POETRY

A view down into the courtyard of a ruined castle, with tourists.

Witness
All else that can’t be said is written.
Backs of envelopes in old steamer trunks
for the executors to mine, smitten
by the prospect of affairs, those drunks
ambling along sidewalks in anecdotes:
the muse puts up with this—with how it is
when writers sit down to write. Then she smotes
some handy object, the muse, that this biz
floats past her, isn’t safely bottled up.
Everything that can’t be said is uncorked
to fill glasses and still more glasses. Yup,
they toast the many times a straight road forked.
The muse looks glumly on. Plot’s familiar,
she thinks. Forks are closer than they first appear.

Away 
The easel in view,
the artist off to a place
in truth less distant.

Hinge
The sight of the yarn brings it back to mind—
the crinkled, lucent surface of her hair
rising from those oyster lips. To find
such beauty in every place, even there
between her thighs, to see her narrowed eyes
and Borromini smile, strands obscuring
breasts as she leans over. The moans and cries
follow his thoughts, their traces echoing
along the old hallways, knocking the dust
off everything remembered. The armchair
the ladies liked to straddle, sate their lust
in its taut embrace—still there, truth or dare—
but the red-stained sheets are rolled up. The soaked
white cotton, now dried and stiff, speaks to stroked.

Crossing
Some set out to prove the thing, a spent youth
hanging in the balance they made themselves.
Some cross the channel to ply their troth
or revive things placed all too soon on shelves
deemed out of reach, out of touch. Their lives
left them stranded. From islands they look out
and marvel how far away. Be they wives
or husbands, they neither ignore nor flout
the bell frustration rings, the handy boat
“Desire” that tempts them to pull anchor
and set their compasses away from rote.
The winds are dodgy and their charts unsure.
Undaunted, they go with what the gods give,
praying it won’t be short and abortive.

Close
Cooking side by side:
A little marriage, Fry said,
pulled up by the roots.

Anew
In life’s midst, in that dark wood or near it,
they encounter their damaged selves, mirrored.
They make a pact. Too soon they forget it.
Repair ensues, but then they’re caught, scissored
by whatever was overlooked, ignored:
the encyclopedic contradictions;
the chances of being hurt, even gored;
the press of living doubled lives that shun
those around them, or attempt to shun them.
Still, they have their reasons. Like the spring moths,
breaking out into a brief world, these men
and women, trailing their luminous cloths,
fly headlong into flames—a blazing torch
consumed save a handful they only scorch.

People gather on a bench beneath blossoming trees.

Shift
I saw a film in which facsimiles
of love abounded. I don’t think our love
is fake. Frustrating, yes, perhaps a tease,
yet real in spite of all of the above.
On another occasion, on a deck,
she sat reading and I felt what one feels.
Across the canal, mountains—what the heck,
one thinks later, after the blood congeals:
heart spinning on the street, the kind of grief
that’s a facsimile of grief, both fake
and real, like on the deck—our belief
in the lives we lead and the love we make.
A man and woman grapple with this now.
I’m done grappling. I don’t even know how.

Vence
Drawn-out, Côte d’Azur living, lungs burning,
a gun begged for, nearly fetched—a pistol.
An honorable age, filled with learning,
but can it really be said, “I am full”?
Handsome still, his talk the draw with women,
as perhaps it mostly is—bulls excepted
if some semblance of rutting’s wanted. Then
“I am full” applies, but he, respected,
took them conversationally, his mind
clearing the orgasmic row that women
plant and harvest on their own, as men find
if they take the time to notice. Amen,
they think, this game can be played out until
the lungs burn and life at length must be stilled.

Offer
Oddly, the choices seem arbitrary,
a product of chance. One factor is time:
how we arrive, our chronology.
Is life so reduced or is it sublime?
Because if the latter, does the value
not transcend the weighing of each event?
Is the value not in life itself? You
and the world, as you say. Why were we sent
if not to savor all of it, good and bad?
Do these categories apply to love,
for example, with its happy and sad,
a sea in which we founder, heads above
the waves sometimes only barely, our hearts
afloat or weighted down, whole or in parts?

