Monday, May 21, 2012

A Wave

To pass through pain and not know it,
A car door slamming in the night.
To emerge on an invisible terrain.

So the luck of speaking out
A little too late came to be worshipped in various guises:
A mute actor, a future saint intoxicated with the idea of martyrdom;
And our landscape came to be as it is today:
Partially out of focus, some of it too near, the middle distance
A haven of serenity and unreachable, with all kinds of nice
People and plants waking and stretching, calling
Attention to themselves with every artifice of which the human
Genre is capable. And they called it our home.

No one came to take advantage of these early
Reverses, no doorbell rang;
Yet each day of the week, once it had arrived, seemed the threshold
Of love and desperation again. At night it sang
In the black trees: My mindless, oh my mindless, oh.
And it could be that it was Tuesday, with dark, restless clouds
And puffs of white smoke against them, and below, the wet streets
That seem so permanent, and all of a sudden the scene changes:
It's another idea, a new conception, something submitted
A long time ago, that only now seems about to work
To destroy at last the ancient network
Of letters, diaries, ads for civilization.
It passes through you, emerges on the other side
And is now a distant city, with all
The possibilities shrouded in a narrative moratorium.
The chroniqueurs who bad-mouthed it, the honest
Citizens whose going down into the day it was,
Are part of it, though none
Stand with you as you mope and thrash your way through time,
Imagining it as it is, a kind of tragic euphoria
In which your spirit sprouted. And which is justified in you.

In the haunted house no quarter is given: in that respect
It's very much business as usual. The reductive principle
Is no longer there, or isn't enforced as much as before.
Hunch; past experience matters again; the tale will stretch on
From now on, and the ground on which a man and his wife could
Look at each other and laugh, remembering how love is to them,
Shrank and promoted a surreal intimacy, like jazz music
Moving over furniture, to say how pleased it was
Or something. In the end only a handshake
Remains, something like a kiss, but fainter. Were we
Making sense? Well, that thirst will account for some
But not all of the marvelous graffiti; meanwhile
The oxygen of the days sketches the rest,
The balance. Our story is no longer alone.
There is a rumbling there
And now it ends, and in a luxurious hermitage
The straws of self-defeat are drawn. The short one wins.

One idea is enough to organize a life and project it
Into unusual but viable forms, but many ideas merely
Lead one thither into a morass of their own good intentions.
Think how many the average person has during the course of a day, or night,
So that they become a luminous backdrop to ever-repeated
Gestures, having no life of their own, but only echoing
The suspicions of their possessor. It's fun to scratch around
And maybe come up with something. But for the tender blur
Of the setting to mean something, words must be ejected bodily,
A certain crispness be avoided in favor of a density
Of stuttered opinion doomed to wilt in oblivion: not too linear
Nor yet too puffed and remote. Then the advantage of
Sinking in oneself, crashing through the skylight of one's own
Received opinions redirects the maze, setting up significant
Erections of its own at chosen corners, like gibbets,
And through this the mesmerizing plan of the landscape becomes,
At last, apparent. It is no more a landscape than a golf course is,
Though sensibly a few natural bonuses have been left in. And as it
Focuses itself, it is the backward part of a life that is
Partially coming into view. It's there, like a limb. And the issue
Of making sense becomes such a far-off one. Isn't this "sense"--
This little of my life that I can see--that answers me
Like a dog, and wags its tail, though excitement and fidelity are
About all that ever gets expressed? What did I ever do
To want to wander over into something else, an explanation
Of how I behaved, for instance, when knowing can have this
Sublime rind of excitement, like the shore of a lake in the desert
Blazing with sunset? So that if it pleases all my constructions
To collapse, I shall at least have had that satisfaction, and known
That it need not be permanent in order to stay alive,
Beaming, confounding with the spell of its good manners.

