The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death.
The mighty hand leads to a sloping shoulder,
The finger joints are cramped with chalk;
A goose's quill has put an end to murder
That put an end to talk.
The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,
And famine grew, and locusts came;
Great is the hand that holds dominion over
Man by a scribbled name.
The five kings count the dead but do not soften
The crusted wound nor pat the brow;
A hand rules pity as a hand rules heaven;
Hands have no tears to flow.
In the story of Patroclus,
no one survives, not even Achilles
who was nearly a god.
Patroclus resembled him;
they wore the same armor.
Always in these friendships
one serves the other, one is less than the other:
is always apparent, though the legends
cannot be trusted –
their source is the survivor,
the one who was abandoned.
What were the Greek ships on fire
compared to his loss?
In his tent, Achilles
grieved with his whole being
and the gods saw
he was a man already dead, a victim
of the part that loved,
the part that was mortal.
We've left shore somehow
Become the friends
Of early theory
Close enough to speak
Desire and pain of absence
Of mistakes we'd make
Given the chance.
Each smile returned
Makes harder avoiding
Dreams that see us
Lying in early evening
Curtain shadows, skin
Safe against skin.
Bloom of compassion
Respect for moments
Eyes lock turns
Forever into one more
Veil that falls away.
This after seeing you
Last night, first time
Smelling you with
Permission: shoulders to
Wonder openly at
As carefully kissed
As those arms
Waited impossibly on.
They've held me now
And your breath
Down my back
Sent away night air
That had me shaking
In the unlit Anglican
Are we ruined for
Finding our faces fit
And want to know more
About morning? Is
If we can't call
Each other anymore
In amnesia, invite
Ourselves to last glances
Under suspicious clocks
Telling us when we've
Your steady hands
Cradling my grateful
Skull: were you taking
In my face to
Save an image
You've rarely allowed
Yourself after leaving
That cold alcove?
Am I a photograph
You gaze at in
Moments of weakness?
You ordered me
Off my knees
Into your arms.
Wasn't to beg
That I knelt; only
To see you once
Tried to say something
That filled my mouth
And longed to rest
In your ear.
Don't dare write
It down for fear it'll
Become words, just
I will grow myself quiet leaves
in the difficult silence of chastity.
I will hide in the immense namelessness
though each tree murmurs to him my name.
I am the bed of leaves he can never scorch,
not even with his eyes of fire.
I am the naked face of the flower; a cross.
He cannot escape by reaching me.
The god and the goal; the lover and the loved;
the pursuit and the flight, entwined.
Though a god, he will die in the depths of my bark.
I will glisten his face on my leaves.
Every eagle will have his eyelids.
Every event--his speed.
Each one of the thousand suns
will pursue me as he has chased.
Each one of the symbols of silence
will learn his name I refuse to bear.
I am he: the sun, its immense bowl
pouring out selves as from a fount of chastity.
He is I: the ever-green song in flight,
the sun forever pursuing me.
love is a deep and a dark and a lonely
and you take it deep take it dark
and take it with a lonely winding
and when the winding gets too lonely
then may come the windflowers
and the breath of wind over many flowers
winding its way out of many lonely flowers
waiting in rainleaf whispers
waiting in dry stalks of noon
wanting in a music of windbreaths
so you can take love as it comes keening
as it comes with a voice and a face
and you make a talk of it
talking to yourself a talk worth keeping
and you put it away for a keen keeping
and you find it to be a hoarding
and you give it away and yet it stays hoarded
like a book read over and over again
like one book being a long row of books
like leaves of windflowers bending low
and bending to be never broken
Speaking of marvels, I am alive
together with you, when I might have been
alive with anyone under the sun,
when I might have been Abelard's woman
or the whore of a Renaissance pope
or a peasant wife with not enough food
and not enough love, with my children
dead of the plague. I might have slept
in an alcove next to the man
with the golden nose, who poked it
into the business of stars,
or sewn a starry flag
for a general with wooden teeth.
I might have been the exemplary Pocahontas
or a woman without a name
weeping in Master's bed
for my husband, exchanged for a mule,
my daughter, lost in a drunken bet.
I might have been stretched on a totem pole
to appease a vindictive god
or left, a useless girl-child,
to die on a cliff. I like to think
I might have been Mary Shelley
in love with a wrong-headed angel,
or Mary's friend. I might have been you.
This poem is endless, the odds against us are endless,
our chances of being alive together
still we have made it, alive in a time
when rationalists in square hats
and hatless Jehovah's Witnesses
agree it is almost over,
alive with our lively children
who--but for endless ifs--
might have missed out on being alive
together with marvels and follies
and longings and lies and wishes
and error and humor and mercy
and journeys and voices and faces
and colors and summers and mornings
and knowledge and tears and chance.
It took all my energy to want you
and the rest of me to go after you
and then one day I knew
that I had you.
I was standing at the sink rinsing dust
from a bunch of grapes.
All my energy had been spent
pursuing you and then I had you
I sat down at the kitchen table and ate the grapes.
The day was hot, that day
when I knew I had you. The man
in the house across the street
was cursing his wife.
An hour later I went to see about a job,
and the woman behind the desk
with her gold spectacles
caused me to remember that I had you.
Outside the sky was blue as a china plate.
There is nothing to do
on a day like that
but go to the beach. I caught three fish,
black and heavy as paperweights.
After the third I stopped to clean them in the ribboning surf,
three black fish flecked gold as the capes
of Egyptian kings,
strong swimmers, broad across the backs.
I slit the bellies, tossed the guts and roe
to the waiting gulls, cut the heads off slant
and lay them one by one on the gurgling sand
while I thought of you. Three small boys
picked them up
and carried them away,
holding them aloft as if on pikes.
