I wake in dark. The air itself seems stained. The dark appears a darkness self-sustained By whatever of darkness must remain Even at whitest noon. But this is not noon. This is the dark without a shadow, without a moon; A dark that won't stay shut in rooms; One that follows even the ripest mood And rots there, and will not give way to good. This is the dark wolves build in woods Who have no hands and whose teeth are sure. This is the black that cancels the cure; This the emptiest hour and the deepest hurt. This lies behind eyes and bottoms every heart. This it is that makes a faster beating start.
His dusty body goes backwards to be dust. On dust more frictionless than ice A frantic slipping ant will make us wince To see a crucible mind no more than claw; A mind that harbors no dark thought to appall But shapes his perpetual falling wall. He does not jump for justice or to be just. Summer's first rain-drop rolls in dust a world Whose wet invites all wetness hints of growth (Such a world may we recognize in drought). Silent and dry, he emerges like a roar And makes the molten tension burst, And drowns himself with water, nothing more. And a something unrepeatable is learned.
"Let's have a game of truth or dare," she said. She snapped a longly hanging willow-wand. We shared the field with no one but ourselves And the willow that knew us from the play of years That fountained alone and yellow in the field. Winter's tears to April dew had yielded. "The game is played by our both being blind Until the willow tells true where true love abides." A hint of mischief's smile filled my closing look. She offered an antennae-end; I felt and took. "A willow wand between two lovers' hands Communicates the tension of love's bond." The switch, whip-supple, wetly flailed, Live as a shedding snake held head and tail. I felt, where dew-bewildered life had broken off, A sad pull; something, then, lent something soft To our springtime game of gain and loss. The wand had left a distance for us to cross And reared between us a budded arch Forever flowerless as frozen March. "My question is: Will you love me all your life?" "What you mean is: Will we be man and wife?" I broke into a laughter I did not understand. The willow sent it on to her own blind hand. Perhaps this willow, being the duticle thing it is, Adds a playful pulse to those it passes. Something about the way the time compressed, Or how the intercessor willow hissed, Misgave me to give the game my heart;-- And that too went out along the drying bark. What we are, I thought, we are by accident. What happens makes us bend as we are bent. I kept eyes open now, sure that hers were shut. A glimmer or a tremor of I knew not what Laid a furrow clear across her forehead, As when question answers question as we'd feared And not as we had hoped. The bond, the branch, snapped Sudden as two children's hands can clap.
We drove almost to the mountain-top, And had no wish leave it when we stopped; No wish to leave the dew-enhanced, dew-christened air That pleasured the lungs like a circus scare When the sure trapeze for once escapes talced fingers And the mind on sudden emptiness must linger That had thought to catch a glittered body's twirl. The thinness of the atmosphere made dull The closing click of doors when we stood A moment out of the car and out-of-doors. Sunset took the higher half of woods And the tin toy of the Ranger Tower And showed us how a second Troy would burn. We smiled to see just what we understood As we stood together without a word, Without the cluttered need to speak and yearn That had made our road-trip Cassandra and the King. The library had malformed our limbs To wood, as much as books are wood, by sitting still To read. We were over-ready to try a climb Or try our no-words silence or try anything To stretch out the long day of many knots Our deep need to know had dearly bought. The road swirled up away from feet at once Round the mountain-top as round an ice-cream cone; The road was rock and mist, the bones of clouds, Red tatters gone redly under sky's west rim, Like lashes of an agitated eye grown dim. We watched small spots of dark swell and bud And swarm up after us all the way until At the last powerline we were caught In a fatal undertow like a single thought.