Beside her bookshelves, in his winter coat,
a denim jacket lined with cotton fleece,
and who might not have said to him, "Then stay ... "
as there was, all at once, a lot to say,
except that was another century's
invitation. Her questions, bilingual jests
came from the creased lips and crepey throat
of a woman in her sixties.
Alone, and with a choice of alphabet
she did not reconstruct the repartee,
at once anodyne and intimate,
nor pause at her stacked desk to contemplate
disaster she might well precipitate
if her neck were smooth. If she had breasts.
When her neck was smooth, when she had breasts,
she thought the body was the least of it,
the site of some desires and appetites
and certain others' ardent interests.
Not beautiful, not scandalous. Requests
like touch and hold, like any intimate
avowal, shocked no one, under any light;
Now, inadvertent archaeologist
she contemplates the ruin of a face
(the downside is quotidian dis-grace,
the upside is invisibility)
and the ravenous mythology
in which she's exiled from her own desire,
reflected strangely, in a stranger's mirror.
Reflected strangely, in a stranger's mirror
the exile's eyes themselves mirror a sky
more clear than when familiarity
abstracted it to gray and azure blur, or
instilled, by means of likenesses, the torpor
of saying the same old dull thing endlessly.
Here is an Elsewhere, all the cues that she
found in a cloud, a wall, a stone are Elsewhere.
At dusk in the street warren near the port
with a witty quadrilingual friend,
distancing the old narrative seems plausible.
Weeks later, after a day much too short,
a white night staggering hours before its end,
the graying woman yawns, sits at her table.
The graying woman yawns, sits at her table,
insomniac after the equinox.
The words she wants are in some padlocked box
whose combination she's incapable
of calling from the incoherent babble
of panic and despair, of dream that shocks
her out of brief and febrile sleep. The lacks,
the slack, the slide, the sunrise above rubble—
is that all, all want, that heat, all need,
that model of unspeakable obsession,
senile in promise, infantile in greed,
horseblindered to the world beyond its skin?
How much despair is clinical depression,
and how much what they still call mortal sin?
How much of what they still call mortal sin
is more like moral, mental masturbation,
slothful, not sexual, the titillation
of knowing what one might, and giving in
to entropy instead. Dead stop. Begin
the stagnant list, the stunning conjugation.
An ice-floe drips, bird drops, an abstract nation
raises its colors to an alien sun.
Neither testosterone nor estrogen
scabs the cut, blocks synapses of hurt in
a mind that spills its seed in solitaire.
Would I pick up the pen, the phone, again,
open the windows to the winter air,
if I were you, and were, as you are, certain?
If I were you and were, as you are, certain
as anyone can be, of pages spread
across long days like crisp sheets on a bed,
and of the bed itself, a blue voile curtain
behind it, and beyond that, light, alert in
a lovers'-morning sky, the book you read
the night before close by, and commented-
upon, in two alphabets, inadvertent
discoveries in margins, I'd agree
(and do) the body is a festival.
Also a house of mourning, and a field
soldiers have fought and camped on, burned and fouled,
and a mote in the absence that we whirl
toward with our metered love-words, almost free.
Untoward, metered love-words, almost free
to mean a thing and still mean its negation
to be avowal and renunciation
in a vexed breath's simultaneity
once had a different utility.
The inadmissible elucidation
is not pronounced, a train that left the station,
one rainy weeknight wolf-hour, half-past three.
There's not one story only, there are threads
of consanguinity and contraband.
A risk that is familiar and remote,
in remembered streets, imagined beds,
shrugs into its sleeves, extends a hand
beside the bookshelves, in a borrowed coat.
A Stranger's Mirror: New and Selected Poems 1994–2014