Driving alone at night, the world’s pitch, black velvet
stapled occasionally by red tail lights
on the opposite highway but otherwise mild
panic when the eyes’ habitual check
produces nothing at all in the rearview mirror,
a black blank, now nothing exists
but the dotted white lines of the road,
and the car scissors the blackness open
like the mind’s path through confusion,
but still no clarity, no arrival, only Pennsylvania darkness,
rocks, cliffs, vistas by day that thicken to black. It’s
sensual, though, too, and interestingly mental. What
I do alone, loving him in my mind. Trying not to
let imagination win over reality. Hurtling through the night
passions so spent become facts one observes. Not tempered,
just momentarily out of view by the body that perceives them.
Turning that into my prayer: to be deprived.
There’s one way to talk about beauty
and it hasn’t changed since Spanish ponies,
born from wreckage off the coast
of Assateague, swam to become island
wildings, alone and windblown. Feral.
American. Hasn’t changed since
the vase painter of Attica chose
a flutist and dancer for her subject
in the fire. It’s twenty fourteen that I love
this girl on panpipes. She peers down
at her hands at work, one foot hitched up
as if she too were to spring to dance.
But no. The making of this music
pins her to her seat, the black behind her
not the field of the contending mind
but its best warmth, a gift to her
compatriot who works without instrument,
save the spinning dress and upraised arms
elegant in honor of the next time
she would see the flutist and ask her
to play in celebration of their friendship.
And so with my sisters and me, on that
island known for its salt-eating horses,
where we promised to return year after year
for a swim and reminder of what carries us
aloft in the darkening waters, whether it’s
refusal or a special imagination on how
to flourish without a mother. Mother,
and one flows to the sacred hair-braidings
laying out of clothes, sacred good mornings.
One flows to these things even if there was
none but what a child understands
of capture and release, before and after,
while the sun is pinking the beachgrass
and the Atlantic grays. And how these
restate all I want to ask about motherlessness,
of how it’s possible not to vanish because
she does. I don’t mean this as a keening
of grief, though others agree it must be.
The vase painter has long since vanished,
and the two continue practicing their love.
It’s that easy, yes?
An old thought, and so is its arrival, rolling
in like the water. Like the pitching arms
of a young woman still learning her craft.
The cartographer married the exile,
tantalized by the taste of road
when he took her into his mouth,
wanted her, with that wander eye,
as if the last veil
was composed of miles
between them—the revelation
of contour, of gully and incline
in delicate copper, ochre, viridian blue.
She murmurs a litany between
the pillow hours—
Cebolleta—names he cannot find
on any map,
suspects are old lovers.
It is his delight
to name the constellations crossing
in his own language,
to watch weather
shape them back again
to what she knew,
to what he guesses
her landscape was.
Desert flower, flowers from the garland
of our houses where families
bicker in the open air,
you browse on the stones of the day,
simple, while field and sky
like sky and sea
appear all around.
Rustic desert flower,
no evening streaming with lights.
No shepherds drenched by dew,
slender fire of the hedges.
No marsh-marigold, bilberry, swamp-violet
or Florentine iris, or gentian, no angelica,
no Parnassian grass or marsh-myrtle.
You’re Pieruti, Zuan
and tall Bepi with his walking-sticks of bone,
slim at the helm of his wagon,
You become hay. Burn, burn,
sun of my town, little desert flower.
The years pass over you,
and so do I, with the shadow of the acacia tree,
with the sunflower, on this quiet day.
translated by Eliot Weinberger
for Roger Caillois
Water hollows stone,
wind scatters water,
stone stops the wind.
Water, wind, stone.
Wind carves stone,
stone’s a cup of water,
water escapes and is wind.
Stone, wind, water.
Wind sings in its whirling,
water murmurs going by,
unmoving stone keeps still.
Wind, water, stone.
Each is another and no other:
crossing and vanishing
through their empty names:
water, stone, wind.
A shilling life will give you all the facts:
How Father beat him, how he ran away,
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts
Made him the greatest figure of his day;
Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night,
Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea:
Some of the last researchers even write
Love made him weep his pints like you and me.
With all his honours on, he sighed for one
Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;
Did little jobs about the house with skill
And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still
Or potter round the garden; answered some
Of his long marvellous letters but kept none.
Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.