The path to the monument, our teachers say
is as important as the monument itself.
Why have we come
Why were we roused all those dawns to pass
through these, death’s hinterlands?
Climb that hill, children
listen to the stone.
A marbled procession of men guides us
to the monument of fists—how lifelike
their heavy feet hang, how their heads tilt
like broken wings.
We pass quietly along. The path
to the monument is lined with trees—poplars
we cry—and on the hill the stone speaks:
for every one of us, a hundred of you.
History and oblivion dwell in the stone of all monuments.
The victims of fascism remain always hungry.
The heroes of our nation always well fed.
Memorial in our tongue means
bide your time.
At the foot of each monument
the children’s eyes leap to heaven;
on every hill the stone echoes the earth:
for every one of us, a hundred of you.
We learn history in the spring fields
where schoolchildren of the past bled
where a white monument rose among all that’s green
where, resurrected in stone, the schoolchildren of the past sing
for every one of us.
The fire in the oven removes mind from body:
this warm heart beating under a skin of winter.
I sit by the window, the heat a gentle blade.
I close my eyes and ponder the metonymy
of rain: its plop on the pale leaves of a live oak.
But it’s only the melting snow: a metaphor.
I ponder alchemy: a slab of sleet shatters
to the ground to rise again as smoke. I open
my eyes: an icicle hangs from a broken twig:
I think of an artificial limb or the tongue-
eating louse, but it is neither a prosthetic
nor a parasite, just as I’m neither the snow,
windblown, nor the faithful snowdrift.
I’m the window:
cutaneous, taut with a new fragility.
Memory is a kind of digression, a smell
that wanders—and I wonder, O, my lonely child,
of memory’s overbearing, unrequited
loves. With an outsider’s awareness I would stalk
the border of their play: so I walk the borders
of my past, so I turn and I digress, I prowl
the outskirts. And now I remember how I was
never really there among the broken spider
webs hanging from the stone sill, or in the corner
of the yard waiting behind my frank abstraction
for the noon bell to sound.
I was a fugitive
prince read to by his refugee father; in bed
I sailed blue waters toward vague castles on far
blue horizons; in the mornings with my mother
fixing my sleeves in the mirror I wandered deep
deserts toward lone towers burning in the bronze
distance. And now I'm not here until a wayward
noise startles me into recognition: the field,
the children, and the incomprehensible self
reflected in the windowpane, ragged shouts, bloom
of sudden awareness at the smell of dry grass.
Adam Tying a Shoe
What was evoked was postponed in the instant
of its evocation near the lilacs in the dooryard
in the April garden with Adam half-kneeling
and the sheets blooming and a butterfly dipping
between the evocation and the postponement.
What was evoked in the act of bending was
the realization; in the delay of the act, the fear.
What remained was the tree in the sun’s oily gloss,
the shadow of its fruit and leaf upon the grass.
What remained was a backward glance at the gate.
What was evoked was not reconciled in thought
or conquered by time, only postponed. Rising out
from under the shadow over the lilacs in the dooryard
and the lilacs by the gate, what was evoked was neither
experience nor meaning but a postponement of both.
What was evoked near the lilacs in the dooryard
in the undercurrent of rot in the April garden
with the sheets blooming and a butterfly dipping
and Adam half-kneeling in the patient shade
was postponed in the instant of its evocation.
The first day you led me to an apple
orchard. Among the apple trees, below
a serpent smelling of sawdust, we kissed.
Nothing was too old then, not me, not you,
not your dress, with its frayed hem, not the slow
burning afternoons or your shadowed calves.
Back then sparrows tussled for our breadcrumbs
but swallows were still hesitant to come,
each spring graced by vulnerability.
On the fourth day you took me to a well
to show me the deep glisten of water
in the dark: you dropped a pebble, waited.
When you sat astride me all I could see
were the whites of your eyes. Your pleasure came
not like a tremor but like a lament.
Their tails batted the flies from their glowing
flanks, otherwise they didn’t move. You said
it’s like they aren’t here, they’re so damn still.
On the seventh day we rested like gods
who had created life out of nothing
greater than desire and acquiescence.
Allegory of the Cave
Flames cast shadows against the cave wall.
Sleek-leaved ivy climbs the damp limestone.
ring the ritual fire.
Three men lean hearthward with pallbearers’ grace.
The muted rustle of a deer hoof
winds your neck in the night
to catch the tallow stare
between boughs of evergreens.
Sworn to secrecy the woods are ashiver with a whispered word.
But what matters is not the word but the shadow of the word.
Or the shadow of a flame-like leaf or leaf-like flame
reflected against the cave roof.
Or not the shadow but the idea
of leaf and flame. No, not the idea, but the hollow swell
of one voice echoing another in a cave,
that, but also the fire’s warmth at your back.
The men are real for they drink wine
spiced with pinpricks of their own blood
from a rusty aureate chalice.
Precision is the heart of ritual.
Without precision, no grace; without grace
ritual disintegrates into a gathering of men
in a desolate wood
round a parable of fire.
The revolver is real.
You can touch it
to prove it. The sound is a little louder
than the pop of wood in a fire,
flattening out against the mouth’s black throat.