Nouvelle Vague | In a Manner of Speaking
Walking to my office I had stopped
to listen – where are you? where are
A robin cast her flute notes
off a frost blanched roof peak,
sweetly querulous, piercing
the heart’s rim, tugging through it
the long thread of music.
The world that bled back to my eye
had changed. The east had flushed the rose
of a cheek when the cold
compress is lifted. Narcissi
were lifting the gray mat of leaves.
The mind and body can be
separate places, that’s what had and –ing
prove, I was thinking as I rubbed my thumb
along paper, listening to my print’s
stuttering rasp. I was not turning
the page, not seeing the words, my eye
compelled to the tender new bristles
tipping the yew’s black wands.
Without the aid of any wind,
they nodded; some pulse rubbed
the blood-in-milk berry cups along the pane.
Faint static through the glass.
The pianissimo had faded; the needle
was about to lift.
And it was still the crinkle
of the paper drape I heard, the hand
outside the door, rustling through my file.
The cordial, imperturbable voice explaining
how the body mistakes
part of itself for enemy, launches cells
to kill it. That I must take a replacement
the rest of my life.
My legs hung like stopped pendulums.
I was still, somehow, in that
still life: mirror in its stainless frame,
Lucite jars of swabs and packaged
gauze. Propping my torso
with my hands’ heels, I was nodding
like the yew outside my window, with each jet of blood
downward from the heart, into the body
that was not me, and was me.
after Thomas James
The strangers in the woods must mimic squirrels and crackle
with the undergrowth. They must not flinch at the cruelty
of breaking golden leaves with their feet, or of interring stones.
And like any of these deciduous trees in autumn they must be
stingy with shadow and move deceptively across the sludge.
I listen to these strangers stirring with the evenings. I invent paths
for them to the soft edge of the lake. Each descent is as graceful
as a sinking ship, but less tragic somehow because these strangers
don’t possess a lung. I cannot hear them breathe, yet the air
is all whispers, all sighs—the same ethereal muscle that rubs
the color off the foliage. I lost my way out of the woods on the night
every bird went south or numb. A plump rat snatched the moon
and dragged it by the white rope of its tail. The strangers were
a cloak of silhouettes flattening against a trunk like bark.
I must have disappeared among them because the mouth I touched
was not my own and was cruelly closing in on someone’s rib. I carried
such a bite on me, an arc of green and yellow on my side from the man
who said he loved me. In that darkness I knew as much about him
as I did of the amputee swimming his way up the hill with his
only arm. So this is the home of the unturned stone where
the fugitive keeps his kiss! Archaeologists will discover a paradise
in the place no touch died of neglect. Is it any wonder all things
forgotten or abandoned find their way here? The winter is back, so too
the bloated body of a book I tossed over the bridge last week.
And there on the bench, is my old smoking habit, a cigarette
glowing on my mouth like a beacon. I’m patient, waiting for the fugitive
to claim me as his own. I’m as wise as any stranger here, alone but with
the knowledge that the grief of separation is always brief.
Because he, because she,
in so far as
she (in so far as he) exists
is on the way
Not what is your name,
“Each one of us has come
here and changed” —
is the battle. Born
a loved one,
borne a loved one.
My father fought in this war, thus I can speak of it.
My mother fought in this, thus I can speak.
My friends, my lovers have fought, have worn
(like the tree) their several directions at once. And I,
in so far as I
can say “I”
have fought to be related to these —
we strive and strain
but also try to ripen the entity
of the Other.
We kiss on lips, where the tenses attach.
We enter the conundrum
of another’s becoming.
We look for someone who can raise us
up again to feet, or near to standing.
We tend in our terrors to forget (we
do not store them) felicities.
I try each day to stay near beings,
mornings when I am most
mild. And may I nothing harm,
in case it is them.
Again this morning my eyes woke up too close
to your eyes,
their almost green orbs
too heavy-lidded to really look back.
To wake up next to you
is ordinary. I do not even need to look at you
to see you.
But I do look. So when you come to me
in your opulent sadness, I see
you do not want me
to unbutton you
so I cannot do the one thing
I can do.
