One night near the end, I sang his name.
Barely a moon, and nearly no stars – it was something
like giving a signature back to its ink.
I don’t know why I did it: nothing
was going to change, it was never going to be a world
where a leaf or a woman’s exploring hand or a carburetor
would know him, ever again. But sing his name
I did, in a voice as broken – as spidered – as paint
on a fifteenth century altar panel,
sepia and holy and starting to loosen.
It wasn’t dramatic: I wasn’t wandering in a storm.
Although it seemed the darkness might have been a way
the sky decided to kneel. Then I went back inside,
the chair was the same, the sloppy pile of books was the same,
and I continued to say his name, even then,
in a singsong. I might just as well have sung out
for the fourteen horses dead near here last year
when the stables caught fire – two escaped
their stalls and panicked down the road
with jockeys of flame on their backs. Or for
the worms in their carcasses. For any of us.
But it was his name that I sang, his name
that carried the others – his name, now,
was the horse. His name was the altar panel
in which we all took our stilted positions.
And frankly… why is this special?
It isn’t. “Chair.”
“Storm.” “Leaf.” “Books.” “Woman’s hand.”
Every word is an elegy
– at the least, a commemoration.
So often it has been displayed to us, the hourglass
with its grains of sand drifting down,
not as an object in our world
but as a sign, a symbol, our lives
drifting down grain by grain,
sifting away — I’m sure everyone must
see this emblem somewhere in the mind.
Yet not only our lives drift down. The stuff
of ego with which we began, the mass
in the upper chamber, filters away
as love accumulates below. Now
I am almost entirely love. I have been
to the banker, the broker, those strange
people, to talk about unit trusts,
annuities, CDs, IRAs, trying
to leave you whatever I can after
I die. I’ve made my will, written
you a long letter of instructions.
I think about this continually.
What will you do? How
will you live? You can’t go back
to cocktail waitressing in the casino.
And your poetry? It will bring you
at best a pittance in our civilization,
a widow’s mite, as mine has
for forty-five years. Which is why
I leave you so little. Brokers?
Unit trusts? I’m no financier doing
the world’s great business. And the sands
in the upper glass grow few. Can I leave
you the vale of ten thousand trilliums
where we buried our good cat Pokey
across the lane to the quarry?
Maybe the tulips I planted under
the lilac tree? Or our red-bellied
woodpeckers who have given us so
much pleasure, and the rabbits
and the deer? And kisses? And
love-makings? All our embracings?
I know millions of these will be still
unspent when the last grain of sand
falls with its whisper, its inconsequence,
on the mountain of my love below.
I, when you notice,
am cast in gold:
the bite of the ignorant
An apple filled with spices:
silver coated with gold.
And others that grow in the orchard,
beside it, bright as rubies.
I asked it: Why aren’t you like those?
Soft, with your skin exposed?
And it answered in silence: Because
boors and fools have jaws.
—Shmu’el Hanagid, ca. 993-1056.
Every morning the maple leaves.Every morning another chapter where the hero shiftsfrom one foot to the other. Every morning the same bigand little words all spelling out desire, all spelling outYou will be alone always and then you will die.So maybe I wanted to give you something more than a catalogof non-definitive acts,something other than the desperation.Dear So-and-So, I’m sorry I couldn’t come to your party.Dear So-and-So, I’m sorry I came to your partyand seduced youand left you bruised and ruined, you poor sad thing.Your want a better story. Who wouldn’t?A forest, then. Beautiful trees. And a lady singing.Love on the water, love underwater, love, love and so on.What a sweet lady. Sing lady, sing! Of course, she wakes the dragon.Love always wakes the dragon and suddenlyflames everywhere.I can tell already you think I’m the dragon,that would be so like me, but I’m not. I’m not the dragon.I’m not the princess either.Who am I? I’m just a writer. I write things down.I walk through your dreams and invent the future. Sure,I sink the boat of love, but that comes later. And yes, I swallowglass, but that comes later.And the part where I push youflush against the wall and every part of your body rubs against the bricks,shut upI’m getting to it.For a while I thought I was the dragon.I guess I can tell you that now. And, for a while, I thought I wasthe princess,cotton candy pink, sitting there in my room, in the tower of the castle,young and beautiful and in love and waiting for you withconfidencebut the princess looks into her mirror and only sees the princess,while I’m out here, slogging through the mud, breathing fire,and getting stabbed to death.Okay, so I’m the dragon. Big deal.You still get to be the