The old women come to the serious sea
with their withering shawls
and their fragile feet broken.
Alone on the beaches, they sit
without shifting their gaze or their hands
or the clouds or the quietness.
The ocean’s obscenity shatters and slashes,
descends in a mountain of trumpets,
shakes a bullock’s mustaches.
The matriarchs sit in their places, unmoved,
transparent like ships on a sea,
observing the terrorist waves.
Where do they come from, where go to?
They move out of corners,
from the quick of our lives.
The ocean is theirs, now,
the vacancy, freezing and burning,
the solitude crowded with bonfires.
They move in the fullness of time
from the once-fragrant houses
and the char of the twilight.
They see and do not see the waters,
they write signs with their walking sticks,
and the sea blots their signatures.
Then the ancients move off
on frail bird’s feet, upraised,
while a runaway surf
travels naked in wind.
Amidst the glossy dark green foliage
of trees around the hotel pool,
I spy a low-hanging golden fruit.
So many trees whose names I do not know
and for the first time do not care to learn.
The overwhelming now in its countless inflections
cancels vocabulary: eyes lips skin
instead of words. Still in the pool,
floating on my back as the sun gets low,
I look at the mango, if that is what it is
(I think it is some wholly other fruit),
and suddenly smell garlic sautéed in butter.
Chefs in the kitchen under the trees
are getting the hors d’oeuvres ready.
Yesterday in a dim, airless gallery,
following your lead,
I hunted down an iconography
written in a grisly alphabet
yet full of life, the haunting gaze direct,
transcending death. Death had in winning lost.
Art trumped death and life trumped art. Last night
(our third together — sleep
a whole new texture in a bed with you)
I gave you space and found myself at the border
of a far province in the king-sized bed,
a dimly lit hinterland where paintings ruled,
a region wholly devoted to the work
of the same painter, mysteriously killed,
stoned to death (“lapidated” was one word),
assassinated — why? A mystery
to be solved by iconography?
Death had won but also death had lost.
Garlic and butter. Glossy dark green leaves.
Voices across the pool. A hanging fruit.
An azure splash. And as the sun goes down,
you sit by the window in our room,
drawing pictures of this this this time.
What to call it? Colors in your hands
trump words. Like the fruit,
like the solution to the mystery,
something I am at a loss to name.
First you must have
unbelievable faith in water,
in women dancing like hands playing harps
for straw to grow stalks of fire.
You must understand the year
that begins with your hands tied
behind your back,
worship of dark totems
weighed down with night birds that shift their weight
& leave holes in the sky. You must know
what’s behind the shadow of a treadmill—
its window the moon’s reflection
& silent season reaching
into red sunlight hills.
You must know the hard science
of building walls that sway with summer storms.
Locking arms to a frame of air, frame of oak
rooted to ancient ground
where the door’s constructed last,
just wide enough for two lovers
to enter on hands & knees.
You must dance
the weaverbird’s song
for mending water & light
with straw, earth, mind, bright loom of grain
untortured by bushels of thorns.
I close the wardrobe, it opens.
I close the wardrobe, it opens.
Is that the way it will always be,
persistence as a form of flight;
my summons the rising and slamming tight
though rust will gather despite me?
I’ve folded my dresses, placed them
on shelves. I could affix
another hinge, but the walls
have become a cluster and repetition
a way to light—to light
through the absence it exposes.
The first time I touched it,
cloth fell under my fingers,
the frail white folds
softened, demure. No burn,
no combustion at the touch of skin.
It sat, silent, like any other contents
of any other box: photographs
of the dead, heirloom jewels.
Exposed to thin windowlight it is
exactly as in movies:
a long gown, and where a chest
must have breathed, a red cross
crossed over. The crown, I know,
waits underneath, the hood with eyes
carefully stitched open, arch cap
like a bishop’s, surging to its point.
The jay’s up early, and attacks the lawn
with something of that fervor and despair
of one whose keys are not where they always are,
checking the same spots over and again
till something new or overlooked appears—
an armored pillbug, or a husk of grain.
He flits with it home, where his mate beds down,
her stern tail feathers jutting from the nest
like a spoon handle from a breakfast bowl.
The quickest lover’s peck, and he’s paroled
again to stalk the sodgrass, cockheaded, obsessed.
He must get something from his selfless work—
joy, or reprieve, or a satisfying sense
of obligation dutifully dispensed.
Unless, of course, he’s just a bird, with beaks—
too many beaks—to fill, in no way possessed
of traits or demons humans might devise,
his dark not filled with could-have-beens and whys.