When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.
Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness
Gradually, he thought, he'd introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she'd find it comforting.
A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn't everyone want love?
He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.
Doesn't everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—
That's what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there'd be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.
Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn't imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.
He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you
but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you're dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.
"A Myth of Devotion" from Averno by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
That's what misery is, Nothing to have at heart. It is to have or nothing. It is a thing to have, A lion, an ox in his breast, To feel it breathing there. Corazon, stout dog, Young ox, bow-legged bear, He tastes its blood, not spit. He is like a man In the body of a violent beast. Its muscles are his own . . . The lion sleeps in the sun. Its nose is on its paws. It can kill a man.
From The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens and renewed in 1982 by Holly Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
as the sun descended and the world fell in line across the water in a thin spectrum I watched a shadow cross the crusted sweating snow searching for the one it was, the space it would someday fill the anxious outline flit across the surface like an animal let loose who soon gets lost and stops and strains its neck, its frantic eyes scrape from side to side the shadow, like the bony field stood still and watched the dwindled light, like a figure wrapped in cloth--- unrecognizeable, generic soon the thin upper slice hung on its side like a loose spoke and the shadow fell asleep beneath it the next time the sun came up, it didn't know where it was like a tongue that can't be traced to its source or a song whose sound circles its form an amorphous throat lurked the field it answered its cry with its cry soon, it didn't matter where I looked, how much I tried, if I condensed or pumped my mind, if I held my hand or left it alone It was like, not really like, like keys scraping misfit holes
Copyright © 2010 by Priscilla Becker. Used with permission of the author.
I I came up out of the subway and there were people standing on the steps as if they knew something I didn't. This was in the Cold War, and nuclear fallout. I looked and the whole avenue was empty, I mean utterly, and I thought, The birds have abandoned our cities and the plague of silence multiplies through their arteries, they fought the war and they lost and there's nothing subtle or vague in this horrifying vacuum that is New York. I caught the blare of a loudspeaker repeatedly warning the last few people, maybe strolling lovers in their walk, that the world was about to end that morning on Sixth or Seventh Avenue with no people going to work in that uncontradicted, horrifying perspective. It was no way to die, but it's also no way to live. Well, if we burnt, it was at least New York. II Everybody in New York is in a sitcom. I'm in a Latin American novel, one in which an egret-haired viejo shakes with some invisible sorrow, some obscene affliction, and chronicles it secretly, till it shows in his face, the parenthetical wrinkles confirming his fiction to his deep embarrassment. Look, it's just the old story of a heart that won't call it quits whatever the odds, quixotic. It's just one that'll break nobody's heart, even if the grizzled colonel pitches from his steed in a cavalry charge, in a battle that won't make him a statue. It is the hell of ordinary, unrequited love. Watch these egrets trudging the lawn in a dishevelled troop, white banners trailing forlornly; they are the bleached regrets of an old man's memoirs, printed stanzas. showing their hinged wings like wide open secrets. III Who has removed the typewriter from my desk, so that I am a musician without his piano with emptiness ahead as clear and grotesque as another spring? My veins bud, and I am so full of poems, a wastebasket of black wire. The notes outside are visible; sparrows will line antennae like staves, the way springs were, but the roofs are cold and the great grey river where a liner glides, huge as a winter hill, moves imperceptibly like the accumulating years. I have no reason to forgive her for what I brought on myself. I am past hating, past the longing for Italy where blowing snow absolves and whitens a kneeling mountain range outside Milan. Through glass, I am waiting for the sound of a bird to unhinge the beginning of spring, but my hands, my work, feel strange without the rusty music of my machine. No words for the Arctic liner moving down the Hudson, for the mange of old snow moulting from the roofs. No poems. No birds. IV The Sweet Life Café If I fall into a grizzled stillness sometimes, over the red-chequered tablecloth outdoors of the Sweet Life Café, when the noise of Sunday traffic in the Village is soft as a moth working in storage, it is because of age which I rarely admit to, or, honestly, even think of. I have kept the same furies, though my domestic rage is illogical, diabetic, with no lessening of love though my hand trembles wildly, but not over this page. My lust is in great health, but, if it happens that all my towers shrivel to dribbling sand, joy will still bend the cane-reeds with my pen's elation on the road to Vieuxfort with fever-grass white in the sun, and, as for the sea breaking in the gap at Praslin, they add up to the grace I have known and which death will be taking from my hand on this chequered tablecloth in this good place.
From White Egrets by Derek Walcott. Copyright © 2010 by Derek Walcott. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.
In paths untrodden,
In the growth by margins of pond-waters,
Escaped from the life that exhibits itself,
From all the standards hitherto publish'd, from the pleasures, profits, conformities,
Which too long I was offering to feed my soul,
Clear to me now standards not yet publish'd, clear to me that my soul,
That the soul of the man I speak for rejoices in comrades,
Here by myself away from the clank of the world,
Tallying and talk'd to here by tongues aromatic,
No longer abash'd, (for in this secluded spot I can respond as I would not dare elsewhere,)
Strong upon me the life that does not exhibit itself, yet contains all the rest,
Resolv'd to sing no songs to-day but those of manly attachment,
Projecting them along that substantial life,
Bequeathing hence types of athletic love,
Afternoon this delicious Ninth-month in my forty-first year,
I proceed for all who are or have been young men,
To tell the secret of my nights and days,
To celebrate the need of comrades.
