Monday, September 03, 2007
You recognize the symptoms: spring,
when the dendrites out behind the house
hiss in their synapses news of the sun.
There is no green like this green:
plush, arrogant, greedy for sky,
a green to robe an infant czar
in manifest dominion while
the subtler tinctures take effect;
a green too green to last.
All through the thinner twigs
the ghosts of old composers forge
a metal, incoherent music;
elated squirrels dare anything;
even the mice sifting the litter
seem glad to fatten for the cats.
You see these things. You register
the small and interchangeable
delights enacted every year,
as though the pageant of renewal
were a scene set to catch you out,
convict you of your winter heart.
Look: already the ghost: a scrim
of gray gauze, bearing the face
of a deposed and neurasthenic monarch,
a face very like your own,
hovering outside the glass
to cry murder as the sun goes down.
This is no dark wood.
This is the rank wood of knowledge,
busy murmur that refutes our lives.
Listen: this is the murmur of the world.
This is the buzz of life, or else
a flickering fluorescent light.
But, inevitably, the telephone,
then the door, will be enlivened
by one you ought to recognize.
Certainly he seems familiar—
you’ve seen that laurel wreath before,
atilt like a tour-guide cap,
Virgil via Cecil DeMille—
the question is, familiar to whom?
Invite him in. He may have news
of the one you thought you were before
you woke to the shrill choir of knives,
the shook rattle of plastic sleep.
Face ashier than yours, he’ll sigh,
tell you how the nobler Romans
ran against their honed bronze,
or lowered their goose-quilled brachials
into warm, oil-scented baths,
how death’s simply a debt we pay
in battle or bed, at altar or wine,
to ransom dignitas awry
or simply to cheat a mad emperor
of another moment’s entertainment.
No doubt he’d find it hard to believe
that for you it’s a meaner matter still,
stripped of the frills of circumstance,
a keening wheedle in the cells,
salesclerk haunting your sleeve.
Keep mum. Soon he’ll be tired
enough of your inertia to depart,
wishing well, advising rest
as though there were any rest,
work, as though there were work,
or any reason to rest or work.
But he has something else in mind.
A party. A get-together, smallish,
friends, maybe friends of friends.
If only the room didn’t stretch
to the vanishing point, if only the door
were big enough to pass a cat
you might be less disinclined.
You did promise, weeks ago,
and you have no wish to give offense,
not again, at any rate,
but now your mind refuses to produce
a single credible way out.
It’s this or the dark, elastic hours,
or worse. It’s not that far.
You pull yourself together. Go.
Each step proves you wrong.
Each buzzing streetlamp
makes a virtue of futility
beneath the overarching dark.
Behind the blue-lit windows
lives go on as lives should,
as though informed by some purpose,
some solution for the riddles
we inherit with our skin.
Soft laughter sifts from the porches,
cut by the metronomic chirp
of wicker and hinge and rocking chairs,
but you feel no such easy kinship.
You are less in the world than a wolf
padding across the permafrost
on the deepest night of a cold year,
intractably itself, unalterably at home,
a beast you can only envy.
No. You are the pale-eyed child
in the cell of polyethylene,
film proof against a world
that threatens on all sides
but hovers always out of reach,
infecting you with otherness.
When you hear the laughter and the music
you wonder how such innocence
could possibly relate to you,
but you follow your friend inside
to face the gathering, hoping
to find the bar and the cozy corner
with the one reasonable chair,
nurse a drink, quietly leave.
No one’s inclined to interfere:
you pucker up to your Bordeaux,
silently nibble your Goldfish
until the sudden rapture of glass,
the blossoming roses in beige pile.
You recognize your host’s son.
You recognize your own hands
clamped to hold his arm together,
slick with freshets of bright arterial
blood you cannot stop. You vise
tighter down on his arm, but still
the blood sluices through your fingers
with unimaginable force,
exulting in its new freedom,
hot to know the wider world.
Someone throws a towel, then
a belt comes from somewhere else;
you know instantly neither will do,
and then you hear yourself yell
for a tie, with no conscious thought,
and one appears. It is blue,
you notice, with silver lions, rampant,
quite rakishly coroneted,
discreetly gravy-stained and sewn,
the label says, in Hong Kong,
as you pass it twice around above
the wound, calling for a knife,
feeling the boy's heartbeat
in your hands, a small wild thing
doing its best to escape a cage.
You see brie on the knife when it comes,
smears of cheese and crumbs of rind,
pass it through a wrap of tie,
turn it tight. Immediately
fresh fountains of blood, more
than seems possible, but then
it settles down, dies away.
You notice that your breath is short,
that the room has been sucked free of air;
that the knife is steadying your hand.
Finally, a siren. Someone
taps your shoulder. You move aside,
stagger through the stunned company
out into the cool of night,
to stand like a sprinter past the tape,
soaking wet, completely spent,
bent, hands on shaky knees,
trying to suck every atom
of oxygen out of the sky, the sky
made wholly new, created
just today, for you, and you look,
see it all for the first time,
first witness to the stars
splashed across eternity
with no particular design,
as crickets saw the soft air
for no apparent reason but
delight at being in the world, alive.