Authors: J.D. McClatchy
the glazed, coarse-grained gesture neither of us
can make for each other. Poor, stupid cat,
where are you? All day the bowls have sat there,
side by side, untouched.
The ocean circles its outer rim,
With dented silver swan-shaped studs
To hold taut the backing, deerskin
Lashed to a frame of olive wood.
Next, as if on shore, a round
Of horsemen, loosening their reins,
Gaining on a prize forever unwon.
The face of each is worked in pain.
(Who once coughed up the Milky Way
And later, maddened, killed his sons
Has guiltily now to undertake
Labors to please a weaker man.)
And then a city with seven gates
Of gold where men are bringing home
A bride in her high-wheeled chariot.
Shrill bridal pipes and their echo
Mingle with the swollen torches,
Women, one foot lifted to the lyre,
And a pack of young men watching
Or laughing in the dance, tired,
Others mounted, galloping past
A field the ploughman’s just turned up.
Sharpened hooks have reaped the last
Bending stalks that children prop
In sheaves. Beside them now a row
Of vines, with ivory tendrils curled
On grapes soon trod upon to draw
Their sweetness for the frightened girl.
(My journal of dreams this month: “One
By one the twelve new monsters yield.”
The doctor says the threat’s begun
To counterattack. Is strength a shield?)
Deeper within stand ranks of men
In warring harness, to hold or sack
The town, while corpses, enemy by friend,
Lie near widows tearing their cheeks—
They could have been alive. The Fates,
Shrouded in black enamel, loom
Behind, clawing a soldier to taste
The blood that drips from an open wound.
And closer still four faces stare—
Panic, Slaughter, Chaos, Dread—
Each knotted to the next one’s hair
By serpents, like the Gorgon’s head.
And here are souls now swept beneath
The world, all made of palest glass,
Their skin and bones long since bequeathed
To earth, where the wandering stars pass.
(The archers squint at a gleaming phalanx,
As if from nowhere moved into place.
Or missile shields in outer space—
Threaten always to turn against
The false-hearted power they excite.
What draws attack is self-defense,
A target for the arrow’s flight.)
And at its very center, a wonder
Held up to see, the figure of Fear
Was hammered fast by fire and thunder.
But only half her face appears.
The other half is turned away,
A quivering lip, one widened eye,
Turned back as if to warn in vain
The armored giant, come to rely
On what protects to terrify,
That while at night his dreams explain
The city and field, the dance, the bride,
A crow is picking at one of the slain.
A sheet of water turned over.
Sedge script. River erasure.
The smoke out of the factory
Stacks drifts to the title page—
Words too big to read, too quickly
Gone to say what they are.
The water turbine is stalled
And sighs. There go last night’s
Now forgotten dreams, airborne,
Homebound, on their way to work.
Again this morning: five-storey elm spoons
Stirring the wheylight, fur on the knobby
Melon rind left in the sink, the china egg
Under the laying hen, the quilt’s missing
Patch, and now the full moon’s steamed-up
Shaving mirror leaning against the blue.
When my daughter died, from the bottom
Of every pleasure something bitter
Rose up, a sour taste of nausea,
The certain sense of having failed
Not to save her but in the end to know
I could not keep her from passing
As through the last, faintest intake
Of breath to somewhere unsure of itself,
The dim landscape that grief supposes.
I remember how, in the hospital,
Without a word she put her glasses on
And stared ahead, just before she died.
I take mine off these days, to see
More of my solitude, its incidental
Humiliations. Nothing satisfies
Its demand that she appear in order
To leave my life over and over again.
If, from my car, I should glimpse her
In a doorway, bright against the dark
Inside, and stop and squint at the glare—
It’s a rag on a barbed-wire fence.
Or I spot her in a sidewalk crowd
But almost at once she disappears
The way one day slips behind the next.
I’ve come to think of her now, in fact,
Or of her ghost I guess you’d have to say,
As the tear that rides and overrides
My eye, so that the edges of things go
Soft, a girl is there and not there.
Even in the dark
The long shadow of the stars
Drifts beneath the pines.
Snagged on a stalk: fresh tufts of rabbit down,
Thistle silk, a thumbnail’s lot of spittle spawn.
Fidgeting among the goateed professors
And parlor radicals at the
The girls whispered to themselves
About the tubercular young Reinhard,
Alone at a corner table, smoking,
Who had introduced them to immortality
By burning a cigarette paper
And as the ash plummeted upward
Die Seele fliegt!
It’s the first breath of the dead
That rises from the firing squad
While the anarchist who squealed
Gets drunk and argues with God.
It’s Shelley’s lung in the lake
And his hand in the ashes on shore.
It’s the finespun shirt he ordered
And the winding sheet he wore.
