THE BARN PARTITAS

Much that could not be written: the look back,
often in company—small wonder, then,
her wariness. He scanned the long horizon:
roads sinuous and tree-lined, shrines, chapels,
terraces, rooms with views, cars and ferries—
all the possible venues that figure
when someone else is the journey’s purpose.
Can one explain the road as lived? Reason
has no answer. When questioned about it,
the I Ching gave him “Splitting Apart,” apt
and to him optimistic: things must break
so something new can gather force, appear.
“Things must”: how fate permeates the road!
And each one sees it as it is for her.

 

I. THE ROAD

Memory

“And what would that look like?” she might have asked.
The question looks ahead, if doubtfully,
but his mind tends toward retrospect: what’s formed
has taken place, associative scenes
stretching back to time’s bending point, where he
regained consciousness of self and others.
The scenes arrive like Swedenborg’s heaven:
not a great distance when they first appear
from where he is or was. The observer
in these scenes is also present,
a filmmaker’s eye, but more holistic
in what he takes in on the journey through:
green walls behind the mosquito netting;
white cotton with its narrow line of wet.

Wildflowers

“Abandon no one”: his maxim,
not that it was believed. Love and friendship
mix badly between the sexes; they want
one or the other. He learned this slowly,
noting along the way that, unfolding,
time opens life up, makes it possible
to find the river again in that space.
And while she may only put her toes in,
there’s a glint of warmth in her eyes and voice.
All because time has turned the ground over
and those wildflowers that betrayal scorched
emerge and flower in a new season.
The gate is always there, the hedgerow
sometimes a wall, else more of a curtain.

Any

Predict he would take up another?
It seems perverse. An umbrella rolled up
is like a baby without a mother,
he thinks. Or is it the other way? Pup
or pop, dad or daddy: which is which? Bride
on bride, groom on groom, the issue deferred,
he imagines, arranged, left on the side
until after the wedding, matters blurred.
Who asks whom first? Groom on bride, bride on groom,
all permutations are permissible,
lawful in two senses. Crossing the room,
she walks the way women walk: visible.
How many crossings, then, before the slam,
despite amour, despite the wham and bam?

Canyon

Less an old story than a new one: one
tries to learn from experience, but then
experience is new. It’s never done
telling how it is, will be, once again.
And so the room is new, and the terrace,
also, the brightness here, the darkness there—
their stories come around like a Ferris
wheel, like houses on a cliff, truth or dare.
In short, we may as well call any place
OK for our purposes, and not wait
for the tide to run out. There’s so much space
between A, B, a canyon of this date
and that, the emptiness I noted, such
quiet, if quiet matters, matters much.

 

II. ENCOUNTERS

Hints

Perhaps it’s true, these charges leveled.
I could see it. My history precedes me:
a life smooth to the touch and yet beveled,
even knife-like, and sharpened to a T.
Yes, it may be true. I feel like smoking
or playing slow music in a dark room.
There may be a blue lamp, someone soaking,
barely vertical, diktat from the womb.
You know how the chorus goes, the long moan,
the short gasp. Yes, definitely like this.
I’m sure I’m guilty as charged on the phone.
(But one could also say, “An odd life, miss.”)
Imagination plays a role, a touch
of ambiguity, small hints and such.

Heft

The word from eight (the hexagram): union.
Life has its hubs or maybe its nodes. One
finds one’s place, tries to avoid confusion.
The whole is organic after all, fun
while it lasted, you could say, a tear
welling up, but then it orbits around—
the brass ring you missed might just reappear,
only golden this time, and what’s lost is found.
The whole is dramatic after all; full
of everything that leavens existence—
black bees abuzz or the massive white bull
that carried Europa north. “Resistance
is futile,” she thought, tightening her hold;
imagining its heft had made her bold.

Chemistry

Melancholic, I read: analytic
and literal. Mix sanguine in and then
you get what Hegel called dialectic.
(It can seem bipolar, now and again.)
Literal, yes, that rang a bell: a clue
why metaphors sink like lead in quicksand.
The glass, famously half empty: that’s due
to some negative universe, a band
most often playing in a minor key?
Mix sanguine in and things look much brighter.
It takes hold so quickly. The chemistry
is such that everything soon seems lighter.
When that glass fills up, claret or amber,
the bow, taken up, regains its camber.