-- We walked on colder, with dark-adjusted eyes, Still rounding toward the top. Things in nature Cried out their alphabet of names, but none Were ours, or reflected back any name we knew. Our silence stretched between us like a clue. Footsteps added footnotes one by one Until we had left lower for higher ground for sure. The tower sprang into the interrupted skies. Spray paint through a lettered grid of spaces Had tiered the artifact with conflicted texts. We smiled once again to see nature vexed; To touch where some derelict human trace is. We grinned, too short of breath this time for speech; We would have said a word or two this time, For comfort's or for habit's sake, among pines Where, in counterfeit of clouds, we saw our breaths Touch. But we were wordless and rib-sore, Out of perspective in a piney bowl Rushing up around us like a garden wall That aimed to keep in both flesh and soul Within the clear-burned stone which grayly bore The bolted tower that rose without a door. We might as well have been inside a kettle With the tower for a witch's ladle For everything additional that we could see. We scanned the structure for defects, but hurriedly. What with the talus and its getting late We knew we didn't have the time we had. Still we gripped the rungs; they poured a cold Beyond experience under our skins. They were put here for a purpose, as a gate Is put- to propose a boundary and suggest A sort of going through. Of course, the jest Is that the gate can't tell who's going out or in. And we ourselves can't be sure of what we take With us, in a purpose we call ours. The sky began to stipple with young stars. Each strut galvanized chilled hand to sweat, So that we had to pull rolled sleeves over Each rung, and get what grip that could make To hoist ourselves a little more above. Our collars had been thumbed up since we'd begun; Our inch-thick sweaters had been left to hang Like exhausted swimmers over library chairs. Stars jarred and jumped --no, that was our eyes-- We took two deep sucks in to every one That before our sojourn had satisfied. What mist was in us at once would seize Into ice spider-webs instantly as breath. I hung halfway up a minute and heard The charm of deadened church-bells in her tread, Ringing on the upward steel as cold as death. I looked around afloat in the tops of trees Dizzy as masts and yardarms in a racing sea. Night had come upon all things everywhere. The trees put on their cassocks black and bare, But refused to give a redemptive air. Trees, gathered for prayers, stood devout. The tower was all exposed angles and no lee. She was where I couldn't quite make out-- Loudly made the platform on hands and knees. Something of ice came down in shards. A keening wind, whetted almost to urging, Made me wonder darkly at the wooded ring; The mountain leaned to windward And snatched my shirt to tell me "Come and see..." With a knowing note of something up a sleeve. But this was more than would fit what I believe, More sleeve and deeper than what I knew of me. "You should see it up here, you really should. Come up, Kerry, and hold me by the shoulders. The world's as small and sharp as in a mirror. If you shout down the mountain, you can hear Echoes carry your own voice back, but clearer." As if Earth were one to put our feelings to Who never once told us what to do.
I kept as solitary as a wood alone And often walked till all I knew dwindled to rumor Talked from another country in a half-heard-of humor. When death gave me up, I could keep the bones. Today, having at last journeyed past myself, I looked into a little wayside brook Which, by caring nothing, all my nothing took. I left a husk to worry a rocky shelf.
One year all year I kept the pond for mirror, And tasked water in place of one that broke And so had run out of looking luck. The pond re-made me foot to head,- and, nearer, Showed my face as something like, no clearer. Flat stones I scalped across what shone for song Laughed at my distorted self the summer long. Then one day in the polished lead of water I saw what my broken mirror showed too often: fear Of eyes in eyes, a black kept-back glance Desperate for breakage like a last chance To be itself something more than a moment's stare. When autumn came, and I dared again look down, A reluctant pond as rough as hands hid my face For days, but not the sense of my disgrace. Leaves above my pallid blur mocked me with a crown. Winter's stintless nights full of wishes as a star Drew ice across my mirror in a frozen sheet Obscure and cold, and chilled a glance that Knew me once, and I held back a shiver. When my breath came back to breathing more at ease-- When pond had been blanched ice long enough-- I thought how roots go down, fathomless and tough To stretch what stark water offers into trees. Then I looked again, with midnight thoughts, At the rowans surrounding.- And then beyond all thought, Far into the night, and past night to coming dawn.-- I looked into my mirror and hoped Spring again Would wake it as full of fears as it had been.
