Winter trees cough like old men about death’s white nightmares while the rain talks in Latin. They cough about the sobbing tragic ash, they bind valises for leaving, they darken—and in the chill of frost from the sun, the lungs bristle to see coffins hidden in the dry capes of kings.
She knew if she loved him she could make him happy, but she didn’t. Or she did, but it sank into itself like a hole and curled up content. Surrounded by the blur of her own movements, the thought of making him happy was very dear to her. She moved it from place to place, a surprise she never opened. She slept alone at night, soul of a naked priest in her sweet body. Small soft hands, a bread of desire rising in her stomach. When she lay down with the man she loved and didn’t, the man opened and opened. Inside him an acrobat tumbled over death. And walked thin wires with nothing above or below. She cried, he was so beautiful in his scarlet tights and white face the size of a dime.
“The figure should be natural and relaxed,” asserted Mucha to his drawing class, but didn’t tell that he bent the Job girl’s fingers back into a knuckle-breaking arabesque and thereby crossed her smile with a wince, or how his son complained of feeling deformed after sitting for his father. The truth is that beauty pursued from a single angle has never added to a person’s comfort.
Who’s to say where the man ends, the world begins; what it is that wakes him in a visible sweat, a thing shored on a tide of linen, though this much is clear: as sleep drags its intimate figures back into the blackened current, a magnificent loneliness takes its place. Then he looks up and sees his likeness astonished
into the mirror above him, a ghost afloat in the elated room, flat to the ceiling and pinned there. Who wouldn’t feel uneasily blessed, to hover that way with your bed on your back, bearing up under the weight of heaven, made glorious in the ruffled wingspan of your sheets. And with a blinding adoration to gaze down at your own nakedness,
cast out of the living skin, impatient to descend, jealous, as is the way with phantoms, of every body your body touches. You know the sensation: as if your flesh were the drinking glass forever chilled and gaping. Perhaps you see your story float in the open hands of a book, thinking how distant the details
where they waver, how cold and fragile in their clarity. You are the breath flown out of them, hovering there, reading softly, the way a mother reads to a child at night. And like the child you savor every minute, every grief that turns to pity, that leans to the mirror’s body to drink, becoming water.
Human bodies are different from one another But their souls are all alike, filled with brilliant uses Like airports. Do not give me your soul, Give me your body I shall never know to the end, Give me the vessel, not the wine.
Stand with me in airports Where the pain of parting Is cloaked in fine words, Like orphans, Where drinks and food are expensive And men and their fates are cheap.
And a man talks into a telephone And, from the receiver, his mouth drinks Grief and love.
Those who cry too Have white hands like brides. Arms free from embrace, What will they do in the world?
There are worlds, unwieldy, dreadful, Difficult to grasp, just pick one up And it grasps you, its grip of iron;
And there are sights, brochure-loads, Wonders ancient and otherwise, but look Too close and blur becomes confusion;
People, and they shrink from cultivation, Beat retreats, facts, and the more you know Of each the less you’ll want to hang
On any, comes time for feet to dangle in the sky While windswept clouds make blotchy patterns, Gussy up some valley floor many feet below … Patterns, yes, and the multiples thereof, But they must come to you, haply As rays picking up earth’s gravitation,
Must find you staring into space, puttering In the yard, out walking, aimless and amazed. The unwasted life has not been lived.
All my life I’ve had goals to go after, goals in a molten distance. And just the way snows in the distance, dense and white among groves of bare trees, lessen as I approach and show not white, but a mix of mud and leaves among rows of breathing trees, the fantasies that rose from my young mind, guarded against my foes’s mocking by my own mocking, lessen. I know what I’ve approached, and I am very frightened. It shows in my slipping face in the melting present. Goals far off are fire and ice, like a walk through snow toward a blood-orange sunset. But there is no perfection like that in coming up close, no purity in intimacy. Embracing the world, nose to brow with what we’ve got and lost, hugging old sorrows as they fade into mud and leaves, is like shedding clothes, is like lovers saying, lets-take-off-our-clothes. The world is made flesh in their bodies: does is knows. The world is made flesh by the snows fading, then merging into mud and leaves, goals of long ago emerging among trees in row in a distance molten as the world comes up close.
The echoes held him, hugged him, hurled him down, And above all October seemed to shout: ‘You worried you with what it’s all about. I have held stronger than you longer down. It’s only the small leaf I cannot rout When upper branches, without breaking, bend And wave aside the motion that I send Across the world to try and drive you out.’
Wind shook the barren limbs from end to end All things on earth were whirled far up above. He walked across the earth that buries love, And heard the wind increase around each bend; And still the echoes held him, but he laughed: ‘Autumn will pass. The oyster hugs her pearl. Seasons are nothing sudden in a world Where snow will fall on leaves that fell on grass.’
No one bothers to imagine men in baths. None of us sitting home alone On a dull, rainy evening Thinks of the nude male body Half-floating, eyes closed, in scented water Littered with petals, loosening himself Into the liquid grace of muscular abandon, One arm perhaps draped over the bath’s edge Beckoning unconsciously, the left hand Drawing a long, slow line along The silkened, opened, underwater skin Of an upper thigh until it reaches Tactile complications at the loins And just gets lost.
The lovely self-involvement of this wet Body, slightly stirring, aromatic Weightless, gorgeous, given up to pleasure Is no secret, but still the event Goes unattended, night after night Year after year. People imagine something else; men rise From dirty, unimagined water Put on an old bathrobe Make tea and clip their nails Without so much applause As a single caught breath Or pair of widened eyes.
O fragrant, oiled Odysseus, O Marat Interrupted, O Bloom in your indolent tub O Christ in heaven and your feet In Mary Magdalene’s hair, forgive me! Think of me, from now on, thinking of you— Vigilant, breathless, crazy with desire.
We lived in a pocket of Time. It was close, it was warm. Along the dark seam of the river the houses, the barns, the two churches, hid like white crumbs in a fluff of gray willows and elms, till Time made one of his gestures; his nails scratched the shingled roof. Roughly his hand reached in, and tumbled us out.
Where did you go to, when you went away? It is as if you step by step were going Someplace elsewhere into some other range Of speaking, that I had no gift for speaking, Knowing nothing of the language of that place To which you went with naked foot at night Into the wilderness there elsewhere in the bed, Elsewhere somewhere in the house beyond my seeking. I have been so dislanguaged by what happened I cannot speak the words that somewhere you Maybe were speaking to others where you went. Maybe they talk together where they are Restlessly wandering, along the shore, Waiting for a way to cross the river.
“Centralia, Pennsylvania, is a town that barely exists. It is a blip of a place, almost indistinguishable from the endless forest flanking state road 61 in the rambling northeast quarter of the state. There are no hulking ruins—not even a sign that alerts you when the town begins or ends. Though the population of Centralia peaked in the 1960s at more than two thousand people, now fewer than ten live here. After the nineties, road maps and atlases began leaving it off their indexes; the post office revoked its zip code in 2002. The reason is simple: Centralia has been on fire for almost fifty years.”