Fork

“Ask someone else,” the woman said, turning
back to whatever it was, blocked from my sight.
In the cafés of life, I’m still learning
to distinguish a wrong move from a right.
We spoke of art as he drank his wine, art
that sometimes lived in, the remove as slight
as one remembered. Did he give a start?
Time’s distance is no match for the flight
of memory. Like how I can hear you
as they must have, too, your door ajar. “Sounds
like thunder,” they might have said. If they knew,
geology terms could have made the rounds—
seismic, perhaps, or volcanic—but then
memories fork, don’t they, now and again?

Untitled

 

III. NOTES TO SELF

Winterreise

Sometimes only boughs are visible, near
as passersby on crowded city streets,
close enough to touch, but we hold back, fear
to touch the way we might if between the sheets.
A different season—the hedges form a square,
a distant bell sounding, the sea fog-edged:
Held in the mind, these thoughts ward off despair,
even as the boughs bend close, winter full-fledged.
They say there are hot springs hereabouts, far
or near, I know not. Heat intuited
glimmers in consciousness like a faint star
and yet proves faithful and deeply rooted.
Somewhere in this Milky Way, steam rises.
Make for that, a traveler surmises.

Doubled

They each write out their provisos: how much
emptiness exists between points A, B.
He wonders why he now declines to touch.
She asks him what, if not this, love could be?
These are fair questions. Somewhere there’s a street
that isn’t haunted by the past. Somewhere
there’s a house, a garden, a bed, a sheet
with no story. “In heaven, too—we share
everything with a doubled eternal,”
the Zen master told his listener. A spoon
was the object doubled, not infernal,
but ordinary as the waxing moon.
In the middle of her night, he awoke
to find it was that moon, not her, that spoke.

Kronos

A road, we call it, a path, but river,
as Heraclitus suggested, feels right.
How slowly It moves, often, a sliver
of life at a time, fluid yet so slight
that it falls beneath our notice, gone
from consciousness. What carries us along,
we ask ourselves. Is this a boat we’re on?
Who steers it? The words of a sailor’s song
mix with those of mermaids, sirens whose breasts
are like the hills that skirt the river’s edge.
Garlanded, they push and pull, plot their tests
of bravado for the boys on the ledge.
They’re up there, too, the girls, shedding a fin,
then half-drowned—payment for their plunging in.

Shadow

A shady figure, some would argue. Won’t
get no denial from me. This is Jung’s
territory, so why deny it? Don’t
think I’m gonna. “I like it when she comes,”
now there’s a phrase to warm a liar’s heart.
And God knows deception’s my middle name.
Yeah, keeping a straight face, playing the part—
the shady life’s not easy, a long game
if you can keep it going, and I did,
waiting by the telephone, cooling heels
out on the road, staying low and well hid,
reading the racing forms and copping feels.
“It’s all too much! I am a slave!” No more.
The pledge: “Nobody’s fool, nobody’s whore.”

Somewhere

Inside the room, inside the head: one could
write stories of such stasis: nothing goes
right or wrong; there’s neither must do nor should.
Around the desk, around the chair, life flows
like a mysterious substance. Women
come and go. The book lies upside-down, tent
of paper and board, small markings like Zen,
those koans, so hard to read, if they meant
anything to anyone else: doubtful.
Cats also come and go. A jay lands, screams.
The mind wanders in its confining skull.
Somewhere, it thinks, a woman dreams or creams.
Wake! A cloud of sanguinity draws close.
A black bee, meandering, snorts a dose.

garden

Riven

The moon appears and disappears, first round
then a vessel, pregnant, soon round again.
I watch and time passes. I miss the sound.
I miss the heat. Why do I not stir then?
The question was posed elsewhere: Would it shut?
But no, it hangs open, adrift in my doubts
about setting out for the coast. Abrupt
thoughts crease the stillness. I hear distant shouts,
but the sound missed isn’t heard, nor is heat
tangibly beneath my hand. These are felt
like the moon’s passage, like the ever-sweet
taste I crave: eyes rolled back, a deep hue smelt.
So I measure how long a road, driven
and driven in my head, feelings riven.

 

IV. NOTES TO OTHERS

Cleft

In the midst of months, a day divides the time
as pre- and post-, like a gate that’s opened
and closed, before and after. A slow climb
up a road to a boxwood park; we spend
an hour there, then climb again where hawks
drift in the wind. Stones, a fence, clear air,
the sea distant, iron blue. We take walks.
Cold in the morning, rising slow, your hair:
one divides time up like salt, and after,
cleft, the line’s inexact but fixed, bone dry,
while you move. Between sadness there’s laughter.
Divided and divided, yes, and why?
Smote the sea and it opens, life confides;
the corollary unsaid: time divides.

