Years have gone by. They refuse to relent
And form dense piles, like paper
Written on and confined to a single room.
There is no sense in thinking about it;
Almost anything one can create will
Be able to assume any shape, use
Any language, make signs with its
Hands, if it has hands, or become
Any person at all, even one that
Is loved very much but has remained
Trapped in an object for a long time.
A sister was a sofa for years, then a teapot.
The dogs became undone and settled
Into becoming two chairs and a kitchen
Table that was left over from
A flock of birds she had once seen
But could no longer recall where.
There was still the shore, but now
It was night and the waves collapsed
In a stutter a friend had suffered
With long ago, in the fourth grade.
Anything but this place. Help get
These things out of line and into
Something that could fill one
With a deep sleep.
Waking high above sea in a villa,
Full of sun, near Naples, on Capri.
Hearing someone humming a song, sliding
Plates over each other, the smell of coffee,
Silverware tinkling as if it could help.
Perhaps it was a prayer. It could have
Been a prayer rising up through
The room and then the body.
Someone was there holding her hand.
It might be her sister or it might
Be someone never before seen.
“Don’t open your eyes,” says a voice.
“Just go back to when we found
All those lovely shells.”
That could have been anywhere.
Tonight the paper lanterns have been lit,
Giving a voice of light to the riverbank.
They utter wave forms and harmonize
With the lapping upon the shore.
There are spirits in the evening.
They rove upon the land,
Sit on hillsides watching
The paper lanterns flicker.
The close glow of their quiet flame
Agrees with the loneliness and the sorrow of age,
Unravels where the mind once played
And gives gifts of muted color
To those holding hands and gazing
At the display before them.
Song releases its legions of dancers.
They whirl beneath the paper lanterns.
They trail memory out behind them
Like toys forgotten in some child’s room
Seen through a slightly open door.
The owl is silent as it passes
The paper lanterns. Nothing like this
Will ever happen again. There is no
Way to know the dimensions of the evening.
I keep thinking I am not dreaming,
That I just can’t get it right.
The person writing has committed
Himself to writing this poem
But it is a foolish endeavor.
The floor feels queer beneath his feet.
It is already much too late to be
Early evening any longer and he has
Barely awakened, or so he thinks.
There are people waiting in the next
Room for him to come out
To greet them, to thank them
For their screens, their fragments
Of sparks and bits of conversation.
They feel they have served him
Well and deserve some kind of reward.
He has decided he will stop
At the earliest opportunity
So that he might be inarticulate,
So he will not recognize at all
When sleep comes out of
Its room and stop making sounds
That he associates with darkness.
He refuses to be interested in any-
Thing he might be writing; this
Way he can listen to anything that might
Trigger a recognition he hadn’t
Anticipated. A quiet stream,
Some steam escaping from a radiator.
In the next room he can hear
The people begin the applause.
He is much too tired to get up
And go see what is happening there.
He supposes it is just a dream,
Rolls on his side, lets his eyelids
Shut down one world, open another.
Just where the city loses itself,
Where the streets no longer have names,
Where the gods still are all from
The Greeks and Romans, where the Minotaur
Finds sure footing and climbs back
Into his labyrinth, we begin new
Fractions of rotation that will not
Be answered for a century or two.
Here we will set down a world,
Wind up its eternal clockwork
And pump as much blood as any
Republic can hold into an empty palace.
I give you a stage of pure white.
A palace of pure marble with gardens
Guarded by sleep, guarded by dreams.
I give you cardinal points, and a history
Made of stuff like this, corridors
Full of nameless fears so we may
Remain awestruck, though unleashed
From judgement, so we may be
Beguiled by such gifts.
A hand opens. Time is revealed.
It is too late to turn the palace into something
Else, Inferno or Paradise. You must
Create your own questions now.
The city no longer sleeps.
It has noticed us out here.
It will demand something terrible
Of each of us. It will involve change.
I had never gone this far below before.
The stairs went far below the foundations
Of the building but somehow I had never noticed
This to be the case. There were rooms
Down here but it was most difficult to believe
Anyone would live in them. Occasionally
I could see flickering lights between thresholds
And doors, or a light would give itself up as I
Passed down the stairs. This must be what
It was like where they make the dreams, I thought.
In lost Persepolis there was a hall with one
Hundred columns. The capitals of the columns
Featured carved bulls and griffin-like beaked
Creatures. Today there are only remnants
Of these things. The floor remains.
I had heard of a library where one had only
To ask for the book and it would appear
On a table near one. There were never
More than a few people in this library.
They never spoke while I was there
But they did read a lot and occasionally
One or two of them would weep or grunt
In satisfaction. I have journals with notes
From this library. It had taken me several
Lives to find it. All of these lives were
Had by reading. I never met any of the writers.
The maps I brought with me had all been drawn
By a careful hand. I felt I could proceed for days,
Ever descending into the bowels of the building.
I noticed a layer of sand becoming more and more
Common as I descended. There were the sounds
Of running water, occasionally that of a page turning.
I kept trying to be surprised by any of these things.
The blur of trying to understand any of it eventually
Left me, and I trusted only to the forward motion
To direct me back to the world, the known light,
The streets teaming with merchants
Selling precious stones, fine fabrics, special
Containers to carry the things we would find,
Stupefied at first by their language,
Then by their speech and finally by the simplest
Sentence anyone could make.
I praised dead cities, saw there were no doors,
That we come and go at will, finding it most difficult
To remain one person for longer than a breath or two.
WHAT WE MUST DO
I try to listen to these elder poets
As they tell me to do things:
Untie that ribbon, travel by train;
It will help explain things when
You discover her body is pure iron
Inside, but it does not make
A noise inside itself.
"Are you still here?" I ask them.
A voice or two remains, Yeats
Talking about his mother. He can see
Where a madness has abandoned
Everything and left a few yellowed
Leaves and some misty landscape.
Vexed by nightmares, he leaves me
Thinking this is some kind of miracle.
I look at walls, mosaics
From Crete, The Queen’s
Throne Room with its dolphins.
"Please remember it," one of them says,
Trying to use my voice as if it could be
Anyone from Stephen Spender to a dull
James Joyce. But I will not do that
Any longer. They have page after page.
That is not what I must speak to
With my own sweetness and sticky
Blood. May I ascend into heaven,
Rise above the eating rats that
So love bones and ankles and feet,
And become haze.
Yes, everything forgets what it must do.
I resolve to never name the trees,
That I may know not what they do.
I will find some sweet, unknown,
Luscious fruit, pick it when it is ripe,
Put it in a fantastic basket,
Bring it to you.
Now I’m going down to shout to the ships.
It looks like rain. These words
Cannot ever float but for the reading
By a kindred soul, then be dragged
Away with all the elder poets
Still telling us what we must do.
ON TAKING DIRECTIONS
A little brooch.
It could not have had
Much more memory
Than an afternoon.
But it possess a dreaming of the
Labyrinths with Maps, given
To a disorder,
A disturbance of the mind.
A single piece of jewelry
Never heretofore seen
Is imagined to have been
Owned by a beautiful
Young girl whose face will never
Be known, nor remembered
Except in that it directed a life.