There is no such thing
as star block.
We do not think of
locking out the light
of other galaxies.
It is light
so rinsed of impurities
(heat, for instance)
that it excites
no antibodies in us.
Yet people are
Bathed in its
absence of insistence
burns us with love.
You lie in your bed and sigh
and the springs deep in the mattress
sing out with the same low note,
mocking your sadness. It’s hard––
not the mattress, but life.
Life is hard. All along
you thought you could trust in
your own bed, your own sorrow.
You thought you were sleeping alone.
My long-dead ex-husband’s wife died this week.
That much I know. What else? She told
no one she was sick, didn’t go to the doctor,
finally collapsed more or less alone
into the Bermuda Triangle of her own wishes.
Why would someone want to disappear before she
disappears? I will never know this, either. Things
feel like my fault, my deliberate lack of attention.
We cast ourselves out of our lives,
there’s a crumbling at the edge of what we know,
a bit of satisfaction, as if we’d left shore with its
factories and smells, and climbed the mast.
Nothing in sight but horizon and fresh air.
We take in a breath, a breath made of elemental
parts of a thousand thousand souls we’ll never
get rid of, that will be reincarnated into innumerable
more life-forms until the sun and Earth die a cold
death a few billion years from now. But that won’t be the end
for those atoms, even the atoms of those
we left with anguish and tears, even those we
turned around in the driveway for, to hear their
pleading to try again. Nearby supernovae will shock
and stir the dusty remnants of the solar system
and new solar systems will form around it.
Some of the atoms will make up the bodies
of newborn life-forms on the new planets.
Many of my own atoms may have been part of
alien organisms that lived on some long-ago-
destroyed planet. I am sad for them,
the ones who live forever, ignored in me,
and the ones who’d longed to get free.
I opened up my shirt to show this man
the flaming heart he lit in me, and I was scooped up
like a lamb and carried to the dim warm.
I who should have been kneeling
was knelt to by one whose face
should be emblazoned on every coin and diadem:
no bare-chested boy, but Ulysses
with arms thick from the hard-hauled ropes.
He’d sailed past the clay gods
and the singing girls who might have made of him
a swine. That the world could arrive at me
with him in it, after so much longing—
impossible. He enters me and joy
sprouts from us as from a split seed.
Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.
Listening to Collared Doves
I am homesick now for middle age, as then
For youth. For youth is our home-land: we were born
And lived there long, though afterwards moved on
From state to state, too slowly acclimatising
Perhaps and never fluent, through the surprising
Countries, in any language but one.
This mourning now for middle age, no more
For youth, confirms me old as not before.
Age rounds the world, they say, to childhood’s far
Archaic shores; it may be so at last,
But what now (strength apart) I miss the most
Is time unseen like air, since everywhere.
And yet, when in the months and in the skies
That were the cuckoos’, and in the nearer trees
That were deep-voiced wood pigeons’, it is
Instead now the collared doves that call and call
(Their three flat notes growing traditional),
I think we live long enough, listening to these.
I draw my line out from their simple curve
And say, our natural span may be enough;
And think of one I knew and her long life;
And how the climate changed and how the sign-
Posts changed, defaced, from her Victorian
Childhood and youth, through our century of grief,
And how she adapted as she could, not one
By nature adaptable, bred puritan
(Though quick to be pleased and having still her own
Lightness of heart). She died twenty years ago,
Aged, of life – it seems, all she could do
Having done, all the change that she could know having known.
When the taps ran blood
she set her books on fire –
then she was in a white place
where everyone lied.
Words, words, words:
smoke puffed out from mouths,
stick figures of her name
in riot on the forms.
The fat door hides the rules
under its mattress pad.
A conference room is calm.
If you promise, they said,
and told me in the silence
after they put her back,
Don’t listen – everything
she tells you is a lie.