hero.You get magic gloves! A fish that talks! You get eyes like flashlights!What more do you want?I make you pancakes, I take you hunting, I talk to you as if you’rereally there.Are you there, sweetheart? Do you know me? Is this microphone live?Let me do it right for once,for the record, let me make a thing of cream and stars that becomes,you know the story, simply heaven.Inside your head you hear a phone ringingand when you open your eyesonly a clearing with deer in it. Hello deer.Inside your head the sound of glass,a car crash sound as the trucks roll over and explode in slow motion.Hello darling, sorry about that.Sorry about the bony elbows, sorry welived here, sorry about the scene at the bottom of the stairwelland how I ruined everything by saying it out loud.Especially that, but I should have known.You see, I take the parts that I remember and stitch them back togetherto make a creature that will do what I sayor love me back.I’m not really sure why I do it, but in this version you are notfeeding yourself to a bad managainst a black sky prickled with small lights.I take it back.The wooden halls like caskets. These terms from the lower depths.I take them back.Here is the repeated image of the lover destroyed.Crossed out.Clumsy hands in a dark room. Crossed out. There is somethingunderneath the floorboards.Crossed out. And here is the tabernaclereconstructed.Here is the part where everyone was happy all the time and we were allforgiven,even though we didn’t deserve it.Inside your head you heara phone ringing, and when you open your eyes you’re washing upin a stranger’s bathroom,standing by the window in a yellow towel, only twenty minutes awayfrom the dirtiest thing you know.All the rooms of the castle except this one, says someone, and suddenlydarkness,suddenly only darkness.In the living room, in the broken yard,in the back of the car as the lights go by. In the airportbathroom’s gurgle and flush, bathed in a pharmacy ofunnatural light,my hands looking weird, my face weird, my feet too far away.And then the airplane, the window seat over the wing with a viewof the wing and a little foil bag of peanuts.I arrived in the city and you met me at the station,smiling in a waythat made me frightened. Down the alley, around the arcade,up the stairs of the buildingto the little room with the broken faucets, your drawings, all your things,I looked out the window and saidThis doesn’t look that much different from home,because it didn’t,but then I noticed the black sky and all those lights.We walked through the house to the elevated train.All these buildings, all that glass and the shiny beautifulmechanical wind.We were inside the train car when I started to cry. You were crying too,smiling and crying in a way that made meeven more hysterical. You said I could have anything I wanted, but Ijust couldn’t say it out loud.Actually, you said Love, for you,is larger than the usual romantic love. It’s like a religion. It’sterrifying. No onewill ever want to sleep with you.Okay, if you’re so great, you do it—here’s the pencil, make it work …If the window is on your right, you are in your own bed. If the windowis over your heart, and it is painted shut, then we are breathingriver water.Build me a city and call it Jerusalem. Build me another and call itJerusalem.We have come back from Jerusalem where we found notwhat we sought, so do it over, give me another version,a different room, another hallway, the kitchen painted overand over,another bowl of soup.The entire history of human desire takes about seventy minutes to tell.Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of time.Forget the dragon,leave the gun on the table, this has nothing to do with happiness.Let’s jump ahead to the moment of epiphany,in gold light, as the camera pans to wherethe action is,lakeside and backlit, and it all falls into frame, close enough to seethe blue rings of my eyes as I saysomething ugly.I never liked that ending either. More love streaming out the wrong way,and I don’t want to be the kind that says the wrong way.But it doesn’t work, these erasures, this constant refolding of the pleats.There were some nice parts, sure,all lemondrop and mellonball, laughing in silk pajamasand the grains of sugaron the toast, love love or whatever, take a number. I’m sorryit’s such a lousy story.Dear Forgiveness, you know that recentlywe have had our difficulties and there are many thingsI want to ask you.I tried that one time, high school, second lunch, and then again,years later, in the chlorinated pool.I am still talking to you about help. I still do not havethese luxuries.I have told you where I’m coming from, so put it together.We clutch our bellies and roll on the floor …When I say this, it should mean laughter,not poison.I want more applesauce. I want more seats reserved for heroes.Dear Forgiveness, I saved a plate for you.Quit milling around the yard and come inside.