Listening

Sometimes I see the film the music makes.
Would you be in it? There are no traces
amid the scenery—poems aren’t outtakes—
but I can picture it: our two faces
(I’m looking up, your head is turned) close in,
talking like we used to do. And outside
is the changing view. On a map, a pin
or pins, rather, would mark our high tide.
Variations like those I’m hearing now
would do well in this film we made, suited
to its mood’s wobbling course. I wonder how
the happy ending they want is mooted?
“Define happy,” La Rochefoucauld might write,
skeptic that he was, doubtful yet so right.

Materiality

Odd how the body sings its final note.
We aren’t supposed to watch. A crime, they say.
We know the clip by heart, even by rote:
the hood, the speech, defiance, one to pay
the price of being in the wrong place, time,
the wrong century, wrong era. “No dice!
You worship at another altar, slime!”
and other epithets that aren’t so nice,
as if nice matters when they cut your throat.
What is it you think in those last moments?
Odd how the body sings its final note
despite the droning man and his torments.
English, they said, a recruit to the cause.
As for the cause itself, I see some flaws.

Caught

Poison, he told her, but she demurred. Pain
ensued, although not before bliss. That, too.
Dire, he repeated, but she demurred. Rain
fell, metaphorically, but nothing’s true
exactly, nothing’s as it’s depicted here.
So the road in retrospect has its death,
its depths of sadness, hearts ravaged, seared.
At points, human beings run out of breath,
caught in those small rooms of contradiction,
airless, cut off from the rest of life. All
grinds massively to a halt, no friction
left to spark love. It’s the end of the ball.
The door is always there, the saying has it,
but the music can still be heard, can’t it?

Mend

He wrote of borderlands transgressed, the bounds
so readily passed through, despite knowing
how unbending life can be. Making rounds,
it came to seem, riding the range, sowing
no wild oats, however much desired.
A ring, not a badge, a vow, not much use,
a waiting, waiting game. She grew tired,
he thought, or was it him, cutting them loose
in hopes that life would bring them somewhere new?
He still rode the range, but slowly. Fences
make good neighbors, he thought. “Rode it with you”
in his head, despite distance, defenses.
Mending fences is not the worst pastime.
Builds character, they say. Must be sublime.

 

V. THE SENSES

Oceania

“Memory,” the title read. Notice the cleft
almost hidden amid the tropical
points of reference? Nominally he was
in his dotage, yet the flame still lingered:
the oceanic concubine fingered
in moonlight, her moaning against the buzz
of whatever the lizards failed to cull.
Wet the way women get, his fingers deft
with practice, the one means he still had left.
Thinking back, it seemed almost comical
to be reduced to this trick, how it was
in youth when some pliant schoolgirl lingered
long enough to be felt up, her head cocked,
feet apart—no lizards, but the memory.

Blue

Did she notice him, his eyes fixed on her,
line dancing along the periphery,
gestures toward a sky that reminded him
of the lapping Caribbean Sea, blue
with bars and shoals, the pelicans skimming?
He could picture her at home in that scene.
Would she come closer, answering his wish?
If the room emptied out, then just the two,
alone in the semi-dark, the palm fronds
swaying, imaginary though they were.
Or would he come for her, carried along
by the rising and falling of the song?
Gravely she thanked him as he left; no kiss
but only words, the kiss left unspoken.

Neck

Long legged with dark slippers, tatami
cushioning the blow, hair clipped, wedding ring
a bronze band, and a boy’s face. Can’t you see?
Her neck is how a lover views it. Sing,
oh muse, of how her back would arch, taken
dog-wise, wet from earlobes caressed, parting
lips somewhere along the way. Mistaken
as we sometimes are, drifting, departing
all too soon, those cries still echoing, walls
marked, sheets torn by hands grasping. Holding still
until taken, taken until spent, balls
aching as they sometimes do, no ill will,
mistaken as we sometimes are, depart
too soon, drifting, humming, playing one’s part.

