when you are sad
every sad song
seems as if it were written
for you by a person
who doesn’t quite know your ache,
your particular hunger denied;
every poem a reading
of the valleys of your face
and the lines on your hands
by a lover who
pried themselves seven years ago
from the softest parts of your soul
with the wrong mix of words and silence
Leaving again. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be
grieving. The particulars of place lodged in me,
like this room I lived in for eleven days,
how I learned the way the sun laid its palm
over the side window in the morning, heavy
light, how I’ll never be held in that hand again.
Doctor, you say that there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
I have to tell you,
there are times when
the sun strikes me
like a gong,
and I remember everything,
even your ears.
Trying to remember you
is like carrying water
in my hands a long distance
across sand. Somewhere people are waiting.
They have drunk nothing for days.
Your name was the food I lived on;
now my mouth is full of dirt and ash.
To say your name was to be surrounded
by feathers and silk; now, reaching out,
I touch glass and barbed wire.
Your name was the thread connecting my life;
now I am fragments on a tailor’s floor.
I was dancing when I
learned of your death; may
my feet be severed from my body.
After I had cut off my hands
and grown new ones
something my former hands had longed for
came and asked to be rocked.
After my plucked out eyes
had withered, and new ones grown
something my former eyes had wept for
came asking to be pitied.
The ones his age who shook my hand
on their way out sent fear along
my arm like heroin. These weren’t
men mute about their feelings,
or what’s a body language for?
And I, the glib one, who’d stood
with my back to my father’s body
and praised the heart that attacked him?
I’d made my stab at elegy,
the flesh made word: the very spit
in my mouth was sour with ruth
and eloquence. What could be worse?
Silence, the anthem of my father’s
new country. And thus this babble,
like a dial tone, from our bodies.
Yesterday the wind took our picture off the wall over the piano; birds chirped their curt symphonies in the box elder. I thought of you— your obvious loveliness, your obliviousness to lost things. An ambulance blinks two lanes over, a restaurant goes under, your little niece kicks off her shoe. We pantomime infatuations, put on scarves. You’ll never again speak to your father. What was once my knee in a theater is tired eyes at a kitchen sink; we fall into us. A squirrel upsets the feeder, hangs by one leg and reaches. (Even my feet are angry.) You tromp in muddy leaves, test the alarm, whisper lub-dub. Silvered streets gird our apartment. I fasten my parka to leave. Everywhere muck, newspapers, a blanket— our neighbor in flip-flops has forgotten her key. I daydream the ocean, your hand on my ankle. I’ll walk without stopping, won’t care if I ever do. The wind can whip its wants, can rattle each thing, rip roofs from shingles at angles. I’ll think of you— forgetting which switch is a light and which the disposal, climbing on my back at a carnival, quieting after pendulum hung work days. The streetlights have been on for an hour. Nothing will let me come to you.