As with rocks at low tide, a mixed surface is revealed,
More detritus. Still, it is better this way
Than to have to live through a sequence of events acknowledged
In advance in order to get to a primitive statement. And the mind
Is the beach on which the rocks pop up, just a neutral
Support for them in their indignity. They explain
The trials of our age, cleansing it of toxic
Side-effects as it passes through their system.
Reality. Explained. And for seconds
We live in the same body, are a sibling again.

I think all games and disciplines are contained here,
Painting, as they go, dots and asterisks that
We force into meanings that don't concern us
And so leave us behind. But there are no fractions, the world is an integer
Like us, and like us it can neither stand wholly apart nor disappear.
When one is young it seems like a very strange and safe place,
But now that I have changed it feels merely odd, cold
And full of interest. The sofa that was once a seat
Puzzles no longer, while the sweet conversation that occurs
At regular intervals throughout the years is like a collie
One never outgrows. And it happens to you
In this room, it is here, and we can never
Eat of the experience. It drags us down. Much later on
You thought you perceived a purpose in the game at the moment
Another player broke one of the rules; it seemed
A module for the wind, something in which you lose yourself
And are not lost, and then it pleases you to play another day
When outside conditions have changed and only the game
Is fast, perplexed and true, as it comes to have seemed.

Yet one does know why. The covenant we entered
Bears down on us, some are ensnared, and the right way,
It turns out, is the one that goes straight through the house
And out the back. By so many systems
As we are involved in, by just so many
Are we set free on an ocean of language that comes to be
Part of us, as though we would ever get away.
The sky is bright and very wide, and the waves talk to us,
Preparing dreams we'll have to live with and use. The day will come
When we'll have to. But for now
They're useless, more trees in a landscape of trees.

I hadn't expected a glance to be that direct, coming from a sculpture
Of moments, thoughts added on. And I had kept it
Only as a reminder, not out of love. In time I moved on
To become its other side, and then, gentle, anxious, I became as a parent
To those scenes lifted from "real life." There was the quiet time
In the supermarket, and the pieces
Of other people's lives as they sashayed or tramped past
My own section of a corridor, not pausing
In many cases to wonder where they were---maybe they even knew.
True, those things or moments of which one
Finds oneself an enthusiast, a promoter, are few,
But they last well,
Yielding up their appearances for form
Much later than the others. Forgetting about "love"
For a moment puts one miles ahead, on the steppe or desert
Whose precise distance as it feels I
Want to emphasize and estimate. Because
We will all have to walk back this way
A second time, and not to know it then, not
To number each straggling piece of sagebrush
Is to sleep before evening, and well into the night
That always coaxes us out, smooths out our troubles and puts us back to bed again.

All those days had a dumb clarity that was about getting out
Into a remembered environment. The headlines and economy
Would refresh for a moment as you look back over the heap
Of rusted box-springs with water under them, and then,
Like sliding up to a door or a peephole a tremendous advantage
Would burst like a bubble. Toys as solemn and knotted as books
Assert themselves first, leading down through a delicate landscape
Of reminders would be better next time to a damp place on my hip,
And this would spell out a warm business letter urging us
All to return to our senses, to the matter of the day
That was ending now. And no special sense of decline ensued
But perhaps a few moments of music of such tact and weariness
That one awakens with a new sense of purpose: more things to be done
And the just-sufficient tools to begin doing them
While awaiting further orders that must materialize soon
Whether in the sand-pit with frightened chickens running around
Or on a large table in a house deep in the country with messages
Pinned to the walls and a sense of plainness quite unlike
Any other waiting. I am prepared to deal with this
While putting together notes related to the question of love
For the many, for two people at once, and for myself
In a time of need unlike those that have arisen so far.
And some day perhaps the discussion that has to come
In order for us to start feeling any of it before we even
Start to think about it will arrive in a new weather
Nobody can imagine but which will happen just as the ages
Have happened without causing total consternation,
Will take place in a night, long before sleep and the love
That comes then, breathing mystery back into all the sterile
Living that had to lead up to it. Moments as clear as water
Splashing on a rock in the sun, though in darkness, and then
Sleep has to affirm it and the body is fresh again,
For the trials and dangerous situations that any love,
However well-meaning, has to use as terms in the argument
That is the reflexive play of our living and being lost
And then changed again, a harmless fantasy that must grow
Progressively serious, and soon state its case succinctly
And dangerously, and we sit down to the table again
Noting the grain of the wood this time and how it pushes through
The pad we are writing on and becomes part of what is written.
Not until it starts to stink does the inevitable happen.

