After Hours

We were searching for 
ourselves, after logic 
for no good reason, 
jumping fires to take 
the heat for walking, 
wishing the blue night 
not to fall into the blue 
sky and darken what 
remained. We were 
holding on to music, 
playing the solemn 
string the healing horn, 
rolling back the meadow 
to give innocence one 
more tumble, waiting 
for the breeze to send
the screen door slamming 
open. We were rushing 
with the sea of people 
tiding over curb and 
sidewalk, twilight running 
out of light, a city pacing 
its expansion into the sky, 
block by block, new 
views burying the old,
thinking not thinking 
about the dead. We were 
who we never thought 
we’d be, at the corner 
of expectation and desire, 
the world kind and un-
kind, the rabbits scared 
the palace in ruins,
language failing the earth
in transition, the infinite 
sky divided the clouds 
dispersing premonitions. 
Come evening come 
shade, float us to your 
constellation, let the void 
draw us still; the radiologist 
turn off her light and go.
 

More by Howard Altmann

Offerings

To the night I offered a flower
and the dark sky accepted it
like earth, bedding
for light.

To the desert I offered an apple
and the dunes received it
like a mouth, speaking 
for wind.

To the installation I offered a tree
and the museum planted it
like a man, viewing 
his place.

To the ocean I offered a seed 
and its body dissolved it
like time, composing
a life.

In Vino Veritas


And I gave myself to the poem.
And the poem gave to me.
And I gave myself to the sky.
And the sky gave to me.
And I gave myself to the wind.
And the wind took what I gave
and passed it to the sky.

And I gave myself to women.
And women gave to me.
And I gave myself to the wound.
And the wound gave to me.
And I gave myself to hope.
And hope took what I gave
and passed it to the wound.

And I gave myself to wine.
And wine gave to me.
And I gave myself to candlelight.
And candlelight gave to me.
And I gave myself to memory.
And memory took what I gave
and passed it to candlelight.

And I gave myself to music.
And music gave to me.
And I gave myself to the tree.
And the tree gave to me.
And I gave myself to change.
And change took what I gave
and passed it to the tree.

And I gave myself to silence.
And silence gave to me.
And I gave myself to light.
And light gave to me.
And I gave myself to night.
And night took what I gave
and passed it to the stars. 

Holding Posture

History sits on a chair
in a room without windows.
Mornings it searches for a door,
afternoons it naps.
At the stroke of midnight,
it stretches its body and sighs.
It keeps time and loses time,
knows its place and doesn’t know its place.
Sometimes it considers the chair a step,
sometimes it believes the chair is not there.
To corners it never looks the same.
Under a full moon it holds its own.
History sits on a chair
in a room above our houses.

Related Poems

Loss

The sea called—
you faced the estuary,
you were drowned as the tide passed.—
I am glad of this—
at least you have escaped.

The heavy sea-mist stifles me.
I choke with each breath—
a curious peril, this—
the gods have invented
curious torture for us.

One of us, pierced in the flank,
dragged himself across the marsh,
he tore at the bay-roots,
lost hold on the crumbling bank—

Another crawled—too late—
for shelter under the cliffs.

I am glad the tide swept you out,
O beloved,
you of all this ghastly host
alone untouched,
your white flesh covered with salt
as with myrrh and burnt iris.

We were hemmed in this place,
so few of us, so few of us to fight
their sure lances,
the straight thrust—effortless
with slight life of muscle and shoulder.

So straight—only we were left,
the four of us—somehow shut off.

And the marsh dragged one back,
and another perished under the cliff,
and the tide swept you out.

Your feet cut steel on the paths,
I followed for the strength
of life and grasp.
I have seen beautiful feet
but never beauty welded with strength.
I marvelled at your height.

You stood almost level
with the lance-bearers
and so slight.

And I wondered as you clasped
your shoulder-strap
at the strength of your wrist
and the turn of your young fingers,
and the lift of your shorn locks,
and the bronze
of your sun-burnt neck.

All of this,
and the curious knee-cap,
fitted above the wrought greaves,
and the sharp muscles of your back
which the tunic could not cover—
the outline
no garment could deface.

I wonder if you knew how I watched,
how I crowded before the spearsmen—
but the gods wanted you,
the gods wanted you back.