To the dragon
any loss is
total. His rest
if a single
in the nest
of his gold
loss is token.
A Montparnasse August
with view of the Cimetière. A yard of bones.
We wake to it. Close curtains to it.
Wake to its lanes. Rows of coffin-stones in varying light.
Walking here. Late with shade low, low, long.
We’re passing through, just passing through
neat aisles of gray mausoleums.
(From Paris. Send this postcard. This one.
Calm water lilies. Water lilies.
It’s morning. Baudelaire’s tomb.
Tree limbs casting shadow west.
This, a lot of time under a looming sky.
Nobody has time like this.
(Time to go to Le Mandarin for coffee
every day. We’re not complaining.
They bring the milk separate.
Watch the passersby on Saint-Germain.)
Nothing to ponder. This is the plight.
Pause by Pigeon in bed with his wife —
both fully dressed.
Pink flowers, pink flowers,
just beneath de Beauvoir’s name.
When she lived she lived two doors down.
Went south in August.
All of us smell of heat all the time.
We are the living. Oh dear!
There are the dead ones there.
Their thoughts more familiar, though.
Lives finished, nearly clear.
And they make it possible for us to go on living
as we do in their blue shade.
One song of Time’s swift hour,
To carve on mountain rock,
Where colorless pure air
Eludes the flying pleasure
And sculptures a clean branch
From storm and avalanche.
Only on mountain tops
Where the trout streams fall
From living rock to rock
To reach the mother stream,
Let the lost song by scattered
On heights where it was nurtured.
For so you moved and passed,
Sky cool against the mountains,
A diamond brilliant glacier
Burning upon the peaks
Your cold and steady flame
Vanished as it came;
Leaving no fires in heaven
But a superb wind-music
In the high altitude
Against a threatening wood
Where the white nights are streaming,
In storm-notes darkly gleaming.
And seen as through a fever
The detached world, burning, turning
On the stripped, cold rock
Still through your anguish smiling
(Beneath God’s blazing Eye)
To hear the wounded silence
Plead to the leaden sky.
I who flounder deep in the things of the spirit,
Deep in the things of the flesh, and deep in song.
Burn this self till I can no longer bear it,
Life frenzying my ears like a deep gong—
I, who have not learned to walk as yet
High above men, with dark peace in my eyes,
To walk wisely, knowing only to let
My wise hands covet the trees, desire the skies:
I, abandoned to things bright or ugly,
To all things living, asking, bowed or bold,
Marvel at you, wrapped securely, snugly,
In beauty and bearing. You seem strangely old—
Until I suddenly know that you have gone
Through places I have feared to tread upon.
Two caught on film who hurtle
from the eighty-second floor,
choosing between a fireball
and to jump holding hands,
aren’t us. I wake beside you,
stretch, scratch, taste the air,
the incredible joy of coffee
and the morning light.
Alive, we open eyelids
on our pitiful share of time,
we bubbles rising and bursting
in a boiling pot.
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Madison, Wisconsin, 1996
Here is a genial congregation,
well fed and rosy with health and appetite,
robust children in tow. They have come
and all the generations of them, to be fed,
their old ones too who are eligible now
for a small discount, having lived to a ripe age.
Over the heaped and steaming plates, one by one,
heads bow, eyes close; the blessings are said.
Here there is good will; here peace
on earth, among the leafy greens, among the fruits
of the gardens of America’s heartland. Here is abundance,
here is the promised
land of milk and honey, out of which
a flank of the fatted calf, thick still
on its socket and bone, rises like a benediction
over the loaves of bread and the little fishes, belly-up in butter.