December

 

It isn’t beauty that brings you here, or not quite;
traipsing up into the last of the weather
day after day, carrying the cold home like a crime.

The hush in the hills is neither kind nor unkind;
just a stark breath, the soft taint of loam
in its teeth, singing vespers of feather and bone.

At most, there is a sparing muteness, a chaffinch
welt of sun caught in a claw of ash,
a throb of ease as thought whitens to its element.

More often, the sought thing stands wary, keeps
to the cross-hatched cloister of pines,
muttering aloft unseen as your footfall disturbs

a small kill, its ravened handful of brightness
all unfletched, a scarce lacquer
of scarlet deepening on the fingernail stones.

It isn’t beauty, exactly, but something sister close, gathering
galaxies in its patient waltz, folding
the seeded wind around you, knowing you for its own.

Cryptography

 

All this is happening for a reason,
or it is not. Take this apple,
as we once did, exact from
its lip dark bell a white,
a staring gape, a void,
a love staved in, its long pangs at last passing.

As well to reproach the light
spearing aslant King’s College
that May Week, vaulting the Backs
to a body in exultant flexion,
cleaving the clean flow, spilling
upon your new grace, disclosing all the world withheld.

You laughed, you know, when,
bicycling to the Hut or a picnic,
I dismounted a moment before
the chain, in slipped sequence,
came unfast, wanting a part
I did not have, that could not be had in war time.

So it is with codes, which instruct
their very unravelling; before
a mark is scratched, the other
must possess you, comprehend you
again from alpha and beta, teach you
to turn as he might, to feel his twist of purpose.

Yes, it is happening for a reason,
or it is not, a man is sitting
unseen in that room, or merely
an idiot tissue of ordained things
set in train when our plain text
was written, when we were first made to be broken.

 

‘Cryptography’ appeared as a guest poem on the Web site of George Szirtes in September, 2013.

Riverhead

September 11, 2001

I.

Even the Long Island Expressway
this far east, feels lulled and rapt:
a home movie, Eisenhower colours.
Asphalt still to come, pine barrens
close, the quiet seep of amber.
Wanting everything back,
back the way it was.

But you feel the quickening
of what’s coming, the westbound torrent
of purpose, eight lanes, tugging
multiplexes, malls alongside.
Unshadowing woods, lush organs,
bloodstreams of taillights,
surging to a splendid heart.

So you thread exit to exit,
leave the Little League parks,
the Kinko’s violet and abandoned
from West Babylon to Jericho,
and slip into a spreading evening
of setting tables and wondering
who could be calling now.

Queens gathering around you,
gantries, weathered stacks, grimed
brick massing softly, sparing
offcuts of petal tender sky, then
495 ribboning suddenly aloft
your heart with it, because,
because—the chorus of crystal

the forest of crowns, the host,
the nest of light, the dreamed world.

II.

I came with the many, crossing
as soon as I could, easy-limbed
then, unencumbered, striding
avidly from East Fifty-First to
where you reared, blank above all,
unsurpassable geometries displacing
all the fathoms of heaven.

Later, huddled with another,
sheltering beneath your feet,
leaving with keepsakes, a pair of
trinkets, all we could afford
but imperishable, for all that,
and from a perished place now,
guarded still, like love itself.

We took the elevator, ushered
a liveried girl, her plump name gone
to the utmost gallery, joining
zombies of slow awe, slouching from
the brazen exaltation of midtown
to a seaplane crumpling minutely
all that glimmering Hudson skin.

How did we come to stand there,
any of us, how was magic sustained?
Steel is simple, making bold claims
upon bedrock, and calculus weaves
gowns for dancing with wind.
But we bred the incalculable too.
Perhaps the towering things were these:

cumuli of rampant dreams, elaborations,
thunderheads of avarice, of magnificence.

III.

Even if I had the psalms to summon,
it would not be my place, not this place.
I have no In Memoriam, no team colours,
no wristbands, no Santa Muerte
to set out carefully in the opal air,
changing at Penn Station, keeping
your eyes down, and saying nothing.

We have so filled the void, furnished
the very air with such intricacy
of signals, of traction, hidden workings
that the spheres are carved, latticed.
Those who want to will find a way
will clamber quietly among the seraphs,
to wound at ease the trusting sky.

Trudge quietly, now above ground
and take your place at the chainlink.
Disdain the hawkers, wordlessly
make your way and remember—
deep calls to deep, in the roar
of your waterfalls—your place.
Be still now. Remember your place.

Nothing is so complete, and
occupies such space, you could
scoop it in profane handfuls, drink it.
I waited too long to come, forgive me.
I have been so long coming—
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

So long, bringing nothing, wanting—
wanting more than anything—to begin again.

Neurology

 
In the picture on the left,
a healthy volunteer begins the day
with a brisk wake up there’s
something I’ve got to tell you.

Everything you see happens
under spiralled conditions.
Patients are free to leave me
alone, this can’t be happening.

Turning to page twenty-nine,
you will see the doctor sharing
a choking sensation with a man
of inwardly healthy appearance.

The subject is given ample time
to come to terms and conditions
and any unseeing panic is
thereby skullfully voided.

After a baleful examination,
the penitent takes a shriek
in the waiting room while his
form is tearfully depleted.

In the lament of adverse reaction,
make a small incision just below
October and carefully drain away
any silly misunderstandings.

The picture on the right is of
a man who just wandered in
without an atonement and
whose wife is in the scar.

He wants to see you, he says
he wants a second epiphany,
but you really should be going
home, before it gets too dark.

Dragons

 

By midsummer, her nights
are livid. She hears,
now as then, the water
speak in its trough of sleep.

But now, too, she hears
what cannot be other
than the thick pulse
of the wings of dragons.

For what else could set
fires in the foundations
of the sky, could have borne
him away and held him?

Coma

 

By now, he was curled up
inside himself,
a cat that crept somehow
atop an engine

for the vanishing heat.

The water in the vase
went unchanged.
Beneath the tide marks
survived a small pool

of milky, dreamy jade.

Keeping his eyes closed,
he decided that
he had simply resumed
his stool at that bar

in San Sebastián, was it?

Spreading injured fingers
over gentle zinc,
ordering something sweet
while the sky outside

blossomed, flared, dimmed.