When the two famous novelists discovered
Each the other in the same dress—
A shot-silk “creation” of orris-dust
Laid on blanched silver, like the irony
That is the conscience of style, obscuring
To clarify, bickering to be forgiven—
One retired with her pale young admirers,
Disdain for whom creamed up in her tea,
To a folly by the buckled apple tree.
She sat and pretended to listen to herself
Being praised, picking at grizzled lichen
On the bench, like drops of blistered enamel.
The other tugged at her pearls and stayed
Near the smiles, her dress insinuated
Among the lead crystal teardrops
On the fixture above her, each one
The size, and now the color, of a blossom
On an apple bough outside, and herself
Inside, tiny and helplessly upsidedown.
The first month of the first marriage.
The second year of the second marriage.
The third betrayal of the third marriage.
And love. Love. Always love.
a deep winter yawn
the wind caught napping
static on the news
charred ozone glaze
the air’s loose skin
the albino’s birthmark
the vinegar mother
a bubble in the artery
the pebble in Demosthenes’ mouth
love asleep at the wheel
childhood stunned and dumped
the philosopher’s divorce
the psychopomp’s coin
self-pity’s last tissue
the blister on the burn
the emptiness added daily
the abstract’s arsenal
quarry of doubts
earthrise from the dark side
the holy sleeve
the beatific blindness
white root of heaven
the hedge around happiness
The sound of it? A silence
Understood as all the noise
Ignored or stifled, nods
Exchanged on the trading floor,
Or sex in the next room,
His hand over her mouth,
Her belt, the overcast leather,
Clenched between his teeth.
Where the needle stuck,
Its hiss and hard swallow
Halfway into the heart
Of the nocturne, two notes
Fell further apart, the space
Between them a darkness
Clotting, the moon
Having passed behind
A black key, then risen
Higher across the record’s
Rutted, familiar road.
Suddenly, lengths of storm gauze
Drawn across the clearing.
We must not want too much
To know. Uncertainty
Condenses on the windshield,
Then runs down the cheek,
A single waxen tear.
When last night’s grief
Is pulled back from,
Who will be the brighter?
Hush. Be careful. Turn
Those headlights down, low
As a curtained candle flame
Shivering in the dark dispelled.
First, the diagnosis: those night sweats
And thrush, the breathing that misplaces air,
The clouds gathering on a horizon of lung …
the word from a dead
Language meant to sound like a swab
On a wound open but everywhere unseen.
Then, the options. There were options,
Left like food trays outside your door.
Protocols, support groups, diets,
A promising treatment.
But three months later
You began to forget the doctor’s appointments,
And the next week no longer cared that you forgot.
The friends who failed to visit, even their letters
Grew hard to parse. It was not as if their “real”
Feelings lay between the lines, but that the lines
Themselves would break apart:
the fight so long
All your work the circumstances remember when.
But remember was precisely what you couldn’t do,
And to pay attention more than you could afford.
The books you’d read now looked back at you
With blank pages memories might fill in
With makeshift, events haphazardly recalled—
Snow swarming on the canal that Christmas
In Venice with Claudio who cried to see it,
Or globes of watery sunlight in your Chelsea flat,
White lilacs at their lips last May, no one there
For a change but just you two.
And here you are
Still, propped up in the half-light, my shadow,
My likeness, your hand wandering to the arm
Of the chair, as if your fingers might trace
The chalkdust of whole years erased.
Is this, then, what it means to lose your life?
But the question is forgotten before it can be
Answered. I take your hand, and give it back
To you, and watch you then look up, giving in,
Unknowing all, whose pain has just begun.
As if layered in a wedge of honey cake,
The aromas of split persimmon,
Mint, cat spray, and cardamom
All mingle with the bitter coffee
On this morning’s scuffed brass tray
Brought into the shop by a cripple with wings.
The match for two Marlboros also now strikes
The end to one loud bit of holy
(“Faith” in Arabic is “
Bargaining at the end of the street.
Peels of old light lie scattered
Outside. Dogs barking. Market day in the souk.
Muhammad deals in goat heads. His rival’s shop
Is beef, swags of lung and counters heaped
With livers like paving stones,
A child-high pile of squat, outsize shins
And marbleized, harelipped hearts—
Food the rich man eats to settle his conscience.
there are flies next door, and a hose to wash
Dung out of the cow guts … which reminds
Muhammad of his brother
Who left to become headwaiter at
Both his grandfathers, his father too, had worked
In this tiled hollow lit by one bare bulb.
Stuck in the mirror are their postcards
Of the Kaaba, the silk-veiled,
Quartz-veined sky-stone, Islam’s one closed eye.
Muhammad hasn’t made his
Required pilgrimage. He went west instead,
The hajj to California, but came up six
Credits shy at Fresno State. (Shy too
Of the girlfriend who’d wanted
To marry “for good,” not a green card.)
So he’s back in the shop now,
Next to a copper tub of boiling water.