Reckoning
It should be easy, we think, but it’s not.
Easy to plunge, but hard to swim, laden
as we are by what’s been pledged. They say hot
invites the plunge, but it slips the knife in,
invariably. Why is this? The good
we humans do, the intent to do well,
falls apart. We always think it could
be different. If only we dodged the hell
of suffering: she suffers, he suffers—
this repeated and destructive pattern
a track to nowhere, track without buffers,
set on sand, not those sturdy ties. Slattern,
of no fixed abode: this is the dead weight
we laden share: no home, no common fate.

An elaborate sitting room with a large chandelier, landscape scenes painted on the walls

Possession
The illusive character of matter
invites us to lay our hands on it.
Houses, cars, streams of cash, all the chatter
about lucre, which Freud called shit, just shit,
but we see as tangible, as ours,
so are loathe to give it up. And, like this,
we prefer the decades to mere hours
once things have moved beyond the stage of kiss,
possession being nine-tenths of the law
west of the Pecos, but not every world
runs that way. You came, clearly, and we saw,
but what we gave each other could be curled
up in five fingers: time’s glowing ball, round
and true, tossed then gone, gone without a sound.

Question
“What were we doing?”
Some other court, ball in hand.
Will the game resume?

Resistance
“No, no!” he heard her cry. “Like those street games,
a feint to trick the mind, deceive the heart—
the ball is here, the ball is there. It shames
me to think I was taken in, so don’t start!”
Yes, no—both apply when there’s no ending.
The intermission: they stood with their crowds
and wondered how they fell out, tickets sending
them to different seats, one’s head in the clouds,
the other looking sideways. Was she there?
The crowd as she imagined: his people,
not her female chorus, each from somewhere,
and wrapped around her like a coat. A steeple
could hardly stand out more, but she denies
it all: “So much less here than meets the eyes.”

Photograph of patrons in an art gallery

Rocket
Desire’s all speed
once triggered, like a greyhound
in love with rabbits.

Approximate
“Everything is movement,” I read. “Poets
align constantly with the flight of time.”
Tzara knew firsthand how far from Moet-
Chandon the lives of poets are. The rhyme
soon becomes a noose in the hands of black-
shirts and icepick-wielding apparatchiks.
No wonder his wariness: off-the-rack
bureaux spring up like weedlots, full of ticks.
Some poets edge their way, a starving lot
save those with rich wives and patronesses,
save the doctors and insurance men, not
writing revolution but of tresses
shaken in summer’s waning light, a leg
seen briefly, a doorway, “Don’t make me beg.”

Stevens
A damp house in France,
music from another world
as he read each word.

Fugue
At the institute’s lecture hall, the talk
revolved around the Great Fugue. Beethoven
brooks no explanation, he thought. A walk
might suit them—how often they walked—but then
the repeated theme: no place to go. Turn it
upside down as Beethoven did, it still
looks like frustration. It tested his wit
wondering how to carve out space and not kill
bystanders. The maestro sought love in vain,
he read—not an easy man, though brilliant.
They flip whole stanzas who are parched of rain
and go unwed. They long to rut and pant.
Love is spontaneous, Tzara wrote, yet
Horace bemoaned the temple fate he met.

Two
Paired, built solidly
to be caressed or beaten
hard as mood demands.

Street musicians on the stone steps of an historic building

Provence
Then the streets were only her. Roused from sleep
he headed to the post, to use the word
it wasn’t—a storefront with screens—and deep
into the day by then, a day tipped toward
strung out, disrupted by her spirit. Aix
had its charms, its peculiar shops, women
sitting vacantly inside selling pecks
of baubles to the students. Corsican
Mafia, his son said, laundering cash
that better lines of work brought in: drugs, sex,
discothèques, festivals, the wedding bash
for the Russian tycoon. He longed for text.
Fate arranged a preview: Men who smolder
when wives assert prompt them to be bolder.

