The spirit is too blunt an instrument
to have made this baby.
Nothing so unskilful as human passions
could have managed the intricate
exacting particulars: the tiny
blind bones with their manipulating tendons,
the knee and the knucklebones, the resilient
fine meshings of ganglia and vertebrae,
the chain of the difficult spine.
Observe the distinct eyelashes and sharp crescent
fingernails, the shell-like complexity
of the ear, with its firm involutions
concentric in miniature to minute
ossicles. Imagine the
infinitesimal capillaries, the flawless connections
of the lungs, the invisible neural filaments
through which the completed body
already answers to the brain.
Then name any passion or sentiment
possessed of the simplest accuracy.
No, no desire or affection could have done
with practice what habit
has done perfectly, indifferently,
through the body’s ignorant precision.
It is left to the vagaries of the mind to invent
love and despair and anxiety
and their pain.
Instead, we sit together beside the fountain,
the important novel and I.
We are having coffee together
in that quiet first hour of the morning,
respecting each other’s silences
in the shadow of an important old building
in this small but significant European city.
All the characters can relax.
I’m giving them the day off.
For once they can forget about their problems—
desire, betrayal, the fatal denouement—
and just sit peacefully beside me.
In the afternoon,
at lunch near the cathedral,
and in the evening, after my lonely,
historical walk along the promenade,
the men and women, the children
and even the dogs
in the important, complicated novel
have nothing to fear from me.
We will sit quietly at the table
with a glass of cool red wine
and listen to the pigeons
questioning each other in the ancient corridors.
She always writes poems. This summer
she’s starting a novel. It’s in trouble already.
The characters are easy—a girl
and her friend who is a girl
and the boy down the block with his first car,
an older boy, sixteen, who sometimes
these warm evenings leaves his house to go dancing
in dressy clothes though it’s still light out.
The girl has a brother who has lots of friends,
is good in math, and just plain good which
doesn’t help the story. The story
should have rescues & escapes in it
which means who’s the bad guy; he couldn’t be
the brother or the grandpa or the father either,
or even the boy down the block with his first car.
People in novels have to need something,
she thinks, that it takes about
two hundred pages to get.
She can’t imagine that. Nothing
she needs can be got; if it could
she’d go get it: the answer to nightmares;
a mother who’d be proud of her; doing things
a mother could be proud of; having hips
& knowing how to squeal at the beach laughing
when the boy down the block picked her up & carried her
& threw her in the water. If she’d laughed
squealing he might still take her swimming
& his mother wouldn’t say she’s crazy, she would
not have got her teeth into his shoulder till
well yes she bit him, and the marks
lasted & lasted, his mother said so,
but that couldn’t be in a novel.
She’ll never squeal laughing, she’d never
not bite him, she hates cute girls, she hates
boys who like them. Biting is embarrassing
and wrong & she has no intention of doing it again
but she would if he did if he dared,
and there’s no story if there’s no hope of change.
Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac
with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
and changed nothing in the world
except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving
someone or something, the world shrunk
hand-size, and never seeming small.
I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet ….
Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low
and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief
until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough
to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care
where it’s been, or what bitter road
to come so far, to taste so good.
It is very stretchy.
We know that, even if
many details remain
sketchy. It is complexly
woven. That much too
has pretty well been
proven. We are loath
to continue our lessons
which consist of slaps
as sharp and dispersed
as bee stings from
a smashed nest
when any strand snaps—
hurts working far past
the locus of rupture,
far beyond anything
we would have said
If sunlight fell like snowflakes,
gleaming yellow and so bright,
we could build a sunman,
we could have a sunball fight,
we could watch the sunflakes
drifting in the sky.
We could go sleighing
in the middle of July
through sundrifts and sunbanks,
we could ride a sunmobile,
and we could touch sunflakes—
I wonder how they’d feel.
It’s neither red
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
It doesn’t have
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
just a thick clutch
I fell it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—
but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,