Even as I fry these fish I think of
their heads against the sky
while the birds worked on a patch of sea
on the lee side of a sand bar that split the water
like the broken spine of a ship,
and as I turn these fish in the pan
I think of the day when I knew I had you,
and then the next, and then the day after that.
Although they are
only breath, words
which I command
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends---
It gives a lovely light!
And the days are not full enough.
And the nights are not full enough.
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass.
It's so nice
to wake up in the morning
and not have to tell somebody
you love them
when you don't love them
with my wife
sitting on the bed,
I turn from her
so she won't see
child of Zeus,weaver of wiles,
I beg you,
do not crush my spirit with anguish, Lady,
but come to me now, if ever before
you heard my voice in the distance
and leaving your father's golden house
drove your chariot pulled by sparrows
swift and beautiful
over the black earth, their wings a blur
as they streaked down from heaven
across the bright sky –
and then you were with me, a smile
playing about your immortal lips
as you asked,
what is it this time?
why are you calling again?
And asked what my heart in its lovesick raving
most wanted to happen:
should I persuade to love you?
Who is wronging you, Sappho?
She may run now, but she'll be chasing soon.
She may spurn gifts, but soon she'll be giving.
She may not love now, but soon she will,
willing or not."
Come to me again now, release me
from my agony, fulfill all
that my heart desires, and fight for me,
fight at my side, Goddess.
You've got it all wrong, Mother,
flaunting your grief,
stripping the sycamore
down to a ghost tree.
We revel in skeletons,
find the clean lines
sensuous and economical.
The dead sing us songs
I'm learning to answer.
I'm learning new words
a word you can suck on:
pom—thick and round, a bittersweet
bulge, e—the one you slide over
to get to gran—a slow swelling,
cancer or the rose, it doesn't matter,
then granate—a stone stopping
you hard and cold.
Pomegranate—a word you spit out,
the snick of seeds
against your teeth.
I remember planting, the small furrows.
And the coat of rabbit pelts
you wore. When I was small,
I'd sit beside you and blow into the fur.
I remember dusk
stitching the tulips shut
and throngs of azaleas,
their white throats
open to the moon.
I remember the peach
spattered with red,
furred yellow sun,
and all that juice
let loose on my tongue,
and the pit, its secret
bloody mouth at the center.
I want to learn the language of return.
Re is a reel pulling me back,
the hook in the mouth,
the bud on the rose. Turn
is the worm biting,
smooth swell of the belly,
the detour that brings us home.
I want the ice to melt,
the slow dripping that feels like loss
and is a loosening, a letting go.
The sluggish floes will crack and heave,
the river stretch like a snake in the sun.
Then the floods of summer, the dense
green banks, the sun pumping
juice through the peach, the earth
furred with a pelt of grain.
That dance you taught us—
I'll learn its language in my body:
lift and flail to beat the grain
from the husk, remembering to save
some to return to you, remembering
that I will return here, a seed.
Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.
I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy, shall Wittenberg be sack'd;
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
And then return to Helen for a kiss.
O, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appear'd to hapless Semele;
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa's azur'd arms;
And none but thou shalt be my paramour!
This is the world we wanted.
All who would have seen us dead
are dead. I hear the witch’s cry
break in the moonlight through a sheet
of sugar: God rewards.
Her tongue shrivels into gas. . . .
Now, far from women’s arms
and memory of women, in our father’s hut
we sleep, are never hungry.
Why do I not forget?
My father bars the door, bars harm
from this house, and it is years.
No one remembers. Even you, my brother,
summer afternoons you look at me as though
you meant to leave,
as though it never happened.
But I killed for you. I see armed firs,
the spires of that gleaming kiln—
Nights I turn to you to hold me
but you are not there.
Am I alone? Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real,
that black forest and the fire in earnest.
I regret bitterly
The years of loving you in both
( Your presence and absence ):
Your presence and absence, regret
The law, the vocation
That forbid me to keep you, the sea
A sheet of glass, the sun-bleached
Beauty of the Greek ships: how
Could I have power if
I had no wish
To transform you: as
You loved my body,
As you found there
Passion we held above
All other gifts, in that single moment
Over honor and hope, over
Loyalty, in the name of that bond
I refuse you
Such feeling for your wife
As will let you
Rest with her, I refuse you
If I cannot have you.
Don't listen to me; my heart's been broken.
I don't see anything objectively.
I know myself; I've learned to hear like a psychiatrist.
When I speak passionately,
that's when I'm least to be trusted.
It's very sad, really: all my life, I've been praised
for my intelligence, my powers of language, of insight.
In the end, they're wasted--
I never see myself,
standing on the front steps, holding my sister's hand.
That's why I can't account
for the bruises on her arm, where the sleeve ends.
In my own mind, I'm invisible; that's why I'm dangerous.
People like me, who seem selfless,
we're the cripples, the liars;
we're the ones who should be factored out
in the interest of truth.
When I'm quiet, that's when the truth emerges.
A clear sky, the clouds like white fibers.
Underneath, a little gray house, the azaleas
red and bright pink.
If you want the truth, you have to close yourself
to the older daughter, block her out:
when a living thing is hurt like that,
in its deepest workings,
all function is altered.
That's why I'm not to be trusted.
Because a wound to the heart
is also a wound to the mind.
When you find a man
Every part of you
Who makes each one of your hairs
Into a poem,
When you find a man,
As I am
Of bathing and adorning you
I will beg you
To follow him without hesitation,
It is not important
That you belong to me or him
But that you belong to poetry.