Moving on we approach the top
Of the thing, only it was dark and no one could see,
Only somebody said it was a miracle we had gotten past the
Previous phase, now faced with each other's conflicting
Wishes and the hope for a certain peace, so this would be
Our box and we would stay in it for as long
As we found it comfortable, for the broken desires
Inside were as nothing to the steeply shelving terrain outside,
And morning would arrange everything. So my first impulse
Came, stayed awhile, and left, leaving behind
Nothing of itself, no whisper. The days now move
From left to right and back across this stage and no one
Notices anything unusual. Meanwhile I have turned back
Into that dream of rubble that was the city of our starting out.
No one advises me; the great tenuous clouds of the desert
Sky visit it and they barely touch, so pleasing in the
Immense solitude are the tracks of those who wander and continue
On their route, certain that day will end soon and that night will then fall.

But behind what looks like heaps of slag the peril
Consists in explaining everything too evenly. Those
Suffering from the blahs are unlikely to notice that the topic
Of today's lecture doesn't exist yet, and in their trauma
Will become one with the vast praying audience as it sways and bends
To the rhythm of an almost inaudible piccolo. And when
It is flushed out, the object of all this meditation will not
Infrequently turn out to be a mere footnote to the great chain
That manages only with difficulty to connect earth and sky together.
Are comments like ours really needed? Of course, heaven is nice
About it, not saying anything, but we, when we come away
As children leaving school at four in the afternoon, can we
Hold our heads up and face the night's homework? No, the
Divine tolerance we seem to feel is actually in short supply,
And those moving forward toward us from the other end of the bridge
Are defending, not welcoming us to, the place of power,
A hill ringed with low, ridgelike fortifications. But when
Somebody better prepared crosses over, he or she will get the same
Cold reception. And so because it is impossible to believe
That anyone lives there, it is we who shall be homeless, outdoors
At the end. And we won't quite know what to do about it.
It's mind-boggling, actually. Each of us must try to concentrate
On some detail or other of their armor: somber, blood-red plumes
Floating over curved blue steel; the ribbed velvet stomacher
And its more social implications. Hurry to deal with the sting
Of added meaning, hurry to fend it off. Your lessons
Will become the ground of which we are made
And shall look back on, for awhile. Life was pleasant there.
And though we made it all up, it could still happen to us again.
Only then, watch out. The burden of proof of the implausible
Picaresque tale, boxes within boxes, will be yours
Next time round. And nobody is going to like your ending.

We had, though, a feeling of security
But we weren't aware of it then: that's
How secure we were. Now, in the dungeon of Better Living,
It seems we may be called back and interrogated about it
Which would be unfortunate, since only the absence of memory
Animates us as we walk briskly back and forth
At one with the soulless, restless crowd on the somber avenue.
Is there something new to see, to speculate on? Dunno, better
Stand back until something comes along to explain it,
This curious lack of anxiety that begins to gnaw
At one. Did it come because happiness hardened everything
In its fire, and so the forms cannot die, like a ruined
Fort too strong to be pulled down? And something like pale
Alpine flowers still flourishes there:
Some reminder that can never be anything more than that,
Yet its balm cares about something, we cannot be really naked
Having this explanation. So a reflected image of oneself
Manages to stay alive though the darkest times, a period
Of unprecedented frost, during which we get up each morning
And go about our business as usual.

