Both of us had been close
to Joel, and at Joel’ s death
my friend had gone to the wake
and the memorial service
and more recently he had
visited Joel’ s grave, there
at the back of the grassy
cemetery among the trees,
“a quiet, gentle place,” he said,
“befitting Joel.” And I said,
“What’ s the point of going
to look at graves?” I went
into one of my celebrated
Both of us had been close
You died. And because you were Greek they gave you
a coin to carry under your tongue and then also
biscuits and honey. When you came to the riverbank
you saw a crazy-looking black bumboat on the water
with a figure standing in it, lanky and dressed
darkly, holding a sweep. You were taken across,
and you gave your coin for the passage, and continued
Was I so poor
in those damned days
that I went in the dark
in torn shoes
to steal fat ears
of cattle corn
from the good cows
and pound them
like hard maize
on my worn Aztec
stone? I was.
You rose from our embrace and the small light spread
like an aureole around you. The long parabola
of neck and shoulder, flank and thigh I saw
permute itself through unfolding and unlimited
minuteness in the movement of your tall tread,
the spine-root swaying, the Picasso-like éclat
of scissoring slender legs. I knew some law
of Being was at work. At one time I had said
that love bestows such values, and so it does,
but the old man in his canto was right and wise:
ubi amor ibi ocullus est.
Just over the horizon a great machine of death is roaring and rearing.
We can hear it always. Earthquake, starvation, the ever-renewing sump of corpse-flesh.
But in this valley the snow falls silently all day, and out our window
We see the curtain of it shifting and folding, hiding us away in our little house,
We see earth smoothened and beautified, made like a fantasy, the snow-clad trees
So graceful. In our new bed, which is big enough to seem like the north pasture almost
That gaunt old man came first, his hair as white
As your scoured tables. Maybe you’ ll recollect him
By the scars of steelmill burns on the backs of his hands,
On the nape of his neck, on his arms and sinewy legs,
And her by the enduring innocence
Of her face, as open to all of you in death
As it would have been in life: she would memorize
Your names and ages and pastimes and hometowns
If she could, but she can’ t now, so remember her.
Clear night, thumb-top of a moon, a back-lit sky.
Moon-fingers lay down their same routine
On the side deck and the threshold, the white keys and the black keys.
Bird hush and bird song. A cassia flower falls.
I want to be bruised by God.
I want to be strung up in a strong light and singled out.
I want to be stretched, like music wrung from a dropped seed.
I want to be entered and picked clean.
The spider, juiced crystal and Milky Way, drifts on his web through the night sky
And looks down, waiting for us to ascend...
At dawn he is still there, invisible, short of breath, mending his net.
All morning we look for the white face to rise from the lake like a tiny star.
And when it does, we lie back in our watery hair and rock.
Ancient of Days, old friend, no one believes you’ ll come back.
No one believes in his own life anymore.
The moon, like a dead heart, cold and unstartable, hangs by a thread
At the earth’ s edge,
Unfaithful at last, splotching the ferns and the pink shrubs.
In the other world, children undo the knots in their tally strings.
They sing songs, and their fingers blear.
Twelve people, most of us strangers, stand in a room
in Ann Arbor, drinking Cribari from jars.
Then two young men, who cooked him,
carry him to the table
on a large square of plywood: his body
striped, like a tiger cat’ s, from the basting,
his legs long, much longer than a cat’ s,
and the striped hide as shiny as vinyl.