
We will forgive you for not being
satisfied with fitting in our hands.
We will forgive you for dying to be
a bird diminutive enough
to fit in a mouth without being crushed.
The tall cedars sway without wind
because there are children
camped at the crests
spying on parents
and when one approaches
they make the cries of birds
but too expertly:
should we coax them down
with honey and cookies
or order them down?
Our mistake: to bargain:
a crow answers, a finch,
a bobwhite, the high hawk
offended but strangely indifferent.
How they must love us, to hide
so ruthlessly, then hunt us
among the monsters of the green save
where the ghost crab with eyes on stalks
perches over his victims’ bones.
Now it is beginning to rain.
We have the tent spread out
but miss the tarp and the bag
of orange pegs – still it is a marvel
how small our house could fold.
The youngest bosses her doll:
Sleep, can’t you sleep?
Sleep, little fidget.
Does the wind scare you?
With her thumb she covers
the staring eyes.
I’m tired of being me, she whispers
and I hold her, I offer her
a whelk shell and safe dreams
but she finds the catch..
All you ever do is promise.
Mid April already, and the wild plums
bloom at the roadside, a lacy white
against the exuberant, jubilant green
of new grass and the dusty, fading black
of burned-out ditches. No leaves, not yet,
only the delicate, star-petaled
blossoms, sweet with their timeless perfume.
You have been gone a month today
and have missed three rains and one nightlong
watch for tornadoes. I sat in the cellar
from six to eight while fat spring clouds
went somersaulting, rumbling east. Then it poured,
a storm that walked on legs of lightning,
dragging its shaggy belly over the fields.
The meadowlarks are back, and the finches
are turning from green to gold. Those same
two geese have come to the pond again this year,
honking in over the trees and splashing down.
They never nest, but stay a week or two
then leave. The peonies are up, the red sprouts
burning in circles like birthday candles,
for this is the month of my birth, as you know,
the best month to be born in, thanks to you,
everything ready to burst with living.
There will be no more new flannel nightshirts
sewn on your old black Singer, no birthday card
addressed in a shaky but businesslike hand.
You asked me if I would be sad when it happened
and I am sad. But the iris I moved from your house
now hold in the dusty dry fists of their roots
green knives and forks as if waiting for dinner,
as if spring were a feast. I thank you for that.
Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have to be lonely forever.