You bring me good news from the clinic,
Whipping off your silk scarf, exhibiting the tight white
Mummy—cloths, smiling: I’m all right.
When I was nine, a lime—green anesthetist
Fed me banana gas through a frog—mask. The nauseous vault
Boomed wild bad dreams and the Jovian voices of surgeons.
The mother swam up, holding a tin basin.
O I was sick.
They’ve changed all that. Traveling
Nude as Cleopatra in my well—boiled hospital shift,
Fizzy with sedatives and unusually humorous,
I roll to an anteroom where a kind man
Fists my fingers for me. He makes me feel something precious
Is leaking from the finger—vents. At the count of two
Darkness wipes me out like chalk on a blackboard...
I don’t know a thing.
For five days I lie in secret,
Tapped like a cask, the years draining into my pillow.
Even my best friend thinks I’m in the country.
Skin doesn’t have roots, it peels away easy as paper.
When I grin, the stitches tauten. I grow backward. I’m twenty,
Broody and in long skirts on my first husband’s sofa, my fingers
Buried in the lambswool of the dead poodle;
I hadn’t a cat yet.
Now she’s done for, the dewlapped lady
I watched settle, line by line, in my mirror ——
Old sock—face, sagged on a darning egg.
They’ve trapped her in some laboratory jar.
Let her die there, or whither incessantly for the next fifty years,
Nodding and rocking and fingering her thin hair.
Mother to myself, I wake swaddled in gauze,
Pink and smooth as a baby.
No lame excuses can gloss over
Barge—tar clotted at the tide—line, the wrecked pier.
I should have known better.
Fifteen years between me and the bay
Profited memory, but did away with the old scenery
And patched this shoddy
Makeshift of a view to quit
My promise of an idyll. The blue’s worn out:
It’s a niggard estate,
Inimical now. The great green rock
We gave good use as ship and house is black
With tarry muck
And periwinkles, shrunk to common
Size. The cries of scavenging gulls sound thin
In the traffic of planes
From Logan Airport opposite.
Gulls circle gray under shadow of a steelier flight.
Loss cancels profit.
Unless you do this tawdry harbor
A service and ignore it, I go a liar
Gilding what’s eyesore,
Or must take loophole and blame time
For the rock’s dwarfed lump, for the drabbled scum,
For a churlish welcome.
This was the land’s end: the last fingers, knuckled and rheumatic,
Cramped on nothing. Black
Admonitory cliffs, and the sea exploding
With no bottom, or anything on the other side of it,
Whitened by the faces of the drowned.
Now it is only gloomy, a dump of rocks ——
Leftover soldiers from old, messy wars.
The sea cannons into their ear, but they don’t budge.
Other rocks hide their grudges under the water.
The cliffs are edged with trefoils, stars and bells
Such as fingers might embroider, close to death,
Almost too small for the mists to bother with.
The mists are part of the ancient paraphernalia ——
Souls, rolled in the doom—noise of the sea.
They bruise the rocks out of existence, then resurrect them.
They go up without hope, like sighs.
I walk among them, and they stuff my mouth with cotton.
When they free me, I am beaded with tears.
Our Lady of the Shipwrecked is striding toward the horizon,
Her marble skirts blown back in two pink wings.
A marble sailor kneels at her foot distractedly, and at his foot
A peasant woman in black
Is praying to the monument of the sailor praying.
Our Lady of the Shipwrecked is three times life size,
Her lips sweet with divinity.
She does not hear what the sailor or the peasant is saying ——
She is in love with the beautiful formlessness of the sea.
Gull—colored laces flap in the sea drafts
Beside the postcard stalls.
The peasants anchor them with conches. One is told:
“These are the pretty trinkets the sea hides,
Little shells made up into necklaces and toy ladies.
They do not come from with Bay of the Dead down there,
But from another place, tropical and blue,
We have never been to.
These are our cr?pes. Eat them before they blow cold.”
Old man, you surface seldom.
Then you come in with the tide’s
When seas wash cold, foam—
Capped: white hair, white beard,
A dragnet, rising, falling, as waves
Crest and trough. Miles long
Extend the radial sheaves
Of your spread hair, in which wrin—
Knotted, caught, survives
The old myth of orgins
Unimaginable. You float near
As kneeled ice—mountains
Of the north, to be steered clear
Of, not fathomed. All obscurity
Starts with a danger:
Your dangers are many. I
Cannot look much but your form
Some strange injury
And seems to die: so vapors
Ravel to clearness on the dawn sea.
The muddy rumors
Of your burial move me
To half—believe: your reappearance
Proves rumors shallow,
For the archaic trenched lines
Of your grained face shed time in
Ages beat like rains
On the unbeaten channels
Of the ocean. Such sage humor
Durance are whirlpools
To make away with the ground—
Work of the earth and the sky’s
Waist down, you may wind
One labyrinthine tangle
To root deep among knuckles, shin—
Below shoulders not once
Seen by any man who kept his head,
You defy questions;
You defy godhood.
