dry needlepoint— pewter
dotted with spiked filaments;
brittle ice and scum on pond.
Blow on the stones,
clap wood and flint
to parry cold and
bleakest night; plant
decoys before sprinting
off with real fire—
What boldened rush,
what streak through
burning brush? A duty
bidden by the moon:
to steal the secret
of the buckle’s gleam—
O birdling, o almost
the branch on which you
teeter is alight: come
now to bridge the air,
no vertigo or fear—
And the poem: does it hold you,
welcome you, swallow you whole?
Does it burrow in you like a secret,
wind the key a little tighter
in the lock, unravel like a bright
string of yarn plucked from a sleeve?
Does it send down the night like a maw
or use the silhouettes of trees for fringe?
When nothing stirs, it’s easy to think
the mountain’s cold heart won’t thaw.
In the brass section at the inaugural,
the cold is a mouth full of teeth
knocking against a fleshy cage,
trying to avoid the frozen graft
onto the mouthpiece—
On the corner, in the abandoned
church, the beautiful door
with ornate carvings that summer’s
high heat had held so close,
can finally be pushed open—
Who has not in childhood laid
upon their tongues the salty iron
taste of keys abandoned in the backs
of drawers? I can see them even now,
a row of skeletons beneath the alcove—
Leave it; you don’t want to dwell there, you don’t want to know what might have happened if it didn’t happen the way it did.
At times it is impossible to tell intention from intervention, the thorny stalk from the hedge, floss from the papery husk. In the dark, you might think it hardly matters, but it does, it does.
And the bud? It might have been white, red, or yellow; a bird might have plucked it from the stalk.
Say happenstance, say accident, say unthinking. But no matter, someone decreed that you had to pay.
Sentiment costs; nostalgia’s a big cottage industry, especially when there are poets locked up in cells, beasts that pace the ramparts worrying about deflation and capital gains in the real world.
Under the eaves, wind mingles with the sounds of haunted things: mouth harp, train whistle, gypsy cutting through the woods.
Once, at a writers’ retreat, I slept in the tower room. Toward the end of the week, near dawn, a weight, a shape, sat on my chest and refused to move. For a few seconds I struggled toward the light-pull. Was it a dream, or had there been too much salt on the baked salmon at dinner?
I cannot live your lives again, o ghostly ones. But I can walk to the balcony and look down at the river where your faces occasionally swim up under moonlight. I can collect your delicate ululations like pearls, one by one on a line.
those bits we found
like careless kindnesses
flung, refusing requiem
of swell and surf—
And I cannot part
with strips of drift-
wood tucked into shelves
and drawers, cannot quite
give up the habit
of probing whorled
things for what they hide
of salt or seed—
Already, the year cracks its spine further open
and the leaves let in more phosphor, more light—
Already, dreams turn down the alleys and shed
their delirium of pink petals on stone—
I’ve set into motion the ball that strikes
another at the end of a silver string—
And what will be will be, says the poem
that grows word by word into lines—
So eat, grain by pearled grain, of the pulp
that glistens and clings to the rind—
When I was seven I wanted to run away from home,
miserable child alone in her solitude while adults
hurled insults and knives and forks across
the breakfast table, or threatened to scald
each other with boiling water snatched
up from the stove. The neighbors craned
their necks toward the fence or peered
outright through windows to watch our
daily theatricals of grief. And where
did I think I was going when I packed a set
of clean handkerchiefs and my toothbrush
into a brown paper bag, unlatched the gate
that always was kept so guardedly close?
Not three blocks away, before I reached the end
of the street where it curved away into town,
a kindly neighbor recognized me: saw
my tearful, shuffling progress along the sidewalk,
asked gently if I needed help returning home…
After all these years I no longer remember exactly
how the incident resolved, only that we retraced
my small, fugitive steps back; and no one
had even noticed I had tried to go—
The quiet, broken by the muffled chiming of a clock—
Wet rag at edge of driveway, that used to be someone’s good shirt—
The square that fills with a sudden rush of shadows preceding
sunlight or wings—
The dream, returning after forty years, of flying above a linen sea—
The footprints stamped like trails upon the snow
that by evening have dissolved into regret and rain—
Here by the orchid spray is where you sat
looking past the garden gate, wife by your side
and hair not even grey—
Increase intensity through attention, pressure, weight,
or time, to hear the singing in a higher register—
The same way a threaded button spins faster, looser
or more taut, depending on the varied register
of fingers pulling at the edges. I prefer lower, mellow
notes to shrill, but there is power too in upper registers—
but there must be absolute precision there, no way to flub
the reach by saying, Oh, I was just trying a jazzy register…
In the low-lit bar, patrons sent up slips of paper and requests.
But though the pianist crooned his best, not all could register
the depth of feeling poured into a song: something with a blue moon
or a river, the way you looked the night when I first registered
the tilted axis of the room, banal rush of traffic outside in the rain:
unusual warm night in late winter, that too a kind of register.