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.
First there were those who died
Haze. Three student violists boarding
a bus. A clatter of jackhammers.
Granular light. A film of sweat for primer
and the heat for a coat of paint.
A man and a woman on a bench:
she tells him he must be psychic,
for how else could he sense, even before she knew,
that she’ d need to call it off? A bicyclist
fumes by with a coach’ s whistle clamped
The last light of a July evening drained
into the streets below: My love and I had hard
things to say and hear, and we sat over
wine, faltering, picking our words carefully.
The afternoon before I had lain across
my bed and my cat leapt up to lie
alongside me, purring and slowly
growing dozy. By this ritual I could
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
Neither my father nor my mother knew
the names of the trees
where I was born
what is that
I asked and my
father and mother did not
hear they did not look where I pointed
surfaces of furniture held
the attention of their fingers
and across the room they could watch
walls they had forgotten
where there were no questions
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
All the way north on the train the sun
followed me followed me without moving
still the sun of that other morning
when we had gone over Come on over
men at the screen door said to my father
You have to see this it’ s an ape bring
the little boy bring the boy along
Afterward, the compromise.
Bodies resume their boundaries.
These legs, for instance, mine.
Your arms take you back in.
Spoons of our fingers, lips
admit their ownership.
The bedding yawns, a door
blows aimlessly ajar
and overhead, a plane
singsongs coming down.
Nothing is changed, except
there was a moment when
the wolf, the mongering wolf
who stands outside the self
lay lightly down, and slept.
Shall I say how it is in your clothes?
A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.
The dog at the center of my life recognizes
you’ ve come to visit, he’ s ecstatic.
In the left pocket, a hole.
In the right, a parking ticket
delivered up last August on Bay State Road.
In my heart, a scatter like milkweed,
a flinging from the pods of the soul.
My skin presses your old outline.
It is hot and dry inside.
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