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Authors: J.D. McClatchy

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BOOK: Plundered Hearts
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The girl had turned her back to you by then,

Her eyes intent on the thickness of particulars,

The wintery emphasis of that woman’s dying,

Like facing a glass-bright, amplified stage,

Too painful not to follow back to a source

In the self. And like the girl, I found myself

Looking at the boy, your voice suddenly

Thrown into him, as he echoed the woman’s

Final rendering, a voice that drove upward

Onto the lampblack twigs just beyond her view

To look back on her body there, on its page

Of monologue. The words, as they came—

Came from you, from the woman, from the voice

In the trees—were his then, the poem come

From someone else’s lips, as it can.


The figures on this morning’s second cup

Slowly wake to a touch whose method

Varies. My finger’s circling outside the fire-

Charged sunrise saucer and the cloud

Chip on its rim, while the sugary anthem

Of dregs inside, struck up to call a halt

To dreaming, turns strangely bitter. Halting,

Blind, it’s they who finger the lip of the cup.

Hoplite or sharecropper, can I speak for them?

A grown-up love asks a relentless method.

They swarm like ghosts to the bloody cloud

Of thought: what of
life, where’s

One of them bends now to spit in the fire.

The only hesitation is of flame, its halt

Or stutter, as when the heart bolts out of a cloud

Long enough to light what’s fallen to the cup’s

Dark side to show, illustration’s methodical

Storm of types. Two chances. Which of them

Is mine? The horse and rider’s winded anthem?

Or the thumbprint ash, arms akimbo, blackfired

Against the light? Oh, love’s our method

To let blood put on the skyspan halter,

That bit of thinking, then ride, then cup

The dawn in a cold hand. The cloud

Parts again. Moon mouth half shut on cloud.

Star crumbs. A woman rising to leave them

To themselves. She’s overturned their cup

Of responsibilities, spilling it into the fire’s

Airglow. And when she asked whose fault

It was, I had to choose between old methods

Of excess. You’ll hear I chose that myth odd

To some, even to her, and know how it would cloud

Any fear of hers to make time pass or halt

On that one moment. The myth holds one of them—

I mean now one of us—up to the fire

Already gone out from the body, as into a cup,

Its thirsts poured into another cup, a method

To balance the fire’s given set of words, a cloud

That drifts over them before it halts at


All things began in separation: the day’s

Young god, puffed, fireshod, first dispatched

On a mirrored globe: the negress, locked up

In a star chamber, her lamp at the lone window:

Dry land parted from sea, its bulbous fruit

Spilt from river urns, the spring’s leaking

Pitcher drawn up from the airy stream: wave’s

Spume breaks on a caudal fin, shells soften

To paws: then the clouds too will take shape

As stag and hen, infant owl who repeats

Made of something missing, the couple comes:

His city in flames, a stitch in his side

From having run this far away from home,

He dreams his heart’s a book, open to her

Taper’s hovering wing: call him again:

He had not meant so much he could not see

The worst that love can do: to wake and leave

Loving, indifferent to practice this one way:

But who will believe me if I say he fell

Into some deeper sleep: in the end was a word.


The Ladder of Paradise would lead, this time,

    To the Apartment of the Dwarfs, the steps

               So short the rise was gradual as an afterlife.

    The French looked at pictures in their guidebooks

               As it was described. The Germans whispered

Loudly to each other. I watched the dwarf

Climb the stairs. I had spotted him the day before,

    Flat on a wall by the Mincio, reading

               That was put aside, some scenes too clogged

    With allusion, like the river with its frisbees,

               Detergent jugs, weeds in cellophane barrettes.

But here he was again. No gainsaying the insistent,

Good and evil alike. Which did he seem, in sunglasses,

    A studded motorcycle jacket, smudge of sideburns,

               Tattooed crown of thorns? His baby-head

    Bulged with its one secret, how to turn anyone’s

               Gold back into straw, this whole palace—

Ticket-booth, fresco, tourist group, the long galleries

Overthrown with history—into a dropcloth, a slatting

    Canvas yanked aside from plaster-frame ambition,

               The heart made small with scorn of littleness.

    Did he feel at home here, where only he could

               Fit? But who ever does? Head bowed now

In self-defense, I followed him up the tilting

Scale, from the chapel, its breadbox altar and gnarled

    Crucified savior, in death near lifesized for him,

               Back to the bedrooms and the favorite’s gilded

    Manger. Not a word, not a wink. He took it all in,

               Or all but what was missing, any window view

That gave out on “the former owner’s” contradictions,

A garden’s logic of originality, the box-hedged

    Bets, the raging winged cypresses, the royal

               Children playing with their head-on-a-stick,

    The jester’s marotte, over whose cap they’d look

               Back, up at the Apartment, that skewed cortex

Through which I wormed behind him. How close

It had suddenly become, when as if into the daylight

    That jabs a shut eye from between the curtains

               Of his dream, we were led into the next room,

    Where guardian archers had once been posted,

               Their crossbows ready for the unseen nod,

Their forty horses stabled in paint above.

Each niche turned a knotted tail impatiently.