On an uneven roof comes midsummer's chore To clear the flue that had all winter roared-- A core of darkness with a throat of fire Soaring to a speech of sparks that suspires-- White-hot fleets into a world of frost, A second set of constellations we may cross. I cleaned with broom and water, a working witch Fouled by the labor black as a sewer ditch, Like pulling up a fountain by its roots That has no cleaner wet than velvet soot; Every swish and lunge bade me be a bear Until an evening's scrub would wash me clear. I heard a cry like a baby's squeak. A bat. Something in me that could not speak, But saw two eyes like spider's eyes to scare, Gave the thought: I would not have him here. Six million years had put him in his cave. I sought to sweep him with the broom I waved. We were too much strangers for the bat to fear Untoward intentions in my coming near; Our worlds were not close enough to make us foes; (Hate's a thing of nearness as things go.) I would not have him there, and thought to undo him With a startlement of fire out of season. So I built a fire to double summer, Stood by the heat-wavered flue, heard it hum, And waited like a cat for what would come. In a laugh of wings, in a ring of fire, What I saw fly out was neither foul nor fair But a living creature of the living air. (Face to face, my face was larger.) I would not have.... I knew I did not want Such rapid flapping in my fireside thoughts. When I look to flame, I demand to dream Upon flame's own ever-changing theme; Seeing how it prefigures in earnest night The glare of summer, the stars' own light. Because altered fire refused to move him, I called him a black clot devoid of reason. I used a poison. (I would not have him there.) Congealing and winging in the summer air-- He fell out indefinite as a spill of inks Dark enough to make me think.
Our daily catbird in the parking lot, Half-unknowing his danger where he stood, Sang out eyes-shut atop a cinder block. A blue abandoned Cougar, its purr removed, (Haunted all last night by a pregnant stray Hunkering into home in her birthing mood) Had a dead crow's feathers like an exploded toy Puffed from under a moveless wheel hoved tight, Feeding what must come, at most, in a day. Obliquely by her belly kept from being quite upright, In cotton fog half-obscuring our shared world, The mottled cat sat motionless on one stripe. The catbird's territory song searched vacant grounds That should have had a wood to sing through, Not learned to be inured to all our sounds. I wondered how I'd feel with the catbird shooed, Mother-cat nursing uncurled by the curb, Patched kittens purling dust just where he flew. Silent in the silence man-made things disturb, The cat, too quick for me to see, pounced once,-- And the catbird, leapt to asphalt eaves, sang on.
Bullets 'oft gang awry' When we squint with lying eye At the target we had thought To level with a shot; Somewhere along the barrel Our curving expectation falls And what is becomes a part Of what we hope to shoot, Or perhaps an intervening wind Has changed beginning and the end. The future always lies Somewhere in the 'is,' Or so the marksman's maxim goes Hunkered in a bush of rose. The future always lies Somewhere in the 'is' Our eyes are scouting now; Hope and here intermix somehow, Nor get pulled apart Unless our killing art Delivers to the shaping thought The dead end we had sought. The philosopher with his carcass Dispenses with his guesses - What would be now is, And this is happiness. Nor does he as he eats inquire "What if I had not fired...." Or if a speck of dust had interposed Between his sightline and his nose. All the dedication of his thought Goes to digestion of what he's brought From the wild field, as able, To his domesticated table. Not until quick hunger comes again Will his thoughts curve and turn To all the 'Ifs' of chance That can cancel out his choice And send aim or word awry In the hunted day.
The dilemma of doing's to 'have done,' And by choosing from Many be left with One. Addition's chief mischief is dubbed a sum; The unwary mistake it for a total solution. The wise contend that all is confusion, Or at best a formal intuition. To act presumes belief, or so I'm told, And am pointed onward, backward, or upward to God, (And reminded not to mind the length of the odds). The less done the better is my subtractive reaction. I'm not quite afraid to feel quite forsaken, (Except that, of course, I might be mistaken). One thought is left me, with which I'd begun: "The dilemma of doing's to 'have done.'"