somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands
From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.
What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain?
But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain.
“Our glosses / wanting in this world”—“Can you remember?”
Anyone!—“when we thought / the poets taught” even the rain?
After we died—That was it!—God left us in the dark.
And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain.
Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house.
For mixers, my love, you’d poured—what?—even the rain.
Of this pear-shaped orange’s perfumed twist, I will say:
Extract Vermouth from the bergamot, even the rain.
How did the Enemy love you—with earth? air? and fire?
He held just one thing back till he got even: the rain.
This is God’s site for a new house of executions?
You swear by the Bible, Despot, even the rain?
After the bones—those flowers—this was found in the urn:
The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain.
What was I to prophesy if not the end of the world?
A salt pillar for the lonely lot, even the rain.
How the air raged, desperate, streaming the earth with flames—
To help burn down my house, Fire sought even the rain.
He would raze the mountains, he would level the waves;
he would, to smooth his epic plot, even the rain.
New York belongs at daybreak to only me, just me—
To make this claim Memory’s brought even the rain.
They’ve found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these?
No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.
From Call Me Ishmael Tonight by Agha Shahid Ali. Copyright © 2003 by the Agha Shahid Ali Literary Trust. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
—for R.C. Quick
I saw him in the summers when the leaves were green.
Down by the lake where ivy covered the ground. Where
The dogwood’s new pale moon flowers browned
At the edge by brittle June. I saw him then
Fishing for lake trout throwing the sunfish too bony
Back. The sun moved across the sky, around the earth,
A day, a day, and bees, those day-laborers, heaved
Pollen and carried a sting, and bore on their gleaming
Backs a stripe of day and a stripe of night, of night,
A robber moon, thief of her own life, and in the hive
Round as the moon, they locked the work of the field
Away in wax vaults, food for Time to eat some other
Time, the bees.
In the fall I went away to where I lived
The year. He’d walk the changed woods gathering
Leaves no longer living—cast in the color shroud
Of no one’s weaving—a brighter thought thinks
The gold-finch dull, though the cardinal pretends
Not to notice or know—and taking death’s small portion
Home, dipped the leaves in paraffin wax. Let them dry.
Let them cool. Put them in a department store box
And sent them through the air to my home.
I could be there with him in the woods in no other
Way. No other path led to the maple leaf’s dying-sun-
Red larger than my hand that held it. No other path
Led to the oak leaf’s cinder-glow-below-dark-ash
Orange. The dark-faith-sunspot-hours of yellow
Beech. The minutes-of-green-flame-faith buried
Within the darkening love of the almond leaf.
Leaf by leaf I took them out and put them on
The floor, and when there was no more, I put
Them back in the empty box, fit on the lid, and hid
New memory in the closet with the other dead
Closet where as I child I hid myself and hid
My fears. From where in the night I could hear
Voices speak my name, could hear a song play
On a cylinder of wax, a violence, a violin, a piano
Note beneath the static and the static like a heartbeat
Throbbed, like a sudden wind blown through
The mind-tree’s wax-covered leaves a wind
That suddenly dies—the voices, they were legion,
The chorus in the blood, mumbling out the grave
Delay, gravel on the cemetery driveway, the stones
Time wears away, time wears away their names.
Child-no-longer-young who used to play.
Dipping finger in the candle wax and peeling it off
Like another skin. The fingerprint lit up by flame.
Melting it. Doing it again. And that other finger.
The one not yours. The one not seen by anyone.
That finger that pressing down on the mind’s hard wax
Softens it. Then there is nothing that won’t
Make its impression—sun-script on small waves,
Sun-page on flat stone, sun-shaft shot down
Through the canopy-maze of the dark leaves,
The bright spot on the ground. And more. More
Faces. The people I love. Strangers. The music
Of their least thought words—the baby’s sleeping
With his mouth open; I don’t think that’s how you spell it;
The weatherman got it wrong—helplessly recorded
On the wax-hemisphere until so many voices
Overlap no single voice remains. Not a chorus.
A chaos. A static. A hum.
And then some voice
Asks you what you think.
And then some voice
Asks you to think:
I think the beehive looks like
The full moon that lights it up—the mind says
To itself—I think the child’s hand is an oak leaf—
A theory—what the soul says to itself—is thinking—
So many leaves—the eye says to itself—from trees
Fall down into the wax—I know—the edges
Touch and the wax melds—and I don’t know—
The leaves together—what I know—can’t be told
Apart—says the tongue to itself—all by itself—
What I know I can’t tell—I can’t pull it apart—
But there are other theories—says the mind
Of the mind. No ball of wax
Into which the falling leaves fall and leave
Memory: always a world, never the—.
There are the birds:
For-I-am-not-yours scarlet tanager—.
The wound-I-bear-I-do-not-feel rose-breasted
Grosbeak—. The who-clasped-around-my-neck-
This-chain-if-not-God dove—. The I-carry-the-sun-
On-my-back bobolink—. The I-wear-the-sun-
Between-my-eyes white-throated sparrow—.
Oriole that weaves a tear from tufts of deer
And thistle down—. Hermit thrush who cries
Inside her song—. There are the
Each a body. Each a kind of knowledge
Flying through the columbarium
And to catch one is to know. Know what?
forgot. What is good—.
What is love—. What is the geometric proof
Of God or love written on the dusky wing
Of the mourning dove—.
For grubs in the dust in which it bathes—.
The pigeon’s red foot—. Aren’t there
Other wounds flying through the air—
Wonders than honor-in-war and words worse
the broken gold gears
In the blue jay’s throat—
the crow that dares
The kid with a bb-gun to shoot—.
But shouldn’t we
Imagine there are other kinds of birds, birds
Of ignorance flying about the soul with those others?—
Flying about those woods?—
nesting in nothing
But the hand that cups it, catches it—
sings a song
gives what cannot be taught
But only caught—
the blank behind the eye—
the empty vault—
Copyright © 2017 by Dan Beachy-Quick. “Memory-Wax, Knowledge-Bird” originally appeared in New England Review. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Do you still remember: falling stars,
how they leapt slantwise through the sky
like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles
of our wishes—did we have so many?—
for stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere;
almost every gaze upward became
wedded to the swift hazard of their play,
and our heart felt like a single thing
beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance—
and was whole, as if it would survive them!
“Do you still remember: falling stars,” from Uncollected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow. Translation copyright © 1996 by Edward Snow.