Poetry - March, 2004



Now I live in divided and distinguished
worlds, joined by an equatorial smudge,

the common murk of middle earth.
Now I learn to bring my book under

my nose, to bow my head in reverence
to observe my footing on the stairs.

Now the drawing down of blinds,
the narrowing of near and far,

the clarifying closure of these unhinged
doors of perception, cleansed but cloistered.


White owl flies into and out of the field

Coming down
out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel,
or a buddha with wings,
it was beautiful
and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings—
five feet apart—and the grabbing
thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys
of the snow—

and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes,
to lurk there,
like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows—
so I thought:
maybe death
isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us—

as soft as feathers—
that we are instantly weary
of looking, and looking, and shut our eyes,
not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river
that is without the least dapple or shadow—
that is nothing but light—scalding, aortal light—
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.


Helping the morning

This morning shows up at my bedside
like a mother holding a glass of water,
so I say thank you, glancing out the window
at the tiny farmhouse flung into the lap
of emerald hills below, and feel the sweetness
sleep has brought, such sweetness I feel
I could pen a volume on the history of sugar,
and make readers love it. I am giddy
with the lack of war, of pain, amazed
at the silent terrible wonder of my health.
So I make a rosary of the room, I pray
the bedpost, the window panes. I put
our children on two doorknobs, our sick
friends on chair rungs. Like the aperture
of a camera, the morning opens and keeps on
opening till the room is filled with rosy
light and I could believe anything,
that my ancient mother may still get well
and thrive, that later when someone robs
the bank, all the tellers may survive.


After the tourist’s two blue insomniac nights,
patrols of all that had been lost, botched, or sweet
but severed, during the Albinoni he went off,
up, away, so that, say, the sudden recall
of his late mother in grainy portrait in her yearbook,
over the captions: “brightest,” and—in the quaint patois
of the gentry during their Depression—“most attractive,”
and the despair she may have felt as children and alcohol
supervened: if any such feckless maundering
occurred to him . . . Well, off, up and away went she
as well, borne heavenward on the andante’s strains.
Two trumpets. One great organ. Peace might well lie at hand.
Peace was at hand. During Martini’s toccata in C,

a vision of his tall naked wife, under a tall naked sun,
produced in him in the church a subtle stirring, even
a mild tumescence, which he would otherwise have described
as out of order, were it not that this newer order arched
so beyond any scheme he’d normally posit that within it all things
were possible, as they are, it is said, with God, Who
during the Manfredini revealed Himself to our tourist
in what he construed as His human form, His prison garb
stained and rent, His savaged body hefted by men
and women—their countenances looking more angry than mournful—
from a loud place like that bar on the corner of Thakurova
and Evropska, which he had walked by that evening on his way
to transport: the Metro, which carried him into this old quarter

in a car along with that beauteous, amorous young Czech couple
with their red-tipped white staffs and whited eyes,
then spilled him out to rumpsteak with garlic, alone, and then
to the 9 p.m. concert, alone. During the Ave Maria
of Schubert, he saw a joy he hadn’t seen in the tears
of St. Peter as rendered faceforth by an artist, Swiss of all things,
unknown to him till that forenoon in the Castle gallery.
The wailing weanling calves of his childhood now placidly grazed.
The famous small songbirds lit on the outstretched arms of Francis.
Peter’s tears had appeared only woeful this morning. The hour of music
concluded, the tourist walked, though it felt still like soaring,
his cobblestone-wearied heels devoid of any pain,
back into this world, broken and joyous and praying,

“Never to be the same.” Never perhaps again.