How to answer what you can’t refuse

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Like a fledgling, 
you'd stumble-fly 
day and night 

over the blind 
and ticking fields,
intent on that tendril 

of scent calling from beyond. 
Most of the time, you are fickle;
perhaps, others think, even 

unfaithful. But if you believe
the name carried on the breeze 
addresses you and no other,

you will follow the snow-
dusted tracks, cross
bridges of fog. 

Forests might crackle 
in the night, and towns 
burn to the ground.

Even if you'd heard it
only in a dream, 
you listen hard 

for the voice you know
you would recognize, almost 
as if it were your own.
 
 

  

Optics

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
How can you think
of melancholy as only weakness,
as only the stain 
                  in a row of perfect 

windows radiating cathedral light?
Whoever invented beauty
understood: 
            what moves and lifts us beyond

ourselves, shows us too that vaster space
whose edge, whenever we've tried 
to approach it,  
                        seduces  
through apparitions. And so,

where we imagined 
                  the place we'd fall
through space, we inked monsters: sea
pigs and leviathans, sirens,
pythons 
               in whose gristled mouths whole

basins of stars could drown. We don't pull
sadness out of the air; its molecules live there 
alongside the brighter 
                       atoms of expected happiness— 
Isn't that the way bodies learn to adapt? Never

absorbing more light than they can use,
treasuring what glows even as it disappears.
     

 
    


Lacrimosa

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Silver-haired, slight-boned: a circle of them 
in wheelchairs whenever the sun shawls 

the garden in some kindness. She is the one 
in the phone video recording who breaks 

into song and beats time valiantly with her hands.
You don't know if your mother, in quarantine 

at a care home with other octogenarians, 
will live to ninety or a hundred. Or if one 

of these days, a text message will appear 
on your phone, bearing news of her death. 

Pine trees rain dry needles over the ground,
loosening even in the absence of wind.   
 

The Future

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

On the great subject, that is,
time— Out of which others

carve monuments, hammer
long planks of wood into men-

of-war, each with three masts
and voluminous sails; launch

complicated quests that with good
winds and fortune might return,

after years of scurvy and tossing
on the seas. But we have only

ordinary tools—whittling a little of it
at a time, we pretend at saving; defer

fulfillment, wait for the rain to unglue
the lips of envelopes, break rust-

weakened hinges. Whatever its love
language is, it isn’t supplication.

Empires roll themselves into scrolls.
The dead, wrapped in scarves high up

in the hills, count the breath of stars
exhaling millions of years before us.


Sharps

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
The skin 
of fruit, glowing 
under its neural membrane: 
how one's mouth closes 
around the webbed strings, 
the casing, the pulp— 
It isn't the knife
that is the enemy.

I had been saying
for some time
that we cannot choose
what to feel. None of it,
all of it: one burns
just as fiercely
as the other. All
of it is ours.

What goes through you
as a great hurt—
is it indistinguishable
from other stylets
that found their way
beneath your skin?
Sharps, they're called.
Needles. A catheter. 
A probe. Something 
that knows exactly where
you are most tender. 
 

Immanence

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
How the foundation is not separate 
    from the world, but is held  
          and present inside it. How,

like you, I've wondered where
     the time we thought we were building
          or collecting has gone.

Every bird  
     a bright stripe: flocks
         of them, arrows releasing 
     what we read as purpose 
into the air.

I've learned to anticipate
      the specific murmur that means
          the hour bends to rouse our bodies
      so we can offer them to whatever
emptiness needs to be filled.

Perhaps I haven't thanked 
      the earth enough; nor you; 
          nor the water that still holds

some love for us despite its moods
      and temperament—from it, I learned  
         the gesture for cupping a face in my hands.



Metamorphic

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
One or the other child
was always picking up pebbles,
     chalk, bits of shell.

In a stone, 
     the dream of a hollow.

A dream of hard darkness 
giving way to something not
     rooted in loss, 
no longer grieving.

I think of them touching
     asterisks of sea-glass;

in the folds of a pocket,
     an accidental constellation.

 

Variations on the Theme of Temporary Brilliance

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
How do we come to know
anything about a body,
or how it must leave itself 
behind in order to travel 
somewhere it can't imagine 
either? With great reluctance,

after the last hard rain 
that fell a week, the water 
that pooled in the yard finally 
ribbons into the ground. We're told
there will be nights at year's end

when four planets will follow 
each other across the sky's dome. 
From here they will look so close,
like pins someone reached up 

to tack in a thoughtful line
onto a board. In the morning, all 
along our fence which is also the other 

side of the neighbor's fence, a stripe 
like a gray horizon, still damp; 

measure of how much, how high.      
 

Given a wing, what would you fashion

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

How to precisely describe the condition
of being cloven?

In the past participle, this word might resemble a weed
we hunt in the grass, its fourth leaf brimming

with the old  myths  of childhood, with the promise
of being the one a hand might pick

out of a hundred nearly identical copies in the field—
And is there a word  for the new  

scar inflicted by your silence? for how it’s fallen
on a threshold where we’ll walk, knowing

every other door is barred from within? In this world,
the cold, hard bread of the moon leaves

a trail for the broken 
to follow: they come to the water
looking for a thistle, a lily; silver shoots along its hairline.

Who knows how long it will take. Who knows if by then
we’ll remember the sound of each other’s voice. 
 

 

In response to Via Negativa: Personal Growth.

Warbler

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
 
Far away, a rooster crows 
and crows, unsure of the time 

of day. It's the end of another 
year: early dark, frugal

sun; red-green veins
of poinsettia unsettling

the usual blankness of the yard.
The future is the tiniest

blue-gray wing, flicking   
through the canopy;  

I cannot see the color
of its crest, nor

the white bars striping 
its back. When we light fires

in the dark, some words
return to our mouths 

with such tenderness; 
I can't tell them apart 

from the double-noted calls 
going in and out of the leaves.