. . .
And though there are some who leave regularly
For the patchwork landscape of childhood, north of here,
Our own kind of stiff standing around, waiting helplessly
And mechanically for instructions that never come, suits the space
Of our intense, uncommunicated speculation, marries
The still life of crushed, red fruit in the sky and tames it
For observation purposes. One is almost content
To be with people then, to read their names and summon
Greetings and speculation, or even nonsense syllables and
Diagrams from those who appear so brilliantly at ease
In the atmosphere we made by getting rid of most amenities
In the interests of a bare, strictly patterned life that apparently
Has charms we weren't even conscious of, which is
All to the good, except that it fumbles the premise
We put by, saving it for a later phase of intelligence, and now
We are living on it, ready to grow and make mistakes again,
Still standing on one leg while merging continually
Into an inexpressive void, the blighted fields
Of a kiss, the rope of a random, unfortunate
Observation still around our necks though we thought we
Had cast it off in a novel that has somehow gotten stuck
To our lives, battening on us. A sad condition
To see us in, yet anybody
Will realize that he or she has made those same mistakes,
Memorized those same lists in the due course of the process
Being served on you now. Acres of bushes, treetops;
Orchards where the quince and apple seem to come and go
Mysteriously over long periods of time; waterfalls
And what they conceal, including what comes after--roads and roadways
Paved for the gently probing, transient automobile;
Farragoes of flowers; everything, in short,
That makes this explicit earth what it appears to be in our
Glassiest moments when a canoe shoots out from under some foliage
Into the river and finds it calm, not all that exciting but above all
Nothing to be afraid of, celebrates us
And what we have made of it.

Not something so very strange, but then seeming ordinary
Is strange too. Only the way we feel about the everything
And not the feeling itself is strange, strange to us, who live
And want to go on living under the same myopic stars we have known
Since childhood, when, looking out a window, we saw them
And immediately liked them.

And we can get back to that raw state
Of feeling, so long deemed
Inconsequential and therefore appropriate to our later musings
About religion, about migrations. What is restored
Becomes stronger than the loss as it is remembered;
Is a new, separate life of its own. A new color. Seriously blue.
Unquestioning. Acidly sweet. Must we then pick up the pieces
(But what are the pieces, if not separate puzzles themselves,
And meanwhile rain abrades the window?) and move to a central clearinghouse
Somewhere in Iowa, far from the distant bells and thunderclaps that
Make this environment pliant and distinct? Nobody
Asked me to stay here, at least if they did I forgot, but I can
Hear the dust at the pores of the wood, and know then
The possibility of something more liberated and gracious
Though not of this time. Failing
That there are the books we haven't read, and just beyond them
A landscape stippled by frequent glacial interventions
That holds so well to its lunette one wants to keep it but we must
Go on despising it until that day when environment
Finally reads as a necessary but still vindictive opposition
To the caring, all explaining. Your finger traces a
Bleeding violet line down the columns of an old directory and to this spongy
State of talking things out of a glass exclamation point opposes
A discrete claim: forewarned. So the voluminous past
Accepts, recycles our claims to present consideration
And the urban landscape is once again untroubled, smooth
As wax. As soon as the oddity is flushed out
It becomes monumental and anxious once again, looking
Down on our lives as from a baroque pinnacle and not the
Mosquito that was here twenty minutes ago.
The past absconds
With our fortunes just as we were rounding a major
Bend in the swollen river; not to see ahead
Becomes the only predicament when what
Might be sunken there is mentioned only
In crabbed allusions but will be back tomorrow.

It takes only a minute revision, and see--the thing
Is there in all its interested variegatedness,
With prospects and walks curling away, never to be followed,
A civilized concern, a never being alone.
Later on you'll have doubts about how it
Actually was, and certain greetings will remain totally forgotten,
As water forgets a dam once it's over it. But at this moment
A spirit of independence reigns. Quietude
To get out and do things in, and a rush back to the house
When evening turns up, and not a moment too soon.
Headhunters and jackals mingle with the viburnum
And hollyhocks outside, and it all adds up, pointedly,
To something one didn't quite admit feeling uneasy about, but now
That it's all out in the open, like a successful fire
Burning in the fireplace, really there's no cause for alarm.
For even when hours and days go by in silence and the phone
Never rings, and widely spaced drops of water
Fall from the eaves, nothing is any longer a secret
And one can live alone rejoicing in this:
That the years of war are far off in the past or the future,
That memory contains everything. And you see slipping down a hallway
The past self you decided not to have anything to do with any more.
And it is a more comfortable you, dishonest perhaps,
But alive. Wanting you to know what you're losing.
And still the machinery of the great exegesis is only beginning
To groan and hum. There are moments like this one
That are almost silent, so that bird-watchers like us
Can come, and stay awhile, reflecting on shades of difference
In past performance, and move on refreshed.

