Poems from 1995


In 1995 I started teaching at Swarthmore (the first and most vibrant realization of the experience of ending leave: I imagine that it's like a water-skier who hits the sand but doggedly tries to keep skiing): so there was less time, then I went to Russian for two months (see pix from that trip), and then Mislav got sick. Someone said that fall that I must be writing a lot -- actually, no, I was writing very little. But a few things that I liked:



We don't like what she said: earth itself
shudders and shrinks from her steps,
her decadent Western heels -- her brazen
unveiled mouth. She is a leaky vessel
for blasphemy and sin. Hence we declare:
kill her if ever you find her, and if earth
relieved of desecration does not at once
pour blessings into your lap, we will
reward you -- thousands of dollars lie
waiting in our pockets, though not of course
in that debased imperialistic currency!

And until she slips out, steps from the house
arrest where she's at last concealed and silent,
we can already smile with the calm of righteous
success: we know that we are taking her life --
taking her sky, leaving only one small square
of earth where her bed stands, her body lies.



This is it then: Vikings in our blood
roiling with their red heads.

The winter prayers cower silently
inside green-matted beehive cells.

Will wild invaders sta=eal the gold
of our sunset chasubles, rend them

and melt them down for pagan toys?
Will they spot our lairs and behead us?

They'll do worse than this: they know
to coerce our underground collaboration

our of the lawn: a purple pooison cup.
You can't put it down till you drink it up.



Political, in for life with just
one dim arch of north window
above the desk with books.

It is our way to grow:
you take everything from me
(mother, freedom, sunlight)
but seeding words sprout inside

Even if the day never comes
that sees me walk from your doors,
my branches reach already
above your walls, and shadow
the marksmen on the battlements,

my roots are already winding
in all the stones of your foundation.
The stones there shift and wonder.



Branches are falling, love --
great boughs of trees beside the street.
But we still walk home, hurrying,
singing between the thunder.

You're such a connoisseur of music:
your fingers stop my lips. Well,
and when you fell on me:
what name can I give to fate,

thnat moment when the very sky

and the cool storm wind rushes up
under the door



The Mark of Zero

It rhymes after all with sorrow --
just say it as if you're glad.

Zip Zap! It's that antiseptic blade
and has cauterized the veins:
no blood will pour now, all the wounds
will simply throb in fun.
I imagine you sitting there staring
into polar screens of electrons,
I see their glow on your face, I just
can't imagine the face through the mask.

Doctor please check it's a pain
I can't see.

The last variable.

What grows inside Zero?
That tiny womb.



Yes, I can fight beside you.
I'm good at that: I can catch
an arrow in my teeth on the fly --
just like this rose!

I am good at riding horseback,
quick reconnoitering, I can bring
the spokesman of a besieged city
to tears when he tries to negotiate,

I am an expert i jndisguises, plots,
and willing abduction. And you
want to have a child? Well,
give it a try. I have riches

and wakeful hours to spare.
Yes, I'll give it your name
if it's a boy. And you give me
that heavy gold ring you wear.

It's just in case I lose interest,
you know, I am not much
of an ally over time. It's too easy
to change my mind, to fall

in love with the beautiful enemy.



Your bad influence, my friend:
I was standing on the balcony
in a thick terry robe, looking I'm sure
like some actress who thought she
would live forever and just as lovely
as the moment the golden coins
first poured down, my hair
drying in the sun, the smoke
rising around me like leaves
that stir in summer wind,
the sky flying out of my lips.


I came closer to see
you try the tension of those tamed lines,
those tanned limbs as you plunge
into air and through the bent light
above the bottle-green mirror
of pure saline recycled sea.

As the little boat turns,
I watch you settle and land
at the very tip of the cape
where the rich guys leave one pleasure
for another.

And now I have to get back from



The Dawn Man

Here is a poem, mister,
to the tips of your rosy fingers.
I wish I could love women, but
you are so damn attractive!
The stars fade at your approach.

I sit holding the silver balloon
and waiting for my train
till the string slips from fingers
so careful; and so numb.
I watch it vanish into
that high sky turning blue:
you rise into your element, my dear.

And if I keep my eyes from moving
and purse my lips until
the tiny bright point disappears,
I can believe that it was
my very own
departing star.

It was the lark.



Your cold language: every word
is a marble tablet, avery syllable
works an ivory hinge. No matter
how I try to intone and repeat,
my lips cannot warm it.
I glide through long and short, but
still it will not sing for me, it holds
no two words that rhyme.

Between your lips and mine,
between my lips and your ears,
these heavy carved stones
that cover over those cold bones.



A sharp story sized to a fingernail:
so I won't play on stage, and they said:
honor your father, and anyway isn't it
worth more to wed and bear children?
That's how the story went then.

Since I had betrothed myself secretly to
mad Ludwig (dropped my own ring in his river,
he never made a move to women...), since I love
only then men who wrote the music I play.
That's what I said a hundred years ago.

Here is a man who loves me, widower
some twenty years my senior, son and daughter
sorely missing their late mother, my friend --
who asks me to take her place in his house....
That's how the story ended then.

Their ghosts know what I think of them.


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