A stationary sense ... as, I suppose,
I shall have, till my single body grows
Then I shall start to feel the backward pull
Take over, sickening and masterful—
Some say, desired.
And this must be the prime of life ... I blink,
As if at pain; for it is pain, to think
Of compensating act and counter-act,
Defeat and counterfeit, makes up, in fact,
My ablest time.
If See No End In Is
What none knows is when, not if.
Now that your life nears its end
when you turn back what you see
is ruin. You think, It is a prison. No,
it is a vast resonating chamber in
which each thing you say or do is
new, but the same. What none knows is
how to change. Each plateau you reach, if
single, limited, only itself, in-
cludes traces of all the others, so that in the end
limitation frees you, there is no
end, if you once see what is there to see.
You cannot see what is there to see —
not when she whose love you failed is
standing next to you. Then, as if refusing the know-
ledge that life unseparated from her is death, as if
again scorning your refusals, she turns away. The end
achieved by the unappeased is burial within.
Familiar spirit, within whose care I grew, within
whose disappointment I twist, may we at last see
by what necessity the double-bind is in the end
the figure for human life, why what we love is
precluded always by something else we love, as if
each no we speak is yes, each yes no.
The prospect is mixed but elsewhere the forecast is no
better. The eyrie where you perch in
exhaustion has food and is out of the wind, if
cold. You feel old, young, old, young: you scan the sea
for movement, though the promise of sex or food is
the prospect that bewildered you to this end.
Something in you believes that it is not the end.
When you wake, sixth grade will start. The finite you know
you fear is infinite: even at eleven, what you love is
what you should not love, which endless bullies in-
tuit unerringly. The future will be different: you cannot see
the end. What none knows is when, not if.
The Dictionary of Silence
And in that city the houses of the dead
are left empty, if the dead are famous enough;
by day the living pay to see if dust is all
that befalls the lives they left behind.
Coating even the glassed-in waistcoat in time,
coloring the air of the room stripped bare,
down four stories of twisted stair it falls,
down on the dictionary no longer there.
Empty your pockets,
empty your hearts, that empty upper room exhorts.
Forget the scrap of paper with the missing word
for what’s missing—
go home to your rented room.
Go on. Six cramped quills, one elbow chair, missing a leg,
held up all those years by Johnson’s willing it to hold
his bulk—now even the “soul hath elbowroom”
in that room where scribes scribbled out that quote.
In that city the dead never want to get up,
just as in life. What can we offer them?
Just this dust to cover them deeper,
kin to the soot that shadowed their days.
Kiss from a wife who no longer wanted to be touched—
love, he held, regarded with passionate affection,
like one sex to the other, first; or, second,
made do with the affection of a friend; or
managed merely parental tenderness, third; or, fourth,
no more than pleasure with, delighting in; or, fifth,
no less than the reverent unwillingness to offend.
O had a long sound, as in alone. Her opium.
On clean-shirt day he would pay a visit to his wife.
Pack meant large bundle of any thing—“on your head
a pack of sorrows.”
Quiet. The square just off Fleet Street
so quiet Carlyle got lost on his way there.
Remember the garret floorboards’ complaint, the muffled
ruffling of pigeons just overhead?
Such silence we fell into
stair by stair, the house to ourselves.
Tired of London, he claimed, and one was
tired of life. Were we just tired?
Under the low ceiling as below deck,
up where no angle was true, we sank in deeper silence,
valedictory, the way it took us in.
Volumes of ancient air closed around us, blank,
weighted by the latest dust.
What had we come to the house of the dead to see? Something
exotic? The zebra presented to the queen in 1726? Something
exactly as it might have been? Did you
yawn first, back among the living?
You pulled me from traffic rushing downstream instead of up,
that Zambezi best forded from stripe to painted stripe,
a “zebra crossing.” I’d looked the wrong way.