Ah, yes, 't is sweet still to remember,
    Though 't were less painful to forget;
For while my heart glows like an ember,
    Mine eyes with sorrow's drops are wet,
    And, oh, my heart is aching yet.
It is a law of mortal pain
    That old wounds, long accounted well,
    Beneath the memory's potent spell,
Will wake to life and bleed again.

So 't is with me; it might be better
    If I should turn no look behind,—
If I could curb my heart, and fetter
    From reminiscent gaze my mind,
    Or let my soul go blind—go blind!
But would I do it if I could?
    Nay! ease at such a price were spurned;
    For, since my love was once returned,
All that I suffer seemeth good.

I know, I know it is the fashion,
    When love has left some heart distressed,
To weight the air with wordful passion;
    But I am glad that in my breast
    I ever held so dear a guest.
Love does not come at every nod,
    Or every voice that calleth "hasten;"
    He seeketh out some heart to chasten,
And whips it, wailing, up to God!

Love is no random road wayfarer
    Who Where he may must sip his glass.
Love is the King, the Purple-Wearer,
    Whose guard recks not of tree or grass
    To blaze the way that he may pass.
What if my heart be in the blast
    That heralds his triumphant way;
    Shall I repine, shall I not say:
"Rejoice, my heart, the King has passed!"

In life, each heart holds some sad story—
    The saddest ones are never told.
I, too, have dreamed of fame and glory,
    And viewed the future bright with gold;
    But that is as a tale long told.
Mine eyes have lost their youthful flash,
    My cunning hand has lost its art;
    I am not old, but in my heart
The ember lies beneath the ash.

I loved! Why not? My heart was youthful,
    My mind was filled with healthy thought.
He doubts not whose own self is truthful,
    Doubt by dishonesty is taught;
    So loved I boldly, fearing naught.
I did not walk this lowly earth;
    Mine was a newer, higher sphere,
    Where youth was long and life was dear,
And all save love was little worth.

Her likeness! Would that I might limn it,
    As Love did, with enduring art;
Nor dust of days nor death may dim it,
    Where it lies graven on my heart,
    Of this sad fabric of my life a part.
I would that I might paint her now
    As I beheld her in that day,
    Ere her first bloom had passed away,
And left the lines upon her brow.

A face serene that, beaming brightly,
    Disarmed the hot sun's glances bold.
A foot that kissed the ground so lightly,
    He frowned in wrath and deemed her cold,
    But loved her still though he was old.
A form where every maiden grace
    Bloomed to perfection's richest flower,—
    The statued pose of conscious power,
Like lithe-limbed Dian's of the chase.

Beneath a brow too fair for frowning,
    Like moon-lit deeps that glass the skies
Till all the hosts above seem drowning,
    Looked forth her steadfast hazel eyes,
    With gaze serene and purely wise.
And over all, her tresses rare,
    Which, when, with his desire grown weak,
    The Night bent down to kiss her cheek,
Entrapped and held him captive there.

This was Ione; a spirit finer
    Ne'er burned to ash its house of clay;
A soul instinct with fire diviner
    Ne'er fled athwart the face of day,
    And tempted Time with earthly stay.
Her loveliness was not alone
    Of face and form and tresses' hue;
    For aye a pure, high soul shone through
Her every act: this was Ione.


'T was in the radiant summer weather,
    When God looked, smiling, from the sky;
And we went wand'ring much together
    By wood and lane, Ione and I,
    Attracted by the subtle tie
Of common thoughts and common tastes,
    Of eyes whose vision saw the same,
    And freely granted beauty's claim
Where others found but worthless wastes.

We paused to hear the far bells ringing
    Across the distance, sweet and clear.
We listened to the wild bird's singing
    The song he meant for his mate's ear,
    And deemed our chance to do so dear.
We loved to watch the warrior Sun,
    With flaming shield and flaunting crest,
    Go striding down the gory West,
When Day's long fight was fought and won.

And life became a different story;
    Where'er I looked, I saw new light.
Earth's self assumed a greater glory,
    Mine eyes were cleared to fuller sight.
    Then first I saw the need and might
Of that fair band, the singing throng,
    Who, gifted with the skill divine,
    Take up the threads of life, spun fine,
And weave them into soulful song.

They sung for me, whose passion pressing
    My soul, found vent in song nor line.
They bore the burden of expressing
    All that I felt, with art's design,
    And every word of theirs was mine.
I read them to Ione, ofttimes,
    By hill and shore, beneath fair skies,
    And she looked deeply in mine eyes,
And knew my love spoke through their rhymes.