But always and sometimes questioning the old modes
And the new wondering, the poem, growing up through the floor,
Standing tall in tubers, invading and smashing the ritual
Parlor, demands to be met on its own terms now,
Now that the preliminary negotiations are at last over.
You could be lying on the floor,
Or not have time for too much of any one thing,
Yet you know the song quickens in the bones
Of your neck, in your heel, and there is no point
In looking out over the yard where tractors run,
The empty space in the endless continuum
Of time has come up: the space that can be filled only by you.
And I had thought about the roadblocks, wondered
Why they were less frequent, wondered what progress the blizzard
Might have been making a certain distance back there,
But it was not enough to save me from choosing
Myself now, from being the place I have to get to
Before nightfall and under the shelter of trees
It is true but also without knowing out there in the dark,
Being alone at the center of a moan that did not issue from me
And is pulling me back toward old forms of address
I know I have already lived through, but they are strong again,
And big to fill the exotic spaces that arguing left.

So all the slightly more than young
Get moved up whether they like it or not, and only
They very old or the very young have any say in the matter,
Whether they are a train or a boat or just a road leading
Across a plain, from nowhere to nowhere. Later on
A record of the many voices of the middle-young will be issued
And found to be surprisingly original. That can't concern us,
However, because now there isn't space enough,
Not enough dimension to guarantee any kind of encounter
The stage-set it requires at the very least in order to burrow
Profitably through history and come out having something to say,
Even just one word with a slightly different intonation
To cause it to stand out from the backing of neatly invented
Chronicles of things men have said and done, like an English horn,
And then to sigh, to faint back
Into all our imaginings, dark
And viewless as they are,
Windows painted over with black paint but
We can sufficiently imagine, so much is admitted, what
Might be going on out there and even play some part
In the ordering of it all into lengths of final night,
Of dim play, of love that at last oozes through the seams
In the cement, suppurates, subsumes
All the other business of living and dying, the orderly
Ceremonials and handling of estates,
Checking what does not appear normal and drawing together
All the rest into the report that will finally be made
On a day when it does not appear that there is anything to receive it
Properly and we wonder whether we too are gone,
Buried in our love,
The love that defined us only for a little while,
And when it strolls back a few paces, to get another view,
Fears that it may have encountered eternity in the meantime
And as the luckless describe love in glowing terms to strangers
In taverns, and the seemingly blessed may be unaware of having lost it,
So always there is a small remnant
Whose lives are congruent with their souls
And who ever afterward know no mystery in it,
The cimmerian moment in which all lives, all destinies
And incompleted destinies were swamped
As though by a giant wave that picks itself up
Out of a calm sea and retreats again into nowhere
Once its damage is done.
And what to say about those series
Of infrequent pellucid moments in which
One reads inscribed as though upon an empty page
The strangeness of all those contacts from the time they erupt
Soundlessly on the horizon and in a moment are upon you
Like a stranger on a snowmobile
But of which nothing can be known or written, only
That they passed this way? That to be bound over
To love in the dark, like Psyche, will somehow
Fill the sheaves of pages with a spidery, Spencerian hand
When all that will be necessary will be to go away
For a few minutes in order to return and find the work completed?
And so it is the only way
That love determines us, and we look the same
To others when they happen in afterwards, and cannot even know
We have changed, so massive in our difference
We are, like a new day that looks and cannot be the same
As those we used to reckon with, and so start
On our inane rounds again too dumb to profit from past
Mistakes--that's how different we are!

