You do not come dramatically, with dragons
That rear up with my life between their paws
And dash me butchered down beside the wagons,
The horses panicking; nor as a clause
Clearly set out to warn what can be lost,
What out-of-pocket charges must be borne,
Expenses met; nor as a draughty ghost
That’s seen, some mornings, running down a lawn.
It is these sunless afternoons, I find,
Install you at my elbow like a bore.
The chestnut trees are caked with silence. I’m
Aware the days pass quicker than before,
Smell staler too. And once they fall behind
They look like ruin. You have been here some time.
I always assumed you were somewhere in the world,
And that someday we’d find each other again
And tell our adventures, like happy heroes
Reunited after years of wandering.
Hard to believe it’s been a dozen years
Since we slogged together through the Iliad,
Longer than the whole of the Trojan War,
Or the wanderings of Odysseus afterward.
When your mother told me you were dead,
All I could think about was our favorite verb,
μέλλω, our rueful shorthand for regret,
To be about to do, but leave undone.
"I meant," you’d say, "to study Greek last night,"
And I’d reply, "I too, O Agathon,
Intended to accomplish many things
Before the light of rosy-fingered dawn."
And now it’s seven years that you’ve been gone.
While I was living my ordinary life,
And carelessly, fondly imagining you in yours,
(Losing, in one of my many moves, the funny,
Wonderful letters you wrote me from Mexico),
I never dreamed that you would not grow old,
That time had stopped for you as suddenly
As for the daughters of weeping Hekabe
In burning Troy—the unremembered ones
You summoned from the ashes in the fall
Of 1983, when you were asked
To translate the catalogue of Priam’s sons.
Hard to believe that you will not return
And tell your adventures in the other world,
No matter how tenderly I brush the dead
Leaves from your sleeping face, and call your name.
There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.
And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh,
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest—
And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.
I never thought Michiko would come back
after she died. But if she did, I knew
it would be as a lady in a long white dress.
It is strange that she has returned
as somebody’s dalmatian. I meet
the man walking her on a leash
almost every week. He says good morning
and I stoop down to calm her. He said
once that she was never like that with
other people. Sometimes she is tethered
on the lawn when I go by. If nobody
is around, I sit on the grass. When she
finally quiets, she puts her head in my lap
and we watch each other’s eyes as I whisper
in her soft ears. She cares nothing about
the mystery. She likes it best when
I touch her head and tell her small
things about my days and our friends.
That makes her happy the way it always did.
I was young once. I dug holes
near a canal and almost drowned.
I filled notebooks with words
as carefully as a hunter loads his shotgun.
I had a father also, and I came second to an addiction.
I spent a summer swallowing seeds
and nothing ever grew in my stomach.
Every woman I kissed,
I kissed as if I loved her.
My left and right hands were rivals.
After I hit puberty, I was kicked out of my parents’ house
at least twice a year. No matter when you receive this
there was music playing now.
Your grandfather isn’t
my father. I chose to do something with my life
that I knew I could fail at.
I spent my whole life walking
and hid such colorful wings.
When the dead rise in movies they're hideous
and slow. They stagger uphill toward the farmhouse
like drunks headed home from the bar.
Maybe they only want to lie down inside
while some room spins around them, maybe that's why
they bang on the windows while the living
hammer up boards and count out shotgun shells.
The living have plans: to get to the pickup parked
in the yard, to drive like hell to the next town.
The dead with their leaky brains,
their dangling limbs and ruptured hearts,
are sick of all that. They'd rather stumble
blind through the field until they collide
with a tree, or fall through a doorway
like they're the door itself, sprung from its hinges
and slammed flat on the linoleum. That's the life
for a dead person: wham, wham, wham
until you forget your name, your own stinking
face, the reason you jolted awake
in the first place. Why are you here,
whatever were you hoping as you lay
in your casket like a dumb clarinet?
You know better now. The soundtrack's depressing
and the living hate your guts. Come closer
and they'll show you how much. Wham, wham, wham,
you're killed again. Thank God this time
they're burning your body, thank God
it can't drag you around anymore
except in nightmares, late-night reruns
where you lift up the lid, and crawl out
once more, and start up the hill toward the house.
became a criminal when I fell in love.
Before that I was a waitress.
I didn't want to go to Chicago with you.
I wanted to marry you, I wanted
Your wife to suffer.
I wanted her life to be like a play
In which all the parts are sad parts.
Does a good person
Think this way? I deserve
Credit for my courage--
I sat in the dark on your front porch.
Everything was clear to me:
If your wife wouldn't let you go
That proved she didn't love you.
If she loved you
Wouldn't she want you to be happy?
I think now
If I felt less I would be
A better person. I was
A good waitress.
I could carry eight drinks.
I used to tell you my dreams.
Last night I saw a woman sitting in a dark bus--
In the dream, she's weeping, the bus she's on
Is moving away. With one hand
She's waving; the other strokes
An egg carton full of babies.
The dream doesn't rescue the maiden.
Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.
My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.
A dandling light and the world sings tremolo;
Even the grass, grown soulful, hangs its head
Over the prim winks of its daisies. Low
In a bush a blackbird trills then chirps instead.
And an old myth tries to heave itself to its feet:
The phoenix newly feathered in the east
Takes wing, blundering; and Phoenix not so fleet
Comes cantering after it, but comes at least.
And the dank grass is tangled with the song
Squirmed from a blackbird by the probe of light:
The hush is over....It will not be long.
Phoenix and blackbird. Bear it without spite.
Only a beauty with no rouge of myth
Walks plain in the plain field. Her decent hand
Will give you a meaning you can wrestle with;
Something to die of, not to understand.
The truth is
that I fall in love
so easily because
it’s easy. It happens
a dozen times some days.
I’ve lived whole lives,
grown old, and died
in the arms of other women
in no more time
than it takes the 2-train
to get from City Hall
which always brings me
back to you:
the only one
I fall in love with
at least once every day—
there are no other
lovely women in the world,
but because each time
dying in their arms,
I call your name.