Denouement

A surprise to find paradise out back,
Straight-laced on the outside, like a Russian
dacha within. French influenced, no lack
of creature comforts. “Nothing Prussian,”
he might have said. His friend’s wife outlived both,
his real wives ailing and absent. “In France,”
she told me. “Heart attack.” So first half a loaf
and then none. And yet nothing seemed askance.
This may be the territory old age
brings us to, when transience really takes hold.
The last scenes played out on this earthly stage
need a few actors still standing, though old,
French-style armchairs, shelves of books, leather-bound,
blue walls, distant chatter the only sound.

 

VI. LOVE & DEATH

May

Whatever else he might have been, he thought,
an opportunity wasn’t it. Still,
he could see why the word came up. Squandered
is how time can feel when expectations
falter. The transformation shocks us. Love
charts a path that rarely proves tenable,
yet nothing’s lost, the I Ching added, soon
after, but after what, exactly? Words
like disaster came to mind. But was it?
There they were, as close as ever, despite
the distance on some levels. The frisson
drops away, the venues change. “It may
just be this,” she told him a while back. Yes,
it may. Our reality, he’d say.

Talk

I want to write out love’s true story: talk
accompanies love, does it not? Before
and after is the rule, but sometimes we talk
throughout, albeit in single words or more,
short phrases or demands. Conversation
comes in between, those moments of cooling
after the long sprint, the respite of come,
when our beings briefly reign, no fooling,
as twin monarchs of all we survey: bed
and linen, walls, a view. For some reason
the mind is freed. Unwritten, what is said,
yet remembered, some of it: the season,
what you asked, how I felt; reality
consisting then of us, we two, only.

Hearts

I want to write out love’s true story: hearts
melded into flesh, is that how it is?
The truth of love—many scenes, many parts!
Each folds back on the other—how it is.
He takes her trembling self in hand, rocket
that she is. He’s like a match, and as dumb,
column-straight, ignition in his pocket,
then bent down at the gate, mind switched to numb.
How like a horse plowing, running blindly!
Love is a field to him, love is a course.
That another’s aflame, a rising sea
behind those eyes, deep in the matted source—
these facts pass like trees and houses, the road south,
the beaten path, the curve of lips, her mouth.

Death

I want to tell the truth about love. Death
can come as a relief when it goes wrong.
Breathless, they say, but then there’s no more breath,
no space, no room, no road: end of a song
you sang in harmony and counterpoint,
in reality and in illusion.
Love softens you up, puts you out of joint
severely, a sure cure for delusion.
You stand on the balcony and look down.
Below are the dead, their quiet sleep, still
as stones amid a field of green and brown.
They make no comment. Jumping holds no thrill,
they seem to say, as if the dead could talk.
You could leap or wait. You could take a walk.

Here

In one sense, visceral, then burned, scattered;
in another, each and every, imbued—
how quickly memory attaches, grips
one’s sideways glance of things, raises places
from their background status. One picks them up;
one picks up on them. Present here, one says,
telling a story that overlays death
with what lives on. I used to picture it
slipping between time’s folds, a shimmering
into and out of material life.
It’s not quite the Noh play I imagined.
Despite the flames and ashes, so much persists:
not just what we trash or give away, nor
what we think we see. Being here, he, too.

 

Three

Morphine clears a path; it was requested,
he learned at the wake. The bigger friar
of the two—perhaps he was a father—
set his remarks on women and offspring:
how life’s quickening registered as joy.
(Invoking it seemed oddly apropos.)
Three generations of the female line
were noted. The eldest, recently dead,
witnessed this mutely. His theory (self-awareness
persists a bit) foundered on a body
from which all signs of life had departed.
“All used up” came to mind, admirable
in its economy of means. No doubt
that material life loses its spark.

Poppies

The paper flowers, the father, granddad,
the graves like Chinese cities, all the dead
arrayed. What a war they had! Not so bad
until it plowed them under. What was said
went mostly unspoken. Silence, a sound
often written, slices through time and space.
The dead either hear us or not. It goes ‘round,
the silence between us; face to face
it would be different or else diffident,
depending on your mood. How are you, then?
I ask each time, less and less confident
I know how you are, really. Well, amen.
Mass is over and we’re both still alive.
We could talk. I could see you, raise you five.

3

 

Notes

“Neck” is for Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863–1938)—a lot of work being that man.

“Here” was written for Donald Cremers in memory of Frank Sclafani.

The images are mine (or my collages) except for “Memory of Oceania” by Henri Matisse.