. . .
But once we have finished being interrupted
There is no longer any population to tell us how the gods
Had wanted it--only--so the story runs--a vast forest
With almost nobody in it. Your wants
Are still halfheartedly administered to; sometimes there is milk
And sometimes not, but a ladder of hilarious applause
No longer leads up to it. Instead, there's that cement barrier.
The forest ranger was nice, but warning us away,
Reminded you how other worlds can as easily take root
Like dandelions, in no time. There's no one here now
But emigres, with abandoned skills, so near
To the surface of the water you can touch them through it.
It's they can tell you how love came and went
And how it keeps coming and going, ever disconcerting,
Even through the topiary trash of the present,
Its undoing, and smiles and seems to recognize no one.
It's all attitudinizing, maybe, images reflected off
Some mirrored surface we cannot see, and they seem both solid
As a suburban home and graceful phantasms, at ease
In any testing climate you may contrive. But surely
The slightly sunken memory that remains, accretes, is proof
That there were doings, yet no one admits to having heard
Even of these. You pass through lawns on the way to it; it's late
Even though the light is strongly yellow; and are heard
Commenting on how hard it is to get anybody to do anything
Any more; suddenly your name is remembered at the end--
It's there, on the list, was there all along
But now is too defunct to cope
Which may be better in the long run: we'll hear of
Other names, and know we don't want them, but that love
Was somehow given out to one of them by mistake,
Not utterly lost. Boyish, slipping past high school
Into the early forties, disingenuous though, yet all
The buds of this early spring won't open, which is surprising,
He says. It isn't likely to get any warmer than it is now.
In today's mainstream one mistakes him, sincerely, for someone else;
He passed on slowly and turns a corner. One can't say
He was gone before you knew it, yet something of that, some tepid
Challenge that was never taken up and disappeared forever,
Surrounds him. Love is after all for the privileged.

But there is something else--call it a consistent eventfulness,
A common appreciation of the way things have of enfolding
When your attention is distracted for a moment, and then
It's all bumps and history, as though this crusted surface
Had always been around, didn't just happen to come into being
A short time ago. The scarred afternoon is unfortunate
Perhaps, but as they come to see each other dimly
And for the first time, an internal romance
Of the situation that rises in these human beings like sap
And they can at last know the fun of not having it all but
Having instead a keen appreciation of the ways in which it
Underachieves as well as rages: an appetite,
For want of a better word. In darkness and silence.

In the wind, it is living. What were the interruptions that
Led us here and then shanghaied us if not sincere attempts to
Understand and so desire another person, it doesn't
Matter which one, and then, self-abandoned, to build ourselves
So as to desire him fully, and at the last moment be
Taken aback at such luck: the feeling, invisible but alert
On that clear February evening thirty-three years ago it seemed
A tapestry of living sounds shading to colors, and today
On this brick stump of an office building the colors are shaggy
Again, are at last what they once were, proving
They haven't changed: you have done that,
Not they. All that remains is to get to know them,
Like a twin brother from whom you were separated at birth
For whom the factory sounds now resonate in an uplifting
Sunset of your own choosing and fabrication, a rousing
Anthem to perpendicularity and the perennial exponential
Narration to cause everything to happen by evoking it
Within the framework of shared boredom and shared responsibilities.
Cheerful ads told us it was all going to be OK,
That the superstitions would do it all for you. But today
It's bigger and looser. People are not out to get you
And yet the walkways look dangerous. The smile slowly soured.
Still, coming home through all this
And realizing its vastness does add something to its dimension:
Teachers would never have stood for this. Which is why
Being tall and shy, you can still stand up more clearly
To the definition of what you are. You are not a sadist
But must only trust in the dismantling of that definition
Some day when names are being removed from things, when all attributes
Are sinking in the maelstrom of de-definition like spars.
You must then come up with something to say,
Anything, as long as it's no more than five minutes long,
And in the interval you shall have been washed. It's that easy.
But meanwhile, I know, stone tenements are still hoarding
The shadow that is mine; there is nothing to admit to,
No one to confess to. This period goes on for quite a few years
But as thought along a low fence by a sidewalk. Then brandishes
New definitions in its fists, but these are evidently false
And get thrown out of court. Next you're on your own
In an old film about two guys walking across the United States.
The love that comes after will be richly satisfying,
Like rain on the desert, calling unimaginable diplomacy into being
Until you thought you should get off here, maybe this stop
Was yours. And then it all happens blindingly, over and over
In a continuous, vivid present that wasn't there before.
No need to make up stories at this juncture, everybody
Likes a joke and they find yours funny. And then it's just
Two giant steps down to the big needing and feeling
That is yours to grow in. Not grow old, the
Magic present still insists on being itself,
But to play in. To live and be lived by
And in this way bring all things to the sensible conclusion
Dreamed into their beginnings, and so arrive at the end.

