I did not know that I should miss you,
So silver-soft your loving came—
There were no trumpets down the dawning,
There were no leaping tides of flame:
Only a peace like still rain falling
On a tired land with drought foredone,
Only a warmth like light soft lying
On a shut place that had not sun.
I did not know that I should miss you…
I only miss you, day and night,
Stilly, as earth would miss the rainfall;
Always, as earth would miss the light.
I read somewhere
that if pedestrians didn’t break traffic laws to cross
Times Square whenever and by whatever means possible,
the whole city
would stop, it would stop.
Cars would back up to Rhode Island,
an epic gridlock not even a cat
could thread through. It’s not law but the sprawl
of our separate wills that keeps us all flowing. Today I loved
the unprecedented gall
of the piano movers, shoving a roped-up baby grand
up Ninth Avenue before a thunderstorm.
They were a grim and hefty pair, cynical
as any day laborers. They knew what was coming,
the instrument white lacquered, the sky bulging black
as a bad water balloon and in one pinprick instant
it burst. A downpour like a fire hose.
For a few heartbeats, the whole city stalled,
paused, a heart thump, then it all went staccato.
And it was my pleasure to witness a not
insignificant miracle: in one instant every black
umbrella in Hell’s Kitchen opened on cue, everyone
still moving. It was a scene from an unwritten opera,
the sails of some vast armada.
And four old ladies interrupted their own slow progress
to accompany the piano movers.
each holding what might have once been
lace parasols over the grunting men. I passed next
the crowd of pastel ballerinas huddled
under the corner awning,
in line for an open call — stork-limbed, ankles
zigzagged with ribbon, a few passing a lit cigarette
around. The city feeds on beauty, starves
for it, breeds it. Coming home after midnight,
to my deserted block with its famously high
subway-rat count, I heard a tenor exhale pure
longing down the brick canyons, the steaming moon
opened its mouth to drink from on high …
In the old days, before houses were warm,
people did not sleep alone. Not even
widows went by themselves into
the cold sheets of night. Rooms were
lit with lanterns and children were
encouraged to jump on their beds,
warming themselves, before they
crawled inside. You might sleep with
your cousin or sister, your nose
buried in the summer of their
hair. You might place a baked potato
in your blanket to help it remember
warmth. A fire would be lit but, after
awhile, it would smolder down
to the bone silence of ash. Everything
was cold: the basin where you washed
your face, the wood floor, the windows
where you watched your breath
open over the framed blur of snow.
Your hands and feet were cold
and the trees were cold: naked,
traced in ice. You might take a dog
to bed or two or three, anything to lie
down with life, feel it breathing nearby.
It’s like this, the king marries
a commoner, and the populace cheers.
She doesn’t even know how to curtsy,
but he loves her manners in bed.
Why doesn’t the king do what his father did,
the king’s mother wonders—
those peasant girls brought in
through that secret entrance, that’s how
a kingdom works best. But marriage!
The king’s mother won’t come out
of her room, and a strange democracy
radiates throughout the land,
which causes widespread dreaming,
a general hopefulness. This is,
of course, how people get hurt,
how history gets its ziggy shape.
The king locks his wife in the tower
because she’s begun to ride
her horse far into the woods.
How unqueenly to come back
to the castle like that,
so sweaty and flushed. The only answer,
his mother decides, is stricter rules—
no whispering in the corridors,
no gaiety in the fields.
The king announces his wife is very tired
and has decided to lie down,
and issues an edict that all things yours
are once again his.
This is the kind of law
history loves, which contains
its own demise. The villagers conspire
for years, waiting for the right time,
which never arrives. There’s only
that one person, not exactly brave,
but too unhappy to be reasonable,
who crosses the moat, scales the walls.
You are not me, and I am never you
except for thirty seconds in a year
when ecstasy of coming,
laughing at the same time
or being cruel to know for certain
what the other’s feeling
charge some recognition.
Not often when we talk though.
Undressing to the daily logs
of this petty boss, that compliment,
curling our lips at half-announced ambitions.
I tell you this during another night
of living next to you
without having said what was on our minds,
our bodies merely rubbing their fishy smells together.
The feelings keep piling up.
Will I ever find the time to tell you what is inside these trunks?
Maybe it’s the fault of our language
but dreams are innocent and pictorial.
Then let our dreams speak for us
side by side, leg over leg,
an electroencephalographic kiss
flashing blue movies from temple
to temple, as we lie gagged in sleep.
Sleep on while I am talking
I am just arranging the curtains
over your naked breasts.
Love doesn’t look too closely…
love looks very closely
the shock of beauty you gave me
the third rail that runs through our hospitality.
When will I follow you
over the fence to your tracks?
She pays attention to the hair, not her fingers, and cuts herself
once or twice a day. Doesn’t notice anymore, just if the blood
starts flowing. Says, Excuse me, to the customer and walks away
for a band-aid. Same spot on the middle finger over and over,
raised like a callus. Also the nicks where she snips between
her fingers, the torn webbing. Also spider veins on her legs now,
so ugly, though she sits in a chair for half of each cut, rolls around
from side to side. At night in the winter she sleeps in white
cotton gloves, Neosporin on the cuts, vitamin E, then heavy
lotion. All night, for weeks, her white hands lie clothed like
those of a young girl going to her first party. Sleeping alone,
she opens and closes her long scissors and the hair falls under
her hands. It’s a good living, kind of like an undertaker,
the people keep coming, and the hair, shoulder length, French
twist, braids. Someone has to cut it. At the end she whisks
and talcums my neck. Only then can I bend and see my hair,
how it covers the floor, curls and clippings of brown and silver,
how it shines like a field of scythed hay beneath my feet.
What things are steadfast? Not the birds.
Not the bride and groom who hurry
in their brevity to reach one another.
The stars do not blow away as we do.
The heavenly things ignite and freeze.
But not as my hair falls before you.
Fragile and momentary, we continue.
Fearing madness in all things huge
and their requiring. Managing as thin light
on water. Managing only greetings
and farewells. We love a little, as the mice
huddle, as the goat leans against my hand.
As the lovers quickening, riding time.
Making safety in the moment. This touching
home goes far. This fishing in the air.