Her life was like the stream that floweth,
    And mine was like the waiting sea;
Her love was like the flower that bloweth,
    And mine was like the searching bee—
    I found her sweetness all for me.
God plied him in the mint of time,
    And coined for us a golden day,
    And rolled it ringing down life's way
With love's sweet music in its chime.

And God unclasped the Book of Ages,
    And laid it open to our sight;
Upon the dimness of its pages,
    So long consigned to rayless night,
    He shed the glory of his light.
We read them well, we read them long,
    And ever thrilling did we see
    That love ruled all humanity,—
The master passion, pure and strong.


To-day my skies are bare and ashen,
    And bend on me without a beam.
Since love is held the master-passion,
    Its loss must be the pain supreme—
    And grinning Fate has wrecked my dream.
But pardon, dear departed Guest,
    I will not rant, I will not rail;
    For good the grain must feel the flail;
There are whom love has never blessed.

I had and have a younger brother,
    One whom I loved and love to-day
As never fond and doting mother
    Adored the babe who found its way
    From heavenly scenes into her day.
Oh, he was full of youth's new wine,—
    A man on life's ascending slope,
    Flushed with ambition, full of hope;
And every wish of his was mine.

A kingly youth; the way before him
    Was thronged with victories to be won;
So joyous, too, the heavens o'er him
    Were bright with an unchanging sun,—
    His days with rhyme were overrun.
Toil had not taught him Nature's prose,
    Tears had not dimmed his brilliant eyes,
    And sorrow had not made him wise;
His life was in the budding rose.

I know not how I came to waken,
    Some instinct pricked my soul to sight;
My heart by some vague thrill was shaken,—
    A thrill so true and yet so slight,
    I hardly deemed I read aright.
As when a sleeper, ign'rant why,
    Not knowing what mysterious hand
    Has called him out of slumberland,
Starts up to find some danger nigh.

Love is a guest that comes, unbidden,
    But, having come, asserts his right;
He will not be repressed nor hidden.
    And so my brother's dawning plight
    Became uncovered to my sight.
Some sound-mote in his passing tone
    Caught in the meshes of my ear;
    Some little glance, a shade too dear,
Betrayed the love he bore Ione.

What could I do? He was my brother,
    And young, and full of hope and trust;
I could not, dared not try to smother
    His flame, and turn his heart to dust.
    I knew how oft life gives a crust
To starving men who cry for bread;
    But he was young, so few his days,
    He had not learned the great world's ways,
Nor Disappointment's volumes read.

However fair and rich the booty,
    I could not make his loss my gain.
For love is dear, but dearer, duty,
    And here my way was clear and plain.
    I saw how I could save him pain.
And so, with all my day grown dim,
    That this loved brother's sun might shine,
    I joined his suit, gave over mine,
And sought Ione, to plead for him.

I found her in an eastern bower,
    Where all day long the am'rous sun
Lay by to woo a timid flower.
    This day his course was well-nigh run,
    But still with lingering art he spun
Gold fancies on the shadowed wall.
    The vines waved soft and green above,
    And there where one might tell his love,
I told my griefs—I told her all!

I told her all, and as she hearkened,
    A tear-drop fell upon her dress.
With grief her flushing brow was darkened;
    One sob that she could not repress
    Betrayed the depths of her distress.
Upon her grief my sorrow fed,
    And I was bowed with unlived years,
    My heart swelled with a sea of tears,
The tears my manhood could not shed.

The world is Rome, and Fate is Nero,
    Disporting in the hour of doom.
God made us men; times make the hero—
    But in that awful space of gloom
    I gave no thought but sorrow's room.
All—all was dim within that bower,
    What time the sun divorced the day;
    And all the shadows, glooming gray,
Proclaimed the sadness of the hour.

She could not speak—no word was needed;
    Her look, half strength and half despair,
Told me I had not vainly pleaded,
    That she would not ignore my prayer.
    And so she turned and left me there,
And as she went, so passed my bliss;
    She loved me, I could not mistake—
    But for her own and my love's sake,
Her womanhood could rise to this!

My wounded heart fled swift to cover,
    And life at times seemed very drear.
My brother proved an ardent lover—
    What had so young a man to fear?
    He wed Ione within the year.
No shadow clouds her tranquil brow,
    Men speak her husband's name with pride,
    While she sits honored at his side—
She is—she must be happy now!

