OFF MIDDLE BEACH
Off Middle Beach, Long Island Sound
is dark grey and cold as a Puritan.
Go away, it tells us. And yet
we walk here, daring the gun-
colored waves to touch us, picking
whatever small shells and pale
sea glass we wish from the sand,
cold and frail, that falls apart
beneath our feet as we walk.
Off Middle Beach the wind
trims the rough rocks of Salt Island,
pressing the long sea grasses down,
sending the waves that come and come
up in a rush of frozen foam,
rolling the shore’s cold stones smooth.
Off Middle Beach the maddening air
over Salt Island pulses with gulls,
who toss their crabs and mussels down
while here on shore we measure
our own incurable hunger. More, more,
our mouths tell one another.
In the dream
she is packing. The bed
is a furl of color: bright silks,
dark wool, sleeves
close by, hovering somehow
now above, now behind her.
She thinks: I want him
she will not hear. She wants
to stop. And cannot stop.
Shirts in a bag, shoes and
tickets, the whispered
of tissue. (She stirs in her
sleep now, turns. The window
is black, lined in silver.)
to the dream.
Still she is packing. The man
is still silent, wringing
his hands. In her dreams
they will go on
a woman in flight, a silent man,
their bed heaped high with
shadows in a flung hill of
indecipherable shapes and colors.
WRITTEN UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Ismaël Lo, “Jammu Africa”
Each morning I look for you in the doorway,
recalling you there, arms crossed,
the world possessed in the tilt of your hips.
And how your eyes, the color of new leaves,
sought me out, smiling. It was spring.
You came along like a song I’d never heard before,
African drum-storms, the voice of fire.
Unimagined rearrangement of familiar notes.
My body remembers the music you made,
mouth and breasts, and the sea, poured out.
The sun speaks one language.
It is the language of possession.
Summer burns away the landscape.
Lover, my pulse keeps count of you.
Music and fire become one thing.
Your absence is meaningless,
your heat endures.
Clouds in the scorched sky
promise nothing. This does not matter.
In this world music comes and goes.
Mostly unheard, always invisible.
It only matters that I heard you.
You sang. I let myself dance.
Without you the seasons
still turn. The moon
comes and goes in its
own way; dead leaves
and hard ripe fruit
without you the blue-eyed men
take their turns in my bed,
generous of hand and tongue,
stiff, splendid with sweat,
proud of their
without you the same
still rooms repeat
their old stories,
reminding me silently,
arranging their sentences
of beds and chairs;
much stays the same
without you. And yet
on a night like this
when a moon like this fills
every window, illuminating
bare limbs and lying, silver,
on my pillow, sleep becomes
a dreaded thing:
As if in dreams I still
must find you. As if,
once impolite and free,
you still must be
the only place
I’d go to.
LEAVING SAN PEDRO
from your house I feel
the suck of my chest that signals
and blossoming emptiness:
tears spring up.
I am afraid
I will cry, and you
will notice and cry too.
I watch the sidewalk carefully,
the houses as they rush by,
in heaps and veils along
the fences and white stucco.
of paradise point: here, no,
I do not wish to say any more
about it. The flowers, the cliffs,
the sea: they are not mine.
I leave them all behind.
That afternoon driving home
from Malaga Cove, how we saw
Catalina hover above the mist.
And then the clearing sea. We saw this.
We saw the late sun, platinum.
And blood-red bougainvillea
spilled in foolish profusion.
We knew that this was beauty.
What kind of word is that to use? Beauty!
It tells nothing. Say instead
that we drove along in silence,
hardly breathing, taking in our fill
of scorched hills, foolish blossoms,
a fierce drop down to a
silver-colored sea. Undulation.
Say there was light everywhere,
and salt-flavored air,
and that twenty miles away from us
an island showed itself: all curves
and ridges: looking like old rock,
just as it should. But lifted somehow:
out of the silver water,
into the whiteness of the air.
Late Sunday afternoon, tired of rest,
weary, waiting for that old injury to clear,
coffee cups and newspapers strewn across table,
chair and floor, the acrostic impossible,
I give it all up for a problem I can fix
with a ladder and one brave, indifferent
hand: atilt, in search of solid foothold,
I reach unseeing into the clotted gutter
to pull wet fistfuls of dead leaves
and the dark good muck dead leaves make
when, left long enough to rain and heat and
more leaves, they are broken
cell by cell down from the lives they once
led (feeding trees, making welcome shade,
whispering what leaves whisper in the
wind) to the life they’ll have next spring,
too rich in death to be let go.
I bucket their remains and totter down
slick rungs to carry them
across the limbo of the dormant lawn
to the mound of shells and peels and
coffee grounds, the apple cores,
the tangerines we didn’t eat, leaving them
to spend the winter simmering,
waiting for spring to come
with its five-gallon pots, its new leaves to feed.
NO COW. EVERY DAY NO COW.
I go to the front door wearing my expectancy
like a shirt I’ve owned for years: this is the day,
I think. Every time I go to the door I think
this is the day the sweet-faced Hereford,
the Jersey, the Belted Galloway will at last appear
in my front yard, between the dark red salvia
and the Copper Canyon Daisy, chewing,
wise, looking up at me, glad to be here.
Or even out the back door, why not? Up the one
broad step to the cedar deck, or out
by the rock-rimmed raised beds where
feathered nandina set berries out to shine
red-lantern-like all winter. Every day I go out
with the watering can, expecting,
knowing this will be the day.
I try not to take it personally.
I try not to think about how,
not far from here, in hill country pastures and up
beside long ranch houses cows stand
chewing, or lie in steamy bunches
waiting for rain, or celebrate breaches
in the barbed wire fence that runs for miles
without one place for a cow to get through;
and then one split, one break, one space
and a cow breaks out, breaks through.
For sure she’d find her way to me.
For sure today will be the day.
You start from the outside and work your way
in, the thin strand slow to pour
but quick to take hold of morning. It shines.
Meticulous in this as in
all things, you work in perfect
concentric rings: molten, gold
meets gold and melts into itself, a sweet
lucid presence awaiting your mouth. You smile.
For years we breakfasted alone,
the deep woods of your childhood
a thousand miles from my own.
Can you be thinking now, as I am,
of your father and the bees he kept?
These are the circles I see you pour:
you feed me as he fed you.
Your father knew, as you do, when
to rob the hive: when to move in
with sure, strong hands
and pull the fullness of a long season up
to make of such solitary work
this gold, sun-filled, much-endearing thing.
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