Delivered out of raw continual pain,
smell of darkness, groans of those others
to whom he was chained—
unchained, and led
past the sleepers,
door after door silently opening—
And along a long street’s
majestic emptiness under the moon:
one hand on the angel’s shoulder, one
feeling the air before him,
eyes open but fixed . . .
And not till he saw the angel had left him,
alone and free to resume
the ecstatic, dangerous, wearisome roads of
what he had still to do,
not till then did he recognize
this was no dream. More frightening
than arrest, than being chained to his warders:
he could hear his own footsteps suddenly.
Had the angel’s feet
made any sound? He could not recall.
No one had missed him, no one was in pursuit.
He himself must be
the key, now, to the next door,
the next terrors of freedom and joy.
is a great weight
hung on a small wire,
as doth the spider
hang her baby on a thin web,
as doth the vine,
twiggy and wooden,
hold up grapes
as many angels
dance on the head of a pin.
God does not need
too much wire to keep Him there,
just a thin vein,
with blood pushing back and forth in it,
and some love.
As it has been said:
Love and a cough
cannot be concealed.
Even a small cough.
Even a small love.
So if you have only a thin wire,
God does not mind.
He will enter your hands
as easily as ten cents used to
bring forth a Coke.
It was a cross-country race in October,
too warm and humid, a few runners collapsed
on the side of the course like shot horses,
bleeding and humble, feeling the little death
rolling around their guts, as the rest of us charged
past like a herd of stallions, dream-like, holding on,
holding to each other without touching,
the heat packed in our throats, our feet
dragging sprays of dirt across the land,
between corn fields and rolling hills
lifting and dropping us like waves in the ocean.
In the sixth kilometer a stranger sidled up beside me
our strides finding a common rhythm,
and we ran as a pair, no longer strangers,
the grunt and gasp for air our only utterance,
galloping into the relief of shaded woods,
into the shadows cut out in front of us, into time
as time shaped itself around us and inside us,
and the mind gave way to the unexpected voice of the body,
the animal within us learning to speak without speaking —
and then he was gone.
It was later that day, driving home, when I realized
it must be this way that animals whisper to each other,
every drove and pack, flock and yoke,
ambling across the lush earth,
chasing the last light of the sun,
driven by a hunger grown horrible inside,
whispering without the debilitating maelstrom of words,
without past or future,
only sweat and flesh, the heart beating wildly,
alive and eternal.
There are so many moments
where I’ve reached for my camera
to capture in a photo the million ways
that reality flowers in your presence:
what the photographer Cartier-Bresson would call
“the decisive moment” —
Like that day in Wikham Park, standing in the sunlight,
your eyes like two small paintings,
the simple colors of your black coat
on the green grass, the white tail of your dog
wagging like mad,
and the contrast of your dark hair
against your pale cheeks,
delicate as dandelion seeds blown in a breeze.
But today, staring out the window
at the taxis going down the avenue,
I realize there is so much life in you
it’s impossible to capture. I’ve quit trying.
Maybe life is not meant to be trapped
like some exotic bird.
Instead, my mind returns to the grassy hill,
when I stood with my hands in my pockets,
leaning into the bit of warmth
left in the cold light,
and I watched you chasing Layla,
your laugh hanging like a string of bulbs in the air,
and I watched the little girl in you come out
and wrap her arms around the world.
And I thought how like a sunset it was:
there forever and gone
at the same time.
I wonder what primitive man felt
the first time it rained.
A blue sky turned grey, bruised
and cracked open like a new mind,
a new consciousness of the universe
expressing itself in lush abandon,
with torn shards of cloud, blackened and jagged.
And now this wetness, a spackled blanket of liquid —
how strange, how exhilarating!
There must have been a first rain,
after man became conscious of himself:
for it had kissed his face, he’d felt it —
it was for him, for him!
Perhaps he would recognize it
in a moment of stunning awareness:
the ancient understanding of nature
having the same body as man.
For how could the rumble above be anything
other than the beating of his heart?
How could the rain, a broken-beaded necklace
of delicate drops, driven down from heaven,
be anything else, if not the tears
falling down his face?
In hill-towns, from San Fernando to Mayagüez,
the same sunrise stirred the feathered lances of cane
down the archipelago’s highways. The first breeze
rattled the spears and their noise was like distant rain
marching down from the hills, like a shell at your ears.
In the cool asphalt Sundays of the Antilles
the light brought the bitter history of sugar
across the squared fields, heightening towards harvest,
to the bleached flags of the Indian diaspora.
The drizzling light blew across the savannah
darkening the racehorses’ hides; mist slowly erased
the royal palms on the crests of the hills and the
hills themselves. The brown patches the horses had grazed
shone as wet as their hides. A skittish stallion
jerked at his bridle, marble-eyed at the thunder
muffling the hills, but the groom was drawing him in
like a fisherman, wrapping the slack line under
one fist, then with the other tightening the rein
and narrowing the circle. The sky cracked asunder
and a forked tree flashed, and suddenly that black rain
which can lose an entire archipelago
in broad daylight was pouring tin nails on the roof,
hammering the balcony. I closed the French window,
and thought of the horses in their stalls with one hoof
tilted, watching the ropes of rain. I lay in bed
with current gone from the bed-lamp and heard the roar
of wind shaking the windows, and I remembered
Achille on his own mattress and desperate Hector
trying to save his canoe, I thought of Helen
as my island lost in the haze, and I was sure
I’d never see her again. All of a sudden
the rain stopped and I heard the sluicing of water
down the guttering. I opened the window when
the sun came out. It replaced the tiny brooms
of palms on the ridges. On the red galvanized
roof of the paddock, the wet sparkled, then the grooms
led the horses over the new grass and exercised
them again, and there was a different brightness
in everything, in the leaves, in the horses’ eyes.
for Robert Lowell
We smile at each other
and I lean back against the wicker couch.
How does it feel to be dead? I say.
You touch my knees with your blue fingers.
And when you open your mouth,
a ball of yellow light falls to the floor
and burns a hole through it.
Don’t tell me, I say. I don’t want to hear.
Did you ever, you start,
wear a certain kind of silk dress
and just by accident,
so inconsequential you barely notice it,
your fingers graze that dress
and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper,
you see it too
and you realize how that image
is simply the extension of another image,
that your own life
is a chain of words
that one day will snap.
Words, you say, young girls in a circle, holding hands,
and beginning to rise heavenward
in their confirmation dresses,
like white helium balloons,
the wreaths of flowers on their heads spinning,
and above all that,
that’s where I’m floating,
and that’s what it’s like
only ten times clearer,
ten times more horrible.
Could anyone alive survive it?