I walk dry on your kingdom’s border
Exiled to no good.
Your shelled bed I remember.
Father, this thick air is murderous.
I would breathe water.
Enter the chilly no—man’s land of about Five o’clock in the morning, the no—color void Where the waking head rubbishes out the draggled lot Of sulfurous dreamscapes and obscure lunar conundrums Which seemed, when dreamed, to mean so profoundly much, Gets ready to face the ready—made creation Of chairs and bureaus and sleep—twisted sheets. This is the kingdom of the fading apparition, The oracular ghost who dwindles on pin—legs To a knot of laundry, with a classic bunch of sheets Upraised, as a hand, emblematic of farewell. At this joint between two worlds and two entirely Incompatible modes of time, the raw material Of our meat—and—potato thoughts assumes the nimbus Of ambrosial revelation. And so departs. Chair and bureau are the hieroglyphs Of some godly utterance wakened heads ignore: So these posed sheets, before they thin to nothing, Speak in sign language of a lost otherworld, A world we lose by merely waking up. Trailing its telltale tatters only at the outermost Fringe of mundane vision, this ghost goes Hand aloft, goodbye, goodbye, not down Into the rocky gizzard of the earth, But toward a region where our thick atmosphere Diminishes, and God knows what is there. A point of exclamation marks that sky In ringing orange like a stellar carrot. Its round period, displaced and green, Suspends beside it the first point, the starting Point of Eden, next the new moon’s curve. Go, ghost of our mother and father, ghost of us, And ghost of our dreams’ children, in those sheets Which signify our origin and end, To the cloud—cuckoo land of color wheels And pristine alphabets and cows that moo And moo as they jump over moons as new As that crisp cusp toward which you voyage now. Hail and farewell. Hello, goodbye. O keeper Of the profane grail, the dreaming skull.
What a thrill ——
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of a hinge
A flap like a hat,
Then that red plush.
The Indian’s axed your scalp.
Your turkey wattle
Straight from the heart.
I step on it,
Clutching my bottle
Of pink fizz.
A celebration, this is.
Out of a gap
A million soldiers run,
Redcoats, every one.
Whose side are they on?
Homunculus, I am ill.
I have taken a pill to kill
Kamikaze man ——
The stain on your
Gauze Ku Klux Klan
Darkens and tarnishes and when
Pulp of your heart
Confronts its small
Mill of silence
How you jump ——
Here in this valley of discrete academies
We have not mountains, but mounts, truncated hillocks
To the Adirondacks, to northern Monadnock,
Themselves mere rocky hillocks to an Everest.
Still, they’re out best mustering of height: by
Comparison with the sunnken silver—grizzled
Back of the Connecticut, the river—level
Flats of Hadley farms, they’re lofty enough
Elevations to be called something more than hills.
Green, wholly green, they stand their knobby spine
Against our sky: they are what we look southward to
Up Pleasant Street at Main. Poising their shapes
Between the snuff and red tar—paper apartments,
They mound a summer coolness in our view.
To people who live in the bottom of valleys
A rise in the landscape, hummock or hogback, looks
To be meant for climbing. A peculiar logic
In going up for the coming down if the post
We start at’s the same post we finish by,
But it’s the clear conversion at the top can hold
Us to the oblique road, in spite of a fitful
Wish for even ground, and it’s the last cliff
Ledge will dislodge out cramped concept of space, unwall
Horizons beyond vision, spill vision
After the horizons, stretching the narrowed eye
To full capacity. We climb to hopes
Of such seeing up the leaf—shuttered escarpments,
Blindered by green, under a green—grained sky
Into the blue. Tops define themselves as places
Where nothing higher’s to be looked to. Downward looks
Follow the black arrow—backs of swifts on their track
Of the air eddies’ loop and arc though air’s at rest
To us, since we see no leaf edge stir high
Here on a mount overlaid with leaves. The paint—peeled
Hundred—year—old hotel sustains its ramshackle
Four—way veranda, view—keeping above
The fallen timbers of its once remarkable
Funicular railway, witness to gone
Time, and to graces gone with the time. A state view—
Keeper collects half—dollars for the slopes
Of state scenery, sells soda, shows off viewpoints.
A ruffy skylight oaints the gray oxbow
And paints the river’s pale circumfluent stillness.
As roses broach their carmine in a mirror. Flux
Of the desultory currents ——all that unique
Stripple of shifting wave—tips is ironed out, lost
In the simplified orderings of sky—
Lorded perspectives. Maplike, the far fields are ruled
By correct green lines and no seedy free—for—all
Of asparagus heads. Cars run their suave
Colored beads on the strung roads, and the people stroll
Straightforwardly across the springing green.
All’s peace and discipline down there. Till lately we
Lived under the shadow of hot rooftops
And never saw how coolly we might move. For once
A high hush quietens the crickets’ cry.