Now it is almost one a.m. I am still at my desk
and you are upstairs at your desk a staircase
away from me. Already it is years
of you a staircase
away from me. To be near you
and not near you
Still, how many afternoons have I spent
peeling blue paint from
our porch steps, peering above
hedgerows, the few parked cars for the first
glimpse of you. How many hours under
the overgrown, pink Camillas, thinking
the color was wrong for you, thinking
after my next
Soon you’ll come down the stairs
to tell me something. And I’ll say,
okay. Okay. I’ll say it
like that, say it just like
that, I’ll go on being
It’s not the best in you
I long for. It’s when you’re noteless,
numb at the ends of my fingers, all is
all. I say it is.
Ambition. Jealousy. The numbing flow
of adrenaline pumped along the blood.
The fear that loneliness is punishment
and that corrosive draining feeling down
the chest the natural and just result
of failures … What delicious leisure not
to feel it. What a sweet reprieve to linger
here with these ovals of purple and flamingo
plumed from the tree or splayed on the pavement.
If only for these seconds before returning
back to the open air those flowers keep
pushing out of themselves to die inside.
There is no better way to know us
Than as two wolves, come separately to a wood.
Now neither´s able to sleep - even at a distance
Distracted by the soft competing pulse
Of the other; nor able to hunt - at every step
Looking backwards and sideways, warying to listen
For the other´s slavering rush. Neither can make die
The painful burning of the coal in its heart
Till the other´s body and the whole wood is its own.
Then it might sob contentment toward the moon.
Each in a thicket, rage hoarse in its labouring
Chest after a skirmish, licks the rents in its hide,
Eyes brighter than is natural under the leaves
(Where the wren, peeping around the leaf, shrieks out
To see a chink so terrifyingly open
Onto the red smelting of hatred)as each
Pictures a mad final satisfaction.
Suddenly they duck and peer.
And there rides by
The great lord from hunting. His embroidered
Cloak floats, the tail of his horse pours,
And at his stirrup the two great-eyed greyhounds
That day after day bring down the towering stag
Leap like one, making delighted sounds.
The night is fine and dry. It falls and spreads
the cold sky with a million opposites
that, for a moment, seem like a million souls
and soon, none, and then, for what seems a long time,
one. Then of course it spins. What is better to do
than string out over the infinite dead spaces
the ancient beasts and spearmen of the human
mind, and, if not the real ones, new ones?
But, try making them clear to one you love –
whoever is standing by you is one you love
when pinioned by the stars — you will find it quite
impossible, but like her more for thinking
she sees that constellation.
After the wave of pain, you will turn to her
and, in an instant, change the universe
to a sky you were glad you came outside to see.
This is the act of all the descended gods
of every age and creed: to weary of all
that never ends, to take a human hand,
and go back into the house.
There’s nothing more beautiful:
a smudge of taxis and buses
crawls across the empty grey; a muddle
of faces – lovers, long-lost friends –
rises to greet you. The mercury drops,
darkness yields to streetlights, headlights.
The edge of your known world.
What you’ve missed –
hidden behind the bright dome
of a church, the slashed glass
of an office block, massed clouds.
Last greens of summer
still in your head, a sudden recollection
of heat – nothing more beautiful
than knowing something is going
to be over. You walk the streets, the map
ingrained in your feet, stare
into uncurtained rooms
lit and ready for intimacies –
you’ve been outside yourself
too long. What you want
you won’t find here. A train
leaves the city, its complicated tracks
weave past buildings still to be built,
girders lifting beyond the horizon,
its passengers bound for those lit rooms
flickering like grubby stars
on the outskirts.
When everything finally has been wrecked and further shipwrecked,
When their most ardent dream has been made hollow and unrecognizable,
They will feel inside their limbs the missing shade of blue that lingers
Against hills in the cooler hours before dark, and the moss at the foot of the forest
When green starts to leave it. What they take into their privacy (half of his embrace,
Her violence at play) are shadows of acts which have no farewells in them.
Moons unearth them. And when, in their separate dwellings, their bodies
Feel the next season come, they no longer have anyone to whom
To tell it. Clouds of reverie pass outside the window and a strange emptiness
Peers back in. If they love, it is solely to be adored, it is to scatter and gather
Themselves like hard seeds in a field made fallow by a fire someone years ago set.
