translated by lydia davis
In the warm air of the ceiling the footlights of dreams are illuminated.
The white walls have curved. The burdened chest breathes confused words. In the mirror, the wind from the south spins, carrying leaves and feathers. The window is blocked. The heart is almost extinguished among the already cold ashes of the moon — the hands are without shelter — as all the trees lying down. In the wind from the desert the needles bend and my hour is past.
From room to room
after you left
I wandered a while
in the hours
I have cooked
the mushroom soup
picked up a paperback
I have read
had some coffee
it is quiet
I don’t know why
I think of you
in the traffic
like some plastic beads
from the ‘70’s
when they took all the doors
off the closets
and our parents smoked
all night downstairs
and laughed too loud
we couldn’t hear
what they were
and what they knew
if you hate me
it must be
for ancient reasons
“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”
The sky, fragile like old parchment
scriven and torn past repair,
floats over us. Cities, villages, vistas
of the past—faded, irradiated—
the names of wars, statues of kings,
symphonic themes forgotten.
Now only the clouds seem
familiar, like wedding guests
just arrived from a funeral, their dark coats
ironed and shiny, their white shirts
soiled with tears. Yesterday
there was this figment in the mirror.
There were these ghosts in the machine.
Today is flat, stale, and profitable.
While snow flurries over their faces,
people queue up for part-time jobs,
buy lottery tickets, kneel
outside the Stock Exchange, and dream
of some large clear place
devoid of pain. After history,
with its sieges, plagues, and massacres,
chieftains, serfs, conquistadors, and slaves,
guillotines, oubliettes, and racks,
time will float aimlessly, without referents.
The sky will be seamless again.
After history we will all drive home alone
through present darkness and impending rain
and count the seconds that cluster, dying,
on the windshield, like flies.
Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
She’s twelve and she’s asking the dog,
who does, but who speaks
in tongues, whose feints and gyrations
are themselves parts of speech.
They’re on the back porch
and I don’t really mean to be taking this in
but once I’ve heard I can’t stop listening. Again
and again she asks, and the good dog
sits and wiggles, leaps and licks.
Imagine never asking. Imagine why:
so sure you wouldn’t dare, or couldn’t care
less. I wonder if the dog’s guileless brown eyes
can lie, if the perfect canine lack of abstractions
might not be a bit like the picture books
she “read” as a child, before her parents’ lips
shaped the daily miracle of speech
and kisses, and the words were not lead
and weighed only air, and did not mean
so meanly. “Do you love me?” she says
and says, until the dog, sensing perhaps
its own awful speechlessness, tries to bolt,
but she holds it by the collar and will not
let go, until, having come closer,
I hear the rest of it. I hear it all.
She’s got the dog’s furry jowls in her hands,
she’s speaking precisely
into its laid back, quivering ears:
“Say it,” she hisses, “Say it to me.”
the iris by the pond
up for the competition.
I am the one chosen by the lion at sundown
and dragged back from the shining water.
Yanked back to bushes and torn open, blood
blazing at the throat and breast of me.
Taken as meat. Devoured as spirit by spirit.
The others will return quickly to drink again
peacefully, but for me now there is only faith.
Only the fact that the tall windows I lived
with were left uncovered halfway up.
And the silence of those days I lived there
which were marked by your arrivals like
stations on a long journey. You write to say
you love me and lie awake in stillness
to avoid the pain. I remember looking
at you from within at the last moment,
with faith like a gift handkerchief, delicate
and almost fragile. This is the final thing.
Purity and faith, power and blood. Is there
nothing to see? Not memory even of forgetting?
Only the body eating the body? What of faith
when it meets death, being when it is hard
to account for? The nipples you bit
and the body you possessed lie buried in you.
My faith shines as the moon in the darkness
on water, as the sky in the day. Does it hover
in the air around you? Does it come like
a flower in your groin? Or is it like before
when you were alone and about to fall asleep
saying out loud in the darkness, “Linda,”
and hearing me answer immediately, “Yes!”