I doubt the course I took no longer,
    Since those I love seem satisfied.
The bond between them will grow stronger
    As they go forward side by side;
    Then will my pains be justified.
Their joy is mine, and that is best—
    I am not totally bereft,
    For I have still the mem'ry left—
Love stopped with me—a Royal Guest!

This poem is in the public domain. 

The light retreats and is generous again.
No you to speak of, anywhere—neither in vicinity nor distance, 

so I look at the blue water, the snowy egret, the lace of its feathers 
shaking in the wind, the lake—no, I am lying. 

There are no egrets here, no water. Most of the time, 
my mind gnaws on such ridiculous fictions. 

My phone notes littered with lines like Beauty will not save you
Or: mouthwash, yogurt, cilantro

A hummingbird zips past me, its luminescent plumage 
disturbing my vision like a tiny dorsal fin. 

But what I want does not appear. Instead, I find the redwoods and pines, 
figs that have fallen and burst open on the pavement, 

announcing that sickly sweet smell,
the sweetness of grief, my prayer for what is gone. 

You are so dramatic, I say to the reflection on my phone, 
then order the collected novels of Jean Rhys. 

She, too, was humiliated by her body, that it wanted
such stupid, simple things: food and cherry wine, to touch someone. 

On my daily walk, I steal Meyer lemons from my neighbors’ yard, 
a small pomegranate. Instead of eating them, 

I observe their casual rot on the kitchen counter, 
this theatre of good things turning into something else.

Copyright © 2021 by Aria Aber. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 19, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

The forest road,
The infinite straight road stretching away
World without end: the breathless road between the walls
Of the black listening trees: the hushed, grey road
Beyond the window that you shut to-night
Crying that you would look at it by day—
There is a shadow there that sings and calls
But not for you. Oh! hidden eyes that plead in sleep
Against the lonely dark, if I could touch the fear
And leave it kissed away on quiet lids—
If I could hush these hands that are half-awake,
Groping for me in sleep I could go free.
I wish that God would take them out of mine
And fold them like the wings of frightened birds
Shot cruelly down, but fluttering into quietness so soon.
Broken, forgotten things; there is no grief for them in the green Spring
When the new birds fly back to the old trees.
But it shall not be so with you. I will look back. I wish I knew that God would stand
Smiling and looking down on you when morning comes,
To hold you, when you wake, closer than I,
So gently though: and not with famished lips or hungry arms:
He does not hurt the frailest, dearest things
As we do in the dark. See, dear, your hair—
I must unloose this hair that sleeps and dreams
About my face, and clings like the brown weed
To drowned, delivered things, tossed by the tired sea
Back to the beaches. Oh! your hair! If you had lain
A long time dead on the rough, glistening ledge
Of some black cliff, forgotten by the tide,
The raving winds would tear, the dripping brine would rust away
Fold after fold of all the loveliness
That wraps you round, and makes you, lying here,
The passionate fragrance that the roses are.
But death would spare the glory of your head
In the long sweetness of the hair that does not die:
The spray would leap to it in every storm,
The scent of the unsilenced sea would linger on
In these dark waves, and round the silence that was you—
Only the nesting gulls would hear—but there would still be whispers in your hair;
Keep them for me; keep them for me. What is this singing on the road
That makes all other music like the music in a dream—
Dumb to the dancing and the marching feet; you know, in dreams, you see
Old pipers playing that you cannot hear,
And ghostly drums that only seem to beat. This seems to climb:
Is it the music of a larger place? It makes our room too small: it is like a stair,
A calling stair that climbs up to a smile you scarcely see,
Dim, but so waited for; and you know what a smile is, how it calls,
How if I smiled you always ran to me.
Now you must sleep forgetfully, as children do.
There is a Spirit sits by us in sleep
Nearer than those who walk with us in the bright day.
I think he has a tranquil, saving face: I think he came
Straight from the hills: he may have suffered there in time gone by,
And once, from those forsaken heights, looked down,
Lonely himself, on all the lonely sorrows of the earth.
It is his kingdom—Sleep. If I could leave you there—
If, without waking you, I could get up and reach the door—!
We used to go together.—Shut, scared eyes,
Poor, desolate, desperate hands, it is not I
Who thrust you off. No, take your hands away—
I cannot strike your lonely hands. Yes, I have struck your heart,
It did not come so near. Then lie you there
Dear and wild heart behind this quivering snow
With two red stains on it: and I will strike and tear
Mine out, and scatter it to yours. Oh! throbbing dust,
You that were life, our little wind-blown hearts!
                              The road! the road!
There is a shadow there: I see my soul,
I hear my soul, singing among the trees!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 14, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.