    Instinct looks up. But where one expected

               Allegory, the simple bearings that tell us

    Where and how tall we ought to stand—some titan

               Routing the pygmy appetites, some child

Humbling kings to their senses—the ceiling’s frame

Of reference was empty—the missing window at last?—

    Clouds bearing nothing. And nothing was what

               We were certain of. We looked around

    For the dwarf, the moral of these events.

               He was waddling out of a far door, as if

He knew where next we all would want to be.


Montaigne—for him the body of knowledge

Was his own, to be suffered or studied

Like a local custom—had one too, I read

In bed, his diary more alert and all-gathering

The more I lose touch with it, or everything.

Even the gardenia on the neighbor’s sill

That for three nights running a nightingale

Has tended with streamsprung song—

The senses competing with a giddy vulgarity—

Draws a blank. The San Vio vesper bells

Close in, fade, close in, then fade

To the congestion of voices from the street.

Why “clear as a bell”? Even as the time-release

Capsule I’m waiting on is stuffed with pellets

The bell must first be choked with the changes

To be rung, all there at once, little explosions

Of feeling, the passages out of this world.

These pills clear a space, as if for assignment

Undercover. Last week’s liver seared in oil

And sage, the mulberry gelato on the Zattere …

Neither smell nor taste make it back.

And what of the taste for time itself,

Its ravelled daybook and stiff nightcap,

What it clears from each revisited city,

Depths the same, no inch of surface unchanged?

I can see to that. The gouged pearl pattern

Of light on the canals, the grimy medallioned

Cavities of the facings, or goldleaf phlegm

Around a saint’s head. It’s always something

About the body. For Montaigne the cure

Was “Venetian turpentine”—grappa, no doubt—

Done up in a wafer on a silver spoon.

The next morning he noticed the smell

Of March violets in his urine.

                         How dependent

One becomes on remedies, their effects familiar

As a flower’s perfumed throat, or a bird’s

Thrilled questioning, like the trace

Of a fingertip along that throat, or now

Between the lines of a book by someone well

I’d taken up to read myself asleep with.


The night watchman, Mr. Day,

having let us in, the elevator’s

pneumatic breath is held,

counting now again to ten.

It’s we who wonder what’s up.

Arriving there follows after

a loss—is it of that push-

button Panic, or Power’s pulley?—

over any grounds for leaving.

The rule is, if you try to hurt

by silence, you’ll find the words

to accuse yourself of speech.

Time to talk back. Say
here, out.

The fingertipped light’s gone out.


Because the door automatically slid

closed against a pointless kiss—

an ashen sulphur-bulb still smoking—

and by reason of a walk refused

out of a mood since despaired of

for effects … no, wait for me!

If you’ll apologize, I’ll go.


The way the dead live in dreams

as ageless ego’s poor relation,

the milksop or wattled Muscovy duck,

every feature, under a merciful eye,

concentrated on “Did you
love me?”

—so there you are, without an answer.


My friend the screenwriter,

the moth in Armani fatigues

under cover of flickering credits,

is in from the coast and down

on his luck. “You’ve no idea

what it’s like to loll

in the hold. The whisperjet

full of studio spies could talk

of nothing else.” At the foot of having

been left to myself, I could

only think of our old days out back,

Vantages lit, the stock company

of headmasters left to the dishes.

We were playing the Landscape Game.

House. Key. Body of water. Beast.

A bowl stood in for art. Yours

had legs that ran all the way home.

It was a backdoor in summer,

your mother calling through

the half-patched screen. The fireflies

in your jar brightened when you shook.


The new stars are coming out.

To ward off another influence

is one priority, but only one.

The other is to catch their light

as a design on us, then call it

hardship up among the heroes.

I go back to what falls

out as advance. Call their bluff

a cloud that blurs the dark

retreating densities. Or call it

hardship, then call to it again

and hear answer:
come up here

and see for yourself.
Even then

I went ahead and answered back.

Who has the last word wins

his forced smile, but only one.


With what? The too familiar

self that ducks behind depressions,

a cigarette and shot on the stoop?

The estranged hubbub of dressing?

How often can one ask, how

do I look? I look alone,

perched in this mare’s nest

of cross-hatched fume and twig.

The newel-post could be a trunk

(packed with, oh, rings of age)

to climb back down on.

This once there’s a footstep,

an echo, a step, then a step.


As good as guilt in front

of his floor-length plea

for the short view of sincerity,

even the blackest has side.

When he’s right, I’m left

donned in flawless arraignment.


What’s over takes the accusative,

shears to the podded scape, shovel

down on the woodchuck’s skull,

the humbling touch, or misfingered

bagatelle that bears down not on

but as the moment. The point’s

to add dependence whether or not

you have the means to support it,

a pedal weight that sticks,

like blood, like brooding,

to make a fool of motive,

love’s long held embarrassment.


First to bloom at last

    this late spring

the crabapple’s a wain

    of white the ox

sun is hauling homeward.

Humbles brawl on top,

    goaded by syrups,

the rut of work so far

    from the wing-lit

hive of their making.

A bent toward folly argues

    for intelligence.

They’ll break with the past

    as with an enemy.

The flowers cry to them!

BOOK: Plundered Hearts
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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