Courtesy of Penguin Classics.
On my way home from school up tribal Providence Hill past the Academy ballpark where I could never hope to play I scuffed in the drainage ditch among the sodden seethe of leaves hunting for perfect stones rolled out of glacial time into my pitcher’s hand; then sprinted lickety- split on my magic Keds from a crouching start, scarcely touching the ground with my flying skin as I poured it on for the prize of the mastery over that stretch of road, with no one no where to deny when I flung myself down that on the given course I was the world’s fastest human.
Around the bend that tried to loop me home dawdling came natural across a nettled field riddled with rabbit-life where the bees sank sugar-wells in the trunks of the maples and a stringy old lilac more than two stories tall blazing with mildew remembered a door in the long teeth of the woods. All of it happened slow: brushing the stickseed off, wading through jewelweed strangled by angel’s hair, spotting the print of the deer and the red fox’s scats. Once I owned the key to an umbrageous trail thickened with mosses where flickering presences gave me right of passage as I followed in the steps of straight-backed Massassoit soundlessly heel-and-toe practicing my Indian walk.
Past the abandoned quarry where the pale sun bobbed in the sump of the granite, past copperhead ledge, where the ferns gave foothold, I walked, deliberate, on to the clearing, with the stones in my pocket changing to oracles and my coiled ear tuned to the slightest leaf-stir. I had kept my appointment. There I stood in the shadow, at fifty measured paces, of the inexhaustible oak, tyrant and target, Jehovah of acorns, watchtower of the thunders, that locked King Philip’s War in its annulated core under the cut of my name. Father wherever you are I have only three throws bless my good right arm. In the haze of afternoon, while the air flowed saffron, I played my game for keeps— for love, for poetry, and for eternal life— after the trials of summer.
In the recurring dream my mother stands in her bridal gown under the burning lilac, with Bernard Shaw and Bertie Russell kissing her hands; the house behind her is in ruins; she is wearing an owl’s face and makes barking noises. Her minatory finger points. I pass through the cardboard doorway askew in the field and peer down a well where an albino walrus huffs. He has the gentlest eyes. If the dirt keeps sifting in, staining the water yellow, why should I be blamed? Never try to explain. That single Model A sputtering up the grade unfurled a highway behind where the tanks maneuver, revolving their turrets. In a murderous time the heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking. It is necessary to go through dark and deeper dark and not to turn. I am looking for the trail. Where is my testing-tree? Give me back my stones!
Out of the fog comes a little white bus.
It ferries us south to the technical mouth
of the bay. This is biopharma, Double Helix Way.
In the gleaming canteen, mugs have been
dutifully stacked for our dismantling,
a form of punishment.
Executives take the same elevator as I.
This one’s chatty, that one’s gravely engrossed
in his cloud. Proximity measures shame.
I manage in an office, but an office
that faces a hallway, not the bay. One day
I hope to see the bay that way. It all began
in the open, a cubicle—there’s movement.
My door is always open, even when I shut it.
I sit seven boxes below the CEO
on the org chart. It’s an art, the value-add,
the compound noun. Calendar is a verb.
To your point, the kindest prepositional phrase.
Leafy trees grow a short walk from Building 5.
Take a walk. It might be nice to lie and watch the smoky
marrow rise and fall, and rise. Don’t shut your eyes.
Not nostalgia but the bluer salt of longing, not sentiment but the smutted sky raining bitter sediment, not our winding blunder down into that wound, not the ash-riddled grotto nor the blood-orange blown-open
Not the mineral rash’s voice dubbed across the final unspooling reel, not that, whatever promise the book held, not what she said or he did or they might next, not that, nor a flitter of birds, hands—lifting a cup, flipping a page, tucking a strand, nor the ear, behind which, filling with each sweet rising note or tinkling descent
Not the delicacy of a single wish, nor the now-cracked face of a once-ticking, once-pocketed watch
No filament long enough
No longer meshing, days before and those after, teeth of a zipper left to gape
An idling car, a parked pick-up, who hides in plain light who hides and why, cloaked in a troubled forest of unsayable tint
And which human desire does this resemble, which cosseting vest to cross the heart, which chilled sweat, which strait-jacketed vestment, which surely-numbing drone between temples
Faith in what
No walls, no shelves
No end to the well’s filling, the far-away sea’s waxy surge in a hole dug by anyone no matter, a relentless urge to pick the itch, the ooze, the scab, the meniscus of every hour finally spilling over, over, over
But sound, but imprinted air
No end to the fraught tingle of phantom-limbs forever-after-not-but-there
Splinters the alley’s new stuttering currency, pocked, crumbling, indiscriminate coinage of returning light, triage of needling memory, a narrow strait to navigate, some beast, uneasy passage of meat into pure spirit, and every anguished ether-shard hive-swarming then hushed
Not silent but charged: listen...
Every letter, accounted for but in a different more urgent order
In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.
I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash
And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.
From New and Collected Poems, published by Harcourt Brace, 1988. Copyright © 1969 by Richard Wilbur. All rights reserved. Used with permission.