"What things real are there but imponderable thoughts?" ---Ahab There was Tenor in his party grave, sharing All of the same old sick jokes with himself. 1 He says, "What is there besides imagining? These four occasional walls will not bring Spring or sorrow to any unsuffering thing. It is the will that wanes, in summer dark, After clogged stars have scraped the sky and left A newer dark for some cold singer's questioning. Rusted apples gathered, honey melons dusky gold, Cherries rosing in the tinted sun, what was invented If not these things? Shall my hand remain Unfloured by its own effort? A pointed oar Plunges and plunges in a white war and remains An oar. The mind is not so meager; it becomes, Once its rent raiment roars, in polychromes Above chalk waters that it held and gave, That of which it sang and did not hear, because Too busy singing in undivided, tensile mystery." 2 If, on the wings of sparrows, men's feet shall flesh Who shall fly, in contrapuntal destiny, In waltz time, alone, beneath The unceasing testament of the waves? Tenor Semblance in his water-wings, bulbing At his back, held his breath and dived, at 4, Into the tossing terror of a tame sea. Once caught among the coral's shadowing, he saw The flash and error of dying fish in that dim maze. Their antlered looks and opalescent eyes Placed a holy horror in his slalom breast Racing, among more mobile lights, out of death's Abrupt shade. He knew of earth by this buried paradise. He told his parents of the sharking waves and sea. Alone, His executed gestures in scarred sunset seemed The switch-back hesitancy of leaves. 3 It was his mother's going, her poignant death, Like still water, that made him hear Curlicues of God's named trumpet, world. A French horn paddles in his ear; Finches mocked the minister at her wake, his frown Emitted solo labyrinths, corona icicles of sound. Tenor Semblance, leaving, knew his feet were tambourines, clashing in the grass. And when he whispered, it was with sorrow That he could not sing himself a barrow. In her twinking time upon this mortal orb, In laundered air, tender sequences Of love and love, flashed from her bright center Like perpetual suns that sang and knew their tune. It was because of her he sought A personal, vocal dew. 4 Semblance swelled in his soft decor. Like an awkward Alice, he used his vital eye To distill a separate scenery in the dwindled grass. Little thunder smoked the mountaintops. Gnats as vultures bulked silence on their prey. But a swung censor, sacred scenting, never lends Its incense to these more airy tendencies. Neither garland of flowers, in a stiff ring, Nor any distincter bloom was worn. Victim in winter, he tried to say The measureless landscape he became: Desolate branches, details of packed snow, Paired tracks of deer, or south-seeking geese Dispassionate as the sky. There comes A crowd of moths, an abrupt lamp flapping In discontinuous circles as he speaks. 5 But should we sacrifice infinite finesse for that Snowblind and last, fatal profundity? Sonless Semblance once, with gagging glands, Turned abrogated Pa; the wincing world Trickled from his groin. He clawed out an eye And dived, lost in a reef, resulting in a sky Made blue, by harshest imagination, by Exclusionary rules. Was it a mincing butcher's Cleaver thumb, his abusement of a One, Chopping up the single digit we pretend? False finesse? The sky was blue; he claimed To be the author, and his grave Was dug in blue clay; bluets brushed the edge. His mineral bones are scavenged by worms that die. Thus we see, beyond cut division or misty ending, Death is daughter to imagination's venting. 6 A man is image and is sound, Imagining sounds; a blare of being Scribbled like a cloud, pinched nothingness Palely resembling himself, in a mirror; Unalterable shadow, that falls As seasons fall, in whitest trumpeting. Thus was Tenor in his dirty grave, In severest evening, uttering A few, essential words. In his halter, Dawdling day undid the staunching fist Of night, and materbirds like mandolins Twanged his very song. They were his toys, who, Hautboy accountant, made of his breast Final register. A second heaven, set Beside the first, is best, when we forget Ourselves in what our wish of death becomes.
NOTE: This poem originally appeared in this collection, but later had a sequel written. This poem and its sequel are collected in “Rehearsing Repetitions on the Rappahannock.”