I thought that I could not be hurt;
I thought that I must surely be
impervious to suffering—
immune to pain
My world was warm with April sun
my thoughts were spangled green and gold;
my soul filled up with joy, yet
felt the sharp, sweet pain that only joy
My spirit soared above the gulls
that, swooping breathlessly so high
o’erhead, now seem to to brush their whir—
ring wings against the blue roof of
(How frail the human heart must be—
a throbbing pulse, a trembling thing—
a fragile, shining instrument
of crystal, which can either weep,
Then, suddenly my world turned gray,
and darkness wiped aside my joy.
A dull and aching void was left
where careless hands had reached out to
my silver web of happiness.
The hands then stopped in wonderment,
for, loving me, they wept to see
the tattered ruins of my firma—
(How frail the human heart must be—
a mirrored pool of thought. So deep
and tremulous an instrument
of glass that it can either sing,
I am sending back the key
that let me into bluebeard’s study;
because he would make love to me
I am sending back the key;
in his eye’s darkroom I can see
my X-rayed heart, dissected body:
I am sending back the key
that let me into bluebeard’s study.
Fired in sanguine clay, the model head
Fit nowhere: thumbed out as a classroom exercise
By a casual friend, it stood
Obtrusive in the long bookshelf, stolidly propping
Thick volumes of prose—
Far too unlovely a conversation piece,
Her visitor claimed, for keeping.
And how unlike! In distaste he pointed at it:
Brickdust—complected, eyes under a dense lid
Half—blind, that derisive pout –
Rude image indeed, to ape with such sly treason
Her dear farce: best rid
Hearthstone at once of the outrageous head.
With goodwill she heard his reason,
But she– whether from habit grown overfond
Of the dented caricature, or fearing some truth
In old wives’ tales of a bond
Knitting to each original its coarse copy
(Woe if enemies, in wrath,
Take to sticking pins through wax!)—felt loath
To junk it. Scared, unhappy,
She watched the grim head swell mammoth, demanding a home
Suited to its high station: from a spectral dais
It menaced her in a dream—
Cousin perhaps to that vast stellar head
Housed in stark heavens, whose laws
Ordained now bland, now barbarous influences
Upon her purse, her bead.
No place, it seemed, for the effigy to fare
Free from annoy: if dump—discarded, rough boys
Spying a pate so spare
Glowering sullen and pompous from an ash—heap
Might well seize this prize
And maltreat the hostage head in shocking wise
Afflicting the owner’s sleep –
At the mere thought her head ached. A murky tarn
She considered then, thick—silted, with weeds obscured,
To serve her exacting turn:
But out of the watery aspic, laurelled by fins,
The simulacrum leered,
Lewdly beckoning. Her courage wavered:
She blenched, as one who drowns,
And resolved more ceremoniously to lodge
The mimic—head– in a crotched willow tree green—
Vaulted by foliage:
Let bell—tongued birds descant in blackest feather
On the rendering, grain by grain,
Of that uncouth shape to simple sod again
Through drear and dulcet weather.
Yet, shrined on her shelf, the grisly visage endured,
Despite her wrung hands, her tears, her praying: Vanish!
Steadfast and evil—starred,
It ogled through rock—fault, wind—flaw and fisted wave—
An antique hag—head, too tough for knife to finish,
Refusing to diminish
By one jot its basilisk—look of love.
This is a dark house, very big.
I made it myself,
Cell by cell from a quiet corner,
Chewing at the grey paper,
Oozing the glue drops,
Whistling, wiggling my ears,
Thinking of something else.
It has so many cellars,
Such eelish delvings!
U an round as an owl,
I see by my own light.
Any day I may litter puppies
Or mother a horse. My belly moves.
I must make more maps.
These marrowy tunnels!
Moley—handed, I eat my way.
All—mouth licks up the bushes
And the pots of meat.
He lives in an old well,
A stoney hole. He’s to blame.
He’s a fat sort.
Pebble smells, turnipy chambers.
Small nostrils are breathing.
Little humble loves!
Footlings, boneless as noses,
It is warm and tolerable
In the bowel of the root.
Here’s a cuddly mother.
In sunless air, under pines
Green to the point of blackness, some
Founding father set these lobed, warped stones
To loom in the leaf—filtered gloom
Black as the charred knuckle—bones
Of a giant or extinct
Animal, come from another
Age, another planet surely. Flanked
By the orange and fuchsia bonfire
Of azaleas, sacrosanct
These stones guard a dark repose
And keep their shapes intact while sun
Alters shadows of rose and iris ——
Long, short, long ——in the lit garden
And kindles a day’s—end blaze
Colored to dull the pigment
Of azaleas, yet burnt out
Quick as they. To follow the light’s tint
And intensity by midnight
By noon and throughout the brunt
Of various weathers is
To know the still heart of the stones:
Stones that take the whole summer to lose
Their dream of the winter’s cold; stones
Warming at core only as
Frost forms. No man’s crowbar could
Uproot them: their beards are ever—
Green. Nor do they, once in a hundred
Years, go down to drink the river:
No thirst disturbs a stone’s bed.