I understand very little
but the hordes coming
behind me know so much
I admire them and fear them
perhaps a few have kinship to me
are baffled as I was, as I am
I count myself fortunate
to see the light that I see,
to see by my own lights
The illusion of ownership
barely lingers in me, I belong
to my body, not the reverse
There is tenderness for what
is and can be easily abolished.
The dark of violence frightens me
The hordes coming behind me
know so much, but do not yet
know how little it is, we are
This April we have brought you along with us
hiking these headlands you never knew
you have been with us each step of the way,
sometimes light, sometimes heavy, sometimes
a dance of variegated shapes in the fog’s sheen,
sometimes transparent, sometimes a suggestion;
you have been here and you have been not here,
both at once, so I have tried with each footfall
to reconcile the two, failing as I knew I would
the wildflowers are out celebrating the first spring
after you and so many tule elk have gone
to join you in this great drought and beauty
is everywhere all around including the black hawks
that dot the fog and also my joy in each breath
we’ll walk some more, then more and then no more,
but, while we walk, we’ll bring, sing you with us
Once long ago I rewrote a book in a week.
I don’t know if it was better once I was done
but that week there were words everywhere
like swarms of gnats or of buzzing bees
It was on St. John in March the year
a hurricane whose name I’ve forgotten
ripped off many roofs which were replaced
by plastic tarps as blue as the sea
I sat still at the center of all those words
without asking what had possessed me
or why I had to do this or what was coming
out of me onto the screen of the laptop
I didn’t write all the time, but spent hours
on the reefs and among the many millions
of silvery minnows that gave way to me
as I swam among them – it was different
to be in the water and to be rocked gently
and to feel the winterless sun on my back,
to be horizontal not vertical, to watch the fish
in tropical tailored clothing as they passed by
While this salty second immersion went on,
the first continued, too, not writing but what
writing is before it can be known as writing,
prospecting in dark mind’s phosphorescence
For the book I rewrote in that one island week
I found words as many as I needed, but for me,
for what was happening in me that week, none,
save that I traveled far beyond passport’s writ
The tide brimming full,
two pines on a tiny rock-pocked island,
the sun setting behind them,
become Notre Dame’s twin towers
wrinkled on rippling violet water.
Myself, a gargoyle seeking speech,
sorrow cascading out my mouth
like rain collected off a vast
invisible circumflex steep roof,
salt added, salt added, salt added.
The petty affairs of everyday life
Now so confound me from morning to night
I’ve lost touch with the impossible ones,
Proust, Milton, Cervantes, Dante et al.
I picture their names inscribed on a door
In gilt on sober seeming frosted glass
In a random bland office corridor,
Some place of Business which is nothing more.
Walking whether in my sleep or just out,
I knock unsuspecting at mid-morning.
“An odd coincidence,” I am thinking,
“Peculiar names with awkward redolence
For a list of lawyers or accountants
Or surveyors, designers, purveyors,
Or any other such bustlers about.”
A woman of indeterminate years,
Not quite cold but just a bit aloof,
Favors me with a smile from where she sits
Well-dressed behind her old fashioned desk.
“Why have you come? What can we do for you?”
We are thirty stories above the street
But with a view out a single window
Of the traffic down below, what flows there.
I look and I see characters in ink.
Letters and words and brightly colored birds.
Question marks with canes, dapper periods
Climbing into shining stretch limousines.
A moment’s vertigo. I look away.
Can things be so utterly different
From what I thought? What am I doing here?
Was I not just now down there on that street?
Are my hopes, too, no better than letters?
How shall I ever answer this lady’s
Unpresuming smile, unassuming style?
Why have I come? What can they do for me?
“I look lost only because I am lost.”
“Ah, yes,” she says, “Perhaps Mr. Dante…”
“Or Mr. Milton as far as that goes.
As I’m sure you know, he has been much vexed
With his eyes. Or even old Cervantes…”
I can’t be sure. I thought her face brightened
With something like relief, as if she were
On terms just a sly bit more intimate
With the one whose wind blew Quixote’s tilt.
One can never say. Wherever you go,
You receive anomalous impressions.
It is a simple fact of social life.
She went on looking at me. I looked back.
I couldn’t make up my mind. She sat still.
She seemed quite uninterested, as if
She had all the time in this world, then
Seven magical minutes in reserve.
I felt trapped. “Is Mr. H. Melville in?”
I asked. She sighed. “What have you done with him?”
I insisted. Her look now showed pity.
“Temperament,” she said. “Temperament.”
“He’s recently retired. He couldn’t choose
Between enticements of ice and fire.
The strain told over the years. He refused
All devices of the known harmony.”
“Hmm,” I thought, quite unbidden and afraid
To speak, “what he sought was darker, deeper
More free, more fierce, more bound, more determined.”
I corrected: “What his vanity sought…”
I objected: “Was there ever yet once
Discovery without our vanity?”
“Excuse me, sir,” she asked, as delicately
As one can put these days such a question,
“But are you unemployed and seeking here
A Situation?” “No, no, no,” I rushed
To reply, “In actual Fact, I am much,
Much too busy, too employed. I am a…”
But, strange to tell, right here my tongue failed me.
I can’t blame her for what followed. I would
Have thought there in her spot just what she did,
That I lied from shame mixed with bafflement.
“In that case,” she said, “I am empowered
To offer you both a seat and a sheet,
More exactly a scroll in which all connects
As all unrolls, white as snow, forever.”
She paused and cleared her throat, as if it
Cost her an effort to get out what came next.
“Compensation is irregular, but yet
Extravagant, if imaginary.”
She then went on: “Two other points only:
An extra benefit and economy
Is that the sheet becomes in time your shroud
Remaining unmarred despite your writing.
Also, since you are the only one here
All conditions of work are established
By you and you alone. I know our front
Is misleading, but ethics, alas, are not…”
You know the rest. She vanished into thin air.
Whether she was ever anything else
Despite her smile and Cervantes and all
My suspicions and desire, I can not tell.
What most I regret was she left no way
For me to protest I was late for work,
Had wandered in from curiosity
Alone and never ever meant to stay.
Enough such foolishness. (I’ve verified
Myself that poets are liars.) Shower.
Shave. Put on a suit. Time to hustle. You’ve
Sweetly forgotten Romance, your lost Chance.
One last question, or one past the last:
Is it possible to commute and, if
You can, where do you catch the train of thought?
Or is it that, wondering, you are caught?
that has no beginning,
no self or end:
my watch pockets me.