First there were those who died
before I was born.
It was as if they had just left
and their shadows would
slip out after them
under the door so recently closed
the air in its path was still
swirling to rest.
Some of the furniture came from them,
I was told, and one day
I opened two chests
of drawers to learn what the dead kept.
Arts & Sciences
First there were those who died
There’ s a crack in this glass so fine we can’ t see it,
and in the blue eye of the candleflame’ s needle
there’ s a dark fleck, a speck of imperfection
that could contain, like a microchip, an epic
treatise on beauty, except it’ s in the eye of the beheld.
And at the base of our glass there’ s nothing
Rather than hold his hands properly
arched off the keys, like cats
with their backs up,
Monk, playing block chords,
hit the keys with his fingertips well
above his wrists,
shoulders up, wrists down, scarce
room for the pencil, ground
freshly to a point,
piano teachers love to poke
into the palms of junior
pianists with lazy hands.
The wallful of quoted passages from his work,
with the requisite specimens pinned next
to their literary cameo appearances, was too good
a temptation to resist, and if the curator couldn’ t,
why should we? The prose dipped and shimmered
and the “flies,” as I heard a buff call them, stood
Long after Ovid’ s story of Philomela
has gone out of fashion and after the testimonials
of Hafiz and Keats have been smothered in comment
and droned dead in schools and after Eliot has gone home
from the Sacred Heart and Ransom has spat and consigned
to human youth what he reduced to fairy numbers
after the name has become slightly embarrassing
and dried skins have yielded their details and tapes have been
Thinking of rain clouds that rose over the city
on the first day of the year
in the same month
I consider that I have lived daily and with
eyes open and ears to hear
these years across from St Vincent’ s Hospital
above whose roof those clouds rose
She was twenty-two. He was fifty-three,
a duke, a widower with ten children.
They met in Paris, each in exile from
the English Civil War. Virginal
and terrified, still she agreed
to marry him. Though women were mere chattel
spinsterhood made you invisible
in the sixteen hundreds. Marriage was arranged
— hers a rare exception. Despite a dowry
a woman never could own property.
Your womb was just for rent. Birth control
contrivances — a paste of ants, cow dung
Carpenters whose wives have run off
Are sometimes discovered weeping on the job.
But even then they don’ t complain of their work.
Whitman’ s father was a carpenter.
He was so happy hammering houses
That he jumped with a shout from the roof beam
And rolled with a yawp in the timothy.
This led his son to conclude wrongly
That all workmen are singers.
We here at Progressive Health would like to thank you
For being one of the generous few who've promised
To bequeath your vital organs to whoever needs them.
Now we'd like to give you the opportunity
To step out far in front of the other donors
By acting a little sooner than you expected,
When deeds splay before us
precious as gold & unused chances
stripped from the whine-bone,
we know the moment kindheartedness
walks in. Each praise be
echoes us back as the years uncount
themselves, eating salt. Though blood
first shaped us on the climbing wheel,
the human mind lit by the savanna’ s
ice star & thistle rose,
your knowing gaze enters a room
& opens the day,
saying we were made for fun.
Even the bedazzled brute knows
when sunlight falls through leaves