Simultaneously in an area the size of West Virginia
The opposing view is climbing toward heaven: how swiftly
It rises! How slender the packed silver mass spiraling
Into further thinness, into what can only be called excess,
It seems, now. And anyway it sounds better in translation
Which is the only language you will read it in:
"I was lost, but seemed to be coming home,
Through quincunxes of apple trees, but ever
As I drew closer, as in Zeno's paradox, the mirage
Of home withdrew and regrouped a little farther off.
I could see white curtains fluttering at the windows
And in the garden under a big brass-tinted apple tree
The old man had removed his hat and was gazing at the grass
As though in sorrow, sorrow for what I had done
Realizing it was now or never, I lurched
With one supreme last effort out of the dream
Onto the couch-grass behind the little red-painted palings:
I was here! But it all seemed so lonesome. I was welcomed
Without enthusiasm. My room had been kept as it was
But the windows were closed, there was a smell of a closed room.
And though I have been free ever since
To browse at will through my appetites, lingering
Over one that seemed special, the lamplight
Can never replace the sad light of early morning
Of the day I left, convinced (as indeed I am today)
Of the logic of my search, yet all unprepared
To look into the practical aspects, the whys and wherefores,
And so never know, eventually, whether I have accomplished
My end, or merely returned, another leaf that falls."
One must be firm not to be taken in by the histrionics
And even more by the rigorous logic with which the enemy
Deploys his message like iron trenches under ground
That rise here and there in blunt, undulating shapes.
And once you have told someone that none of it frightens you
There is still the breached sense of your own being
To live with, to somehow nurse back to plenitude:
Yet it never again has that hidden abundance,
That relaxed, joyous well-being with which
In other times it frolicked along roads, making
The best of ignorance and unconscious, innocent selfishness,
The spirit that was to occupy those times
Now transposed, sunk too deep in its own reflection
For memory. The eager calm of every day.
But in the end the dark stuff, the odd quick attack
Followed by periods of silence that get shorter and shorter
Resolves the subjective-versus-objective approach by undoing
The complications of our planet, its climate, its sonatinas
And stories, its patches of hard ugly snow waiting around
For spring to melt them. And it keeps some memories of the troubled
Beginning-to-be-resolved period even in the timely first inkling
Of maturity in March, "when night and day grow equal," but even
More in the solemn peach-harvest that happens some months later
After differing periods of goofing-off and explosive laughter.
To be always articulating these preludes, there seems to be no
Sense in it, if it is going to be perpetually five o'clock
With the colors of the bricks seeping more and more bloodlike through the tan
Of trees, and then only to blacken. But it says more
About us. When they finally come
With much laborious jangling of keys to unlock your cell
You can tell them yourself what it is,
Who you are, and how you happened to turn out this way,
And how they made you, for better or for worse, what you are now,
And how you seem to be, neither humble nor proud, frei aber einsam.

