The women who were singers in the West
lived on an unforgiving coast.
I want to ask was there ever one
moment when all of it relented–
when rain and ocean and their own
sense of home were revealed to them
as one and the same?
every day was still shaped by weather,
but every night their mouths filled with
Atlantic storms and clouded-over stars
and exhausted birds?
And only when the danger
was plain in the music could you know
their true measure of rejoicing in
finding a voice where they found a vision.
Tonight the air smells of cut grass.
Apples rust on the branches. Already summer is
a place mislaid between expectation and memory.
This has been a summer for moths.
Their moment of truth comes well after dark.
Then they reveal themselves at our window-
ledges and sills as a pinpoint. A glimmer.
The books I look up about them are full of legends:
ghost-swift moths with their dancing assemblies at dusk.
Their courtship swarms. How some kinds may steer by the moon.
The moon is up. The back windows are wide open.
Mid-July fills the neighborhood. I stand by the hedge.
Once again they are near the windowsill—
fluttering past the fuchsia and the lavender,
which is knee-high, and too blue to warn them
they will fall down without knowing how
or why what they steered by became, suddenly,
what they crackled and burned around. They will perish—
I am perishing—on the edge and at the threshold of
the moment all nature fears and tends towards:
the stealing of the light. Ingenious facsimile.
And the kitchen bulb which beckons them makes
my child’s shadow longer than my own.
What Language Did
The evening was the same as any other.
I came out and stood on the step.
The suburb was closed in the weather
of an early spring and the shallow tips
of washed-out yellows of narcissi
resisted dusk. And crocuses and snowdrops.
I stood there and felt the melancholy
of growing older in such a season,
when all I could be certain of was simply
in this time of fragrance and refrain,
whatever else might flower before the fruit,
and be renewed, I would not. Not again.
A car splashed by in the twilight.
Peat smoke stayed in the windless
air overhead and I might have missed:
a presence. Suddenly. In the very place
where I would stand in other dusks, and look
to pick out my child from the distance,
was a shepherdess, her smile cracked,
her arm injured from the mantelpieces
and pastorals where she posed with her crook.
Then I turned and saw in the spaces
of the night sky constellations appear,
one by one, over roof-tops and houses,
and Cassiopeia trapped: stabbed where
her thigh met her groin and her hand
her glittering wrist, with the pin-point of a star.
And by the road where rain made standing
pools of water underneath cherry trees,
and blossoms swam on their images,
was a mermaid with invented tresses,
her breasts printed with the salt of it and all
the desolation of the North Sea in her face.
I went nearer. They were disappearing.
Dusk had turned to night but in the air –
did I imagine it? – a voice was saying:
This is what language did to us. Here
is the wound, the silence, the wretchedness
of tides and hillsides and stars where
we languish in a grammar of sighs,
in the high-minded search for euphony,
in the midnight rhetoric of poesie.
We cannot sweat here. Our skin is icy.
We cannot breed here. Our wombs are empty.
Help us to escape youth and beauty.
Write us out of the poem. Make us human
in cadences of change and mortal pain
and words we can grow old and die in.
A Woman Painted on a Leaf
I found it among curios and silver
in the pureness of wintry light.
A woman painted on a leaf.
Fine lines drawn on a veined surface
in a hand-made frame.
This is not my face. Neither did I draw it.
A leaf falls in the garden.
The moon cools its aftermath of sap.
The pith of summer dries out in starlight.
A woman is inscribed there.
This is not death. It is the terrible
suspension of life.
I want a poem
I can grow old in. I want a poem I can die in.
I want to take
this dried-out face,
as you take a starling from behind iron,
and return it to its elements of air, of ending-
so that Autumn
which was once
the hard look of stars,
the frown on a gardener’s face,
a gradual bronzing of the distance,
from now on,
a crisp tinder underfoot. Cheekbones. Eyes. Will be
a mouth crying out. Let me.
Let me die.