In the quiet woods, from the highest trees, there is always something
Weightless falling; and he, who must realize that certain losses are irreparable,
Tells himself at night, before the darkest mirror, that vision keeps him whole.
On the verge of warm and simple sleep they tell themselves certain loves
Are like sheets of dark water, or ice forests, or husks of ships. To stop a thing
Such as this would be to halve a sound that travels out from a silent person’s
Thoughts. The imprint they make on each other’s bodies is worth any pain
They may have caused. Quiet falls around them. And when she reaches
For him the air greens like underwater light and the well-waters drop.
They will see again the shadows of insects.
They will touch the bark and feel each age of the tree fly undisturbed
Into them. If what is no longer present in them cannot be restored,
It can at least be offered. Through long bewildered dusks, stalks grow;
Rains fill and pass out of clouds; animals hover at the edges of fields
With eyes like black pools. For nothing cannot be transformed;
Pleasure and failure feed each other daily. Do not think any breeze,
Any grain of light, shall be withheld. All the stars will sail out for them.
I don’t learn much. I’m a man
of no improvements. My nose still snuffs the air
in an amateurish way. My profoundest ideas
were once toys on the floor, I love them, I’ve licked
most of the paint off. A whisky glass
is a rattle I don’t shake. When I love
a person, a place, an object, I don’t see
what there is to argue about.
I learned words, I learned words: but half of them
died for lack of exercise. And the ones I use
often look at me
with a look that whispers, Liar.
How I admire the eider duck that dives
with a neat loop and no splash and the gannet that suddenly
harpoons the sea. - I’m a guillemot
that still dives
in the first way it thought of: poke your head under
and fly down.
Now as the train bears west,
Its rhythm rocks the earth,
And from my Pullman berth
I stare into the night
While others take their rest.
Bridges of iron lace,
A suddenness of trees,
A lap of mountain mist
All cross my line of sight,
Then a bleak wasted place,
And a lake below my knees.
Full on my neck I feel
The straining at a curve;
My muscles move with steel,
I wake in every nerve.
I watch a beacon swing
From dark to blazing bright;
We thunder through ravines
And gullies washed with light.
Beyond the mountain pass
Mist deepens on the pane;
We rush into a rain
That rattles double glass.
Wheels shake the roadbed stone,
The pistons jerk and shove,
I stay up half the night
To see the land I love.
To say I’m without fear -
It wouldn’t be true.
I’m afraid of sickness, humiliation.
But I’ve learned to hide them,
To protect myself
From fulfilment: all happiness
Attracts the Fates’ anger.
They are sisters, savages -
In the end they have
No emotion but envy.
after Stefan George
This is the air of another planet.
Friends’ faces, that greeted me lately,
Are gone in the dark.
The forest paths I loved
Are fading now -
My beloved, bright ghost, even you
Who gave me all my pain, even you
Are eclipsed in this radiant night,
For the quarrels and uproar are over
And something beyond me
Commands me to awe:
so the self
Burns, in the sound of no sound
And the ash offers praise
To abandon its voice
To a voice beyond hearing.
Dawn. Beyond the mountains rise
The sun and emptiness, the far
Blue gulf I am to cross if I believe,
A sea of burning ice -
Where I shall be one tongue of flame
Among the holy flame, a single note
Within the holy voice.
I’m a poor audience for my memory.
She wants me to attend her voice nonstop,
but I fidget, fuss,
listen and don’t,
step out, come back, then leave again.
She wants all my time and attention.
She’s got no problem when I sleep.
The day’s a different matter, which upsets her.
She thrusts old letters, snapshots at me eagerly,
stirs up events both important and un-,
turns my eyes to overlooked views,
peoples them with my dead.
In her stories I’m always younger.
Which is nice, but why always the same story.
Every mirror holds different news for me.
She gets angry when I shrug my shoulders.
And takes revenge by hauling out old errors,
weighty, but easily forgotten.
Looks into my eyes, checks my reaction.
Then comforts me, it could be worse.
She wants me to live only for her and with her.
Ideally in a dark, locked room,
but my plans still feature today’s sun,
clouds in progress, ongoing roads.
At times I get fed up with her.
I suggest a separation. From now to eternity.
Then she smiles at me with pity,
since she knows it would be the end of me too.