And should anyone question the viability of this process
You can point to the accessible result. Not like a great victory
That tirelessly sweeps over mankind again and again at the end
Of each era, presuming you can locate it, for the greater good
Of history, though you are not the first person to confuse
Its solicitation with something like scorn, but the slow polishing
Of an infinitely tiny cage big enough to hold all the dispiritedness,
Contempt, and incorrect conclusions based on false premises that now
Slow you down but by that time, enchaliced, will sound attentive,
Tonic even, an antidote to badly reasoned desiring footfalls
Of the police approaching gingerly through the soft spring air.

At Pine Creek imitation the sky was no nearer. The difference
Was microtones, a seasoning between living and gestures.
It emerged as a rather stiff impression
Of all things. Not that there aren't those glad to have
A useful record like this to add to the collection
In the portfolio. But beyond just needing where is the need
To carry heaven around in one's breast-pocket? To satisfy
The hunger of millions with something more substantial than good wishes
And still withhold the final reassurance? So you see these
Days each with its disarming set of images and attitudes
Are beneficial perhaps but only after the last one
In every series has disappeared, down the road, forever, at night.

It would be cockier to ask of heaven just what is this present
Of an old dishpan you bestowed on me? Can I get out the door
With it, now that so many old enmities and flirtations have shrunk
To little more than fine print in the contexts of lives and so much
New ground is coming, undone, shaken out like a scarf or a handkerchief
From this window that dominates everything perhaps a little too much?
In falling we should note the protective rush of air past us
And then pray for some day after the ware to cull each of
The limited set of reflections we were given at the beginning
To try to make a fortune out of. Only then will some kind of radical stance
Have had some meaning, and for itself, not for us who lie gasping
On slopes never having had the nerve to trust just us, to go out with us
Not fearing some solemn overseer in the breath from the treetops.

And that that game-plan and the love we have been given for nothing
In particular should coincide--no, it is not yet time to think these things.
In vain would one try to peel off that love from the object it fits
So nicely, now, remembering it will have to be some day. You
Might as well offer it to your neighbor, the first one you meet, or throw
It away entirely, as plan to unlock on such and such a date
The door to this forest that has been your total upbringing.
No one expects it, and thus
Flares are launched out over the late disturbed landscape
Of items written down only to be forgotten once more, forever this time.

And already the sky is getting to be less salmon-colored,
The black clouds more meaningless ( otter-shaped at first;
Now, as they retreat into incertitude, mere fins)
And perhaps it's too late for anything like the overhaul
That seemed called for, earlier, but whose initiative
Was it after all? I mean I don't mind staying here
A little longer, sitting quietly under a tree, if all this
Is going to clear up by itself anyway.

There is no indication this will happen,
But I don't mind. I feel at peace with the parts of myself
That questioned this other, easygoing side, chafed it
To a knotted rope of guesswork looming out of storms
And darkness and proceeding on its way into nowhere
Barely muttering. Always, a few errands
Summon us periodically from the room of our forethought
And that is a good thing. And such attentiveness
Besides! Almost more than anybody could bring to anything,
But we managed it, and with a good grace, too. Nobody
Is going to hold that against us. But since you bring up the question
I will say I am not unhappy to place myself entirely
At your disposal temporarily. Much that had drained out of living
Returns, in those moments, mounting the little capillaries
Of polite questions and seeming concern. I want it back.

And though that other question that I asked and can't
Remember any more is going to move still farther upward, casting
Its shadow enormously over where I remain, I can't see it.
Enough to know that I shall have answered for myself soon,
Be led away for further questioning and later returned
To the amazingly quiet room in which all my life has been spent.
It comes and goes; the walls, like veils, are never the same,
Yet the thirst remains identical, always to be entertained
And marveled at. And it is finally we who break it off,
Speed the departing guest, lest any question remain
Unasked, and thereby unanswered. Please, it almost
Seems to say, take me with you, I'm old enough. Exactly.
And so each of us has to remain alone, conscious of each other
Until the day when war absolves us of our differences. We'll
Stay in touch. So they have it, all the time. But all was strange.


-John Ashbery