Vow
Vesuvius erupts and men say prayers.
He chose to hang in, although she’d question
what that meant, if anything. Naysayers
abound and rumors cause indigestion.
Events unfold and it all looks for naught.
Despite this, he knew what he’d seen. Meetings
happen when they happen. We can’t be taught
to know what to do. After the greetings
we’re on our own. What was the plan? It’s lost
somewhere in the cosmos. To him, a vow
spoke to knowing, being sure, but the cost
was harder to assess back then than now.
So he waits to see where life will take them—
every one on this stage, women and men.

A couple stand getting their picture taken on the edge of a vast plaza

Company
Beneath the Machado museum’s floor—
polished concrete, a few decades laid down—
a descent by stairs accessed through a door
to ancient foundations. Some Roman, gown
in hand, fidgeting, telling others what
and where—the arches rising, holding up
a building that in time became, well, not
secular but serving Christ—highers up
like Him. He felt the massive walls press in,
darkness a turn of a switch. Then Death,
a pale, dark-suited presence, spoke to him.
“Life is this waiting game. You’re out of breath?”
He made a show of sympathy, his teeth
glistening. “Not today, that’s my belief.”

Maitre d’
Sometimes he wears his evening clothes, black tie,
while other times he circles lazily
like a shark or, feigning sleep, waits nearby
rivers. Sometimes a match is handily
produced to light the gas in the tire
or induce a last ounce of will to pull
the trigger, slash the flesh, tug the wire.
Sometimes he sidles in, pleasantries full
as the glass of morphine he has ready,
his eyes alive with excitement, parties
in the offing: funerals and wakes. “Steady
on, old man,” he says. “You made your sorties.
Now it’s time to wrap it up. Beckoning,
those who tote it up, make a reckoning.”

Hammock
The blue sea ahead and the shading roof,
next door, the psychologists with their theme
of intellectual beach life, aloof
from holidaymakers, from every scheme
to tourist it up. Within this milieu
he collected stories—the girl survived
a massacre, the woman a got-you
mother found drowned, relived but not revived.
And his own: a man torn in two, but who?
Who was torn? Ego, a book suggested,
so a false tear, though painful through and through.
Insights like this were slowly digested,
yet he grasped at once he was alone
with the sea, flesh and blood and brain and bone.

November
How cruel circumstance,
like when ghosts leak in and drown
light with heaviness.

February
So many lucky and unlucky days
to mark beginnings that would coincide
on some astral plane if one had the ways
and means to see them touch and not collide
in contradiction if not active hate
of finding themselves conjoined, together
in the same anteroom, gazing at fate
as it goes its separate ways, and never
makes anything but a separate sense
except to one who has February
in mind, a month with no real recompense
save arrivals happen then, usually,
if one can generalize from them, sample
who one knew. In this case, they seem ample.

Thistles
Horses. Then, bone dry
despite the creek, black seedpods,
a dead sea of stalks.

Narcissus
He asks her if she would take him back. No,
she answers, she’s offended. And perhaps
this offense is of long-standing. To go
in search of love, to create these mishaps—
such acts offend a self-adoring heart.
Within a well-honed temple that heart sits.
Others will come, others will play their part.
Her children with her, he no longer fits
in this world she’s constructed. An exile
in his own home: that suits her. Love is dead.
She won’t go a step let alone a mile,
his sacrifice what the marital bed
demands. Mothers rise from it as virgins—
an old story retold in new versions.

August
A month of Leos.
When the pride admits a goat,
incidents ensue.

Honor
She was the first. Breakfast occasioned them.
Every meal left disorder in its wake,
and love strewed their world with childish mayhem.
They learned on the job, that constant mistake
that rubs dull the sheen of love, but strangely
love has more depth. And so a few topics
allow them to converse wide-rangedly.
Two rooms spare them from each other’s tics
long enough to remember who they are.
For such as them, distance is a blessing.
To meet always having come from afar,
they’ve something still to say. No need dressing
lives in platitudes. Friendships are like this.
Odd to think they got there, though, hit or miss.

May
Etched name, heart’s chamber
shared sometimes, but now the key’s
hidden or mislaid.

 

From within a museum gallery, a view of patrons walking and sitting in a garden outside