It is not the chambers of the heart that hold him
captive, but the hallways of the mind. Why
his image burning green and blue persists
—the face, the eyes questioning, the shape
of his head—is beyond anything I can understand.
What lessons must be learned to overcome
the final act of longing? This morning, sunlight
grasped at everything, but the wind swept
through the streets taking things with it,
even the soul. Sometimes the curtain does not
completely fall, and the play, barely visible,
continues. This much I know. This much
the textbooks have taught us. The blind man
Cervantes built continued to see and saw far
too much, could not accept the utter purity
of Abstraction. But is that not our essential fault?
A tree frog croaks against the backdrop of memory,
and the cold sheets and darkened room return,
but you are not here to whisper me to sleep.
The ocean’s long-windedness offers no replacement
for your voice, anxious the way it could be at night.
What is there to understand? Not the heart, certainly
not the heart that is so easily trained to forget.
Night after night, like the tree frog, I remind myself
who I am, voicing what I cannot voice during the day.
Somewhere outside Kyoto’s line, she said,
they stumbled across the famous garden of moss,
the smallish sign so plain it could have been
overlooked. No temple, only moss.
So they entered the walkway with little expectation,
the silence creeping in, much like expectation.
Instead of leading them to the garden directly,
two monks had led them to a different task,
requested they copy three hundred characters,
the ink and paper set down for the task.
And this, too, was a practiced form of prayer,
left behind for those who had forgotten prayer.
The monks left brushes, ink, and bowls of water.
They asked the seekers to write, to pray. But prayer,
any prayer, wasn’t easy. The brush and ink,
the doubting hand, made not for simple prayer.
And even as I write this, I do not want to pray.
This story changes nothing; I do not want to pray.
The pearls, mere reminders.
The ocean’s rapid recoil, a signal.
The gulls appeared enormous
in that way only things from above can—
such is presentation of the sudden.
If only this were worthy of a frame,
the wooden gesture announcing
a moment past were cherished.
But it was too late for that, too late
to answer the surf’s anxious Why?
too late to decline the continuous life
he had resigned himself, turning
away from the grave, that plot
being too familiar to so many.
Of course immortality had its price:
first his staff he had taped back together,
then the sleeves of his robe
he had reclaimed from the depths, then
the magic leached nightly from his fingertips
so that now his incantation for a storm
brought only a slight breeze,
a quick sun shower that frightened
only the flowers struggling in the salt air.
Now, showing his centuries, he insists:
This is the wind out of which I bring clouds.
These are my hands that gnarled though they be
when lifted to the sky bring rain.
for donald justice
Beyond the strings of water
clinging to the windowpane,
there were no cranes, just rain,
a sky blurred by wet glass,
a pond corrugated by raindrops,
and, inside, the smell of naphthalene bars,
a Victrola with a broken arm,
a spotty daguerreotype, a dusty crinoline—
O mildewed, seersucker suits
draped over vacant chairs.
“If God is Art, then what do we make
of Jasper Johns?” One never knows
what sort of question a patient will pose,
or how exactly one should answer.
Outside the window, snow on snow
began to answer the ground below
with nothing more than foolish questions.
We were no different. I asked again:
“Professor, have we eased the pain?”
Eventually, he’d answer me with:
“Tell me, young man, whom do you love?”
“E,” I’d say, “None of the Above,”
and laugh for lack of something more
to add. For days he had played that game,
and day after day I avoided your name
by instinct. I never told him how
we often wear each other’s clothes—
we aren’t what many presuppose.
Call it an act of omission, my love.
Tonight, while walking to the car,
I said your name to the evening star,
clearly pronouncing the syllables
to see your name dissipate
in the air, evaporate.
Only the night air carries your words
up to the dead (the ancients wrote):
I watched them rise, become remote.
And what if I had simply passed you by,
your false skins gathering light in a basket,
those skins of unpolished copper,
would you have lived more greatly?
Now you are free of that metallic coating,
a broken hull of parchment,
the dried petals of a lily—
those who have not loved you
will not know differently.
But you are green fading into yellow—
how deceptive you have been.
Once I played the cithara,
fingers chafing against each note.
Once I worked the loom,
cast the shuttle through the warp.
Once I scrubbed the tiles
deep in the tub of Alejandro.
Now I try to decipher you.
Beyond the village, within a cloud
of wild cacao and tamarind,
they chant your tale, how you,
most common of your kind,
make the great warrior-men cry
but a woman can unravel you.