Authors: Michael Collier
But quickly her face changed color. She staggered,
legs trembling, almost collapsing
before she reached a chair. One of the older, wiser
servants believed some wrathful god possessed her
and so cried out in prayer to Pan,
until she saw the mouth foaming,
eyes wild and rolling and skin leached of blood.
Then the prayers turned shrill with horror
and we servants raced to find Creon and Jason to tell them the terrible news,
filling the house with the sound
of our panicked feet.
All of this happened in less time
than a sprinter takes to run the dash,
and quicker still was the way the princess
woke from her horrifying trance, eyes
wider than before, screaming
in anguish. For now a second torture
racked her. The gold crown exploded
in a fiery ring over her head, while
the delicate gown, brought by your sons,
ate into her sweet flesh. Consumed by flames,
she stood and ran, shaking her head
as if to throw the fire off, but the crown tangled
tighter in her hair and the blaze roared higher
as she fell to the floor and rolled
in the unquenchable flames.
Only her father could have known
who she was. The eyes had melted.
The face no more a face, while flaming blood
leaking from her head fueled the blaze.
But worse was how the flesh like tallow
or pitch sloughed off her bones.
All of this because the viperous poison
had locked her in its invisible jaws.
Schooled by what we'd witnessed, none of us
would touch the body, but her father
rushed to her side, not knowing what he'd find.
Nothing could prepare him for his daughter's
corpse. Misery broke from his voice.
He embraced and kissed her, lamenting,
"Unhappy child, murdered so shamefully,
why do the gods torture an old man like me?
Daughter, let me die with you."
But when his sobbing ceased
and old Creon wanted to rise, he found
he was woven to the fatal dress, stitched
to it like ivy to laurel, unable,
even as he wrestled furiously,
to free himself. The living father
who felt his flesh ripping from his bones
could not match the strength of his dead daughter,
and so he gave up and died, a victim
of her hideous fortune. Together now they lie
an old man and his daughter. Who wouldn't weep?
A LINE FROM ROBERT DESNOS USED TO COMMEMORATE GEORGE "SONNY" TOOK-THE-SHIELD, FORT BELKNAP, MONTANA
As for you, Medea, and your fate,
hear my silence. From it will come your punishment,
swift and sure. As for our brief lives, I've learned
once more we are mere shadows. No longer
do I fear to say the truth: fine words
and clever plans breed folly.
No man can count on his happiness.
Some have luck and fortune on their side
but never happiness.
I have dreamed of you so much, you are the headless hawk
I found in a field, upturned
like a plow blade of feathers.
"Pick me up," you said, "so I might roost
as if I were the hawk."
I have dreamed of you so much,
a tree grew where I stood,
and grass rose up in flames
as if the hawk had sown a fire
from which its head appeared.
"Pick me up," it said.
BIGGAR, SCOTLAND, SEPTEMBER 1976
I have dreamed of you so much
that now there is no dream,
no field or tree or fire,
only you roosting in the air.
"Pick me up," I say, "so I might roost
as if the world consumed my head."
Our visit to MacDiarmid ended
with him drunk and asleep
at the end of an afternoon
in the cool, south-facing croft
and with his wife enraged
at our filling his glass
he held out begging
whenever she left the room,
yet how charming she'd been
about the Cornish and Welsh,
though not so charming
about the rest, while MacDiarmid
kept returning to the subject
of basaltsâthe ones on the Scottish
coast that matched ones in Canada.
But that was after he'd told us
about his trip to China with Greene
in the forties or fifties,
booze-fueled but still something
that had never lost its scent
as a dream. This man of science,
this communist, beautiful
in a starched white shirt,
who'd been propped up for us
MEDEA'S OLDEST SON
in a chair, one hand cupping
an ear, the other clutching
a handkerchief, and his eyes
alive at the sight of your hair.
I loved the sound of running water,
a fountain in winter, moss on the steps.
I'd gather pebbles from the courtyard
and drop them in the sacred well
to watch their colors change.
Time's portion was so small to me,
like the riffle of a current.
Water led me to her:
the way it moved with her anger,
also her love. My father kept a plan
inside his head. Its shape was like
the trellis where the birds nested.
In that world the children of demigods
were doomed, and if I survived,
who would be left to love?
No one knows anything until he dies.
The stones I dropped into the well
rest on the bottom, and the water
over them hasn't spoken, and soâ
stone- and water-silentâand so, and so.
They would come, blown off course, in their wheeling,
spiraling, then hovering, trash-like flocks,
and settle on the weekend seas of irrigated fields and parks,
like ducks on ponds too shallow for paddlingâ
or from a distance they might seem to float, though
in another sense held up by mirage and meniscus,
which meant you had to blink, refocus, to see what was
or wasn't there. Occasionally, in their midst
something bold, big-billed, and broad towered above them,
whose wings cast shadows large enough
to make its own weather, a foreigner among so many strangers.
And this was my first taste of the floods and plagues,
the rain that would not end over the unprepared lands.
And yet the birds, lifting one by one, retraced what they had
Â Â Â been,
while filling up the emptiness they had made, returning
to wherever they had come, if such a place existed for so many.
Quietly the mornings used to start
as if the breath escaping from our mouths
was meant to fill the room
and that would be the day's requirement:
a volume equal to its space, arriving
as the sun arrived. Then we could hear
the sparrows fussing in the pyracantha,
the river of traffic from the freeway.
Then the wonder of the moment was that
the day made room for us at all.
But now we know the place, the numbered
hairs, and have seen the figures of ourselves
along the road, searching for the street
that leads into the avenues, then through
the intersections with their crossing guards.
Look how far into the day we've moved
and yet we're still in bed, awake, silent.
I used to tell myself,
waiting for you to shift and touch my leg
so I might turn to kiss your lips.
From the shore we could see the work it took to keep
the bow straightâconstant adjudications
of wind and current. The boat, a kind of shuttle
threading elemental warp and woof. Each rower
faced the direction of his going, away from where he'd stood.
When the storm blew up they struggled to return.
Earlier, when it had been our turn and the water smooth
with intermittent scuds that slapped a beaver's tail
against the skiff, I thought, "Who doesn't love
the middle of his life?" My voice whispering
crucial adjustments, not anticipations
but greetings of air and water, mediums of resistance.
And then a man's voice, as if along a wire, traveled
from his mouth, in the middle of the lake, to my ear:
"Put your butt down, now!"Advice offered too late
to the tipping-over canoeist? Or from the shore,
more threatening, more resigned: "Why did we ever have
A teenager soaked from a water fight screams
for the other teenager to stop his splashing.
He doesn't stop, and she wouldn't want him to, really.
Amid their laughter and commotion a flock of mallards
rises from stockades of bamboo on Duck Island,
circles eucalyptus and palms, and then returns.
What was once over the horizon is all around us.
The instruction in J-stroke not so much remembered
as imprintedâthe saving gesturesâand, of course,
the world divided between paddlers and rowers.
("There's room for a thermos and small ice chest.")
Few make a journey of diversion; most want a moment,
not a story. It felt good, then, to be afraid for othersâ
to see the storm approaching and the boats
for the dock. Finally, we all stood under the boathouse
and watched the vessels fill with rain. Those of us who were dry
were quiet, and those who were wet laughed,
uncertain if all the others had returned. Nevertheless,
we took pleasure in the cushions lifting off thwarts,
oars and paddles drifting away, the thermos bobbing,
while a plastic sack caught by its handles sang above us in a tree.
Old nail pounding your way
into bark or creosote,
of legs and beak,
derrick, larvae driller,
when I look up from
my mind I see what
you are: feather-hooded,
to the steady perch;
an idea of the lower
with color, a tuber
of claws and wings
and an eye unmarred.
packing the framer's blow,
face stropping the hardness,
drumming and drumming,
your song is your name.
INVOCATION TO THE HEART
This will cure me,
you declare. This will
heal the fractured jaw,
soothe the vibrating helve
so I can eat, so I can sing.
Speak to me now,
Â Â Â Â Â alive, outside the body,
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â massaged,
lifted from this packageâ
Â Â Â Â Â rigged, hybridized,
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â a chunk of sulfide
Â Â Â Â Â scorched, glittering,
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â unburnable.
The severed veins are eyes,
Â Â Â Â Â ears the pericardium.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â No longer
an abacus of click and slide,
Â Â Â Â Â no longer the engine
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â of this or that fist
but a machine of foreclosure,
Â Â Â Â Â aurora of occluded sky,
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â veil over the fetish.
Fill my mouth
Â Â Â Â Â with imperfect speech.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Remind me how you are
part pig, part parachute.
Â Â Â Â Â Root in me, slow
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â my fall.
A NIGHT AT THE WINDOW
Remember that each of us
Â Â Â Â Â lay dead awhile
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â waiting for the other.
The moth detaches from a leaf
and swims up through the dark
to flutter at the screen
through which the desk lamp shines.
You could almost say its wings
are oars, the legs like walking
rudders, except it doesn't float,
it skitters upward, out of sight,
and then returns, while the night
from which it's made withdraws,
and the light, a star so far above,
yet hot enough to burn, unwheels
its arms. Nothing stays, though
in a while the day comes on
and you can leave the window.
But who remains to watch
the navigating legs, the unfolded
sculling wings? What holds the place
until the night returnsâthe bang
and flutterâas if across the day
a face is formed, sun-drenched,
searching, wise with what it sees
and then unwise, caught
in its own light and then released.
Birdsong in the morning air
and the whir of my neighbor's lift
as it raises him in his wheelchair
onto the bed of his truck.
Not someone to pity, he locks the wheels
in place and like a gymnast
on parallel bars manages himself
from his seat and then, in a move