After Reading Kobayashi Issa’s The Spring of My Life On My 49th Birthday

On a dull December day it’s never noon 
more briefly, though what a relief 
to look around and realize our lies, in the long run,
won’t last long. 

                       I feel like the nail 
holding up someone else’s painting.
My thoughts are the loose thing 
in the dishwasher only I can hear.
When I say, Snow, what will become of this world?
it says, I was not taught future tense.

                        Through the window, 
after the heavy storm, I can follow mysterious 
paw prints to the spot along the fence 
where, in summer, the neighbors like to whisper.
They’ve taken their secrets inside.
It’s left a silence so complete, so free 
of ambition, it feels possible to know forgiveness, 
which hammered thinner than memory
carries a brighter light.

Upon Discovering My Entire Solution to the Attainment of Immortality Erased from the Blackboard Except the Word 'Save'

If you have seen the snow
somewhere slowly fall
on a bicycle,
then you understand
all beauty will be lost
and that even loss
can be beautiful.
And if you have looked
at a winter garden
and seen not a winter garden
but a meditation on shape,
then you understand why
this season is not
known for its words,
the cold too much 
about the slowing of matter,
not enough about the making of it.
So you are blessed
to forget this way:
jump rope in the ice melt,
a mitten that has lost its hand,
a sun that shines
as if it doesn't mean it.
And if in another season
you see a beautiful woman
use her bare hands
to smooth wrinkles
from her expensive dress
for the sake of dignity,
but in so doing reveal
the outlines of her thighs,
then you will remember
surprise assumes a space
that has first been forgotten,
especially here, where we
rarely speak of it,
where we walk out onto the roofs
of frozen lakes
simply because we're stunned
we really can.

The World as Seen Through a Glass of Ice Water

There are a billion reasons to look down
into a casket, but just one way to lie in it dead,
which proves there isn't anything 
you can think of that isn't here for the living,
who are each alive for a short time
in a very different way. 
After she moves out, one tears up grass blades
to watch which way the wind blows.
Just over there, another buried his favorite dog
and now look at that tree! 
Would you like to model for me?
says the lousy painter 
to every woman who walks within earshot.
Feeling a little dead?
Maybe you spend a weekend 
faking a French accent,
maybe you buy an even more expensive stereo
and build a separate and self-sufficient world
inside the garage. 
Something happens something happens something happens.
Repetition repetition repetition. 
The saddest painting I ever saw 
was on the carpet in my friend's hallway
where he tripped one night
carrying a gallon of red.
This was just before the divorce.
Just after he told me he was trapped 
inside some idea of himself,
one he swore bore no relation
to what the rest of us had been seeing.
"Nice shirt" has always meant too many things.

L'Avenir est Quelque Chose

All day for too long
everything I’ve thought to say
has been about umbrellas,
how I can’t remember how
I came to possess whatever weird one
I find in my hand, like now,
how they hang there on brass hooks
in the closet like failed actors,
each one tiny or too huge,
like ideas, always needing
to be shaken off and folded up
before we can properly forget them on the train.
Most of my predictions are honestly
just hopes: a sudden sundress in March,
regime change in the North, the one where Amanda
wins the big book award from the baby boomers.
There’s that green and white umbrella
the cereal company interns handed us
outside the doomed ball game,
the one just for sun,
the one with the wooden handle
as crooked as the future
that terrifies me whenever one of us uses it
as a stand-in for a dance partner.
You once opened it in the living room
so Scarlett could have a picnic
beneath something that felt to her like a tent
as it felt to me like my prediction
we would live forever was already true.
When I want to try to understand now
I tend to look up and how
truth be untold, I might see nothing
more than a few thousand pinholes in black nylon,
it’s enough to get you to Greece and back,
or something to kiss beneath,
who knows how this is going to play out?
I know you won’t ever be able to say
exactly what you’re feeling either,
the way worry might pop open overhead
like fireworks oozing pure midnight —
will we ever see the sun? —
the way we’re sure to pull closer
to whatever’s between us, the rain playing
the drum that’s suddenly us.

Related Poems

from "Thoreau"

In the essay “A Winter Walk,” which predated the more famous essay “Walking”
by a few years, Thoreau paid particular attention to the astonishing array of whites

from fog to snow to frost to the crystals growing outward on threads of light. The
fact that white is separately known. That it is its own wildness, entirely exterior,

like all weather you notice is a version of an open room coming through
the wind in prisms. White holds light in a suspended state, unleashing it later

across a field of snow or a sheet of water at just the right angle to make the surface
a solid, and on we go walking. Goethe’s Theory of Colors depicted each one

as an intense zone of human activity overflowing its object into feeling there is
a forest through which something white is flying through a wash of white, which is

the presence of all colors until red, for instance, is needed for a bird or green
for a world.

The Snow (Stands to My Waist), (Like) Me (Falls Still)

Winter, friend, I get it. We are having a long talk 
and have just gotten into the thick of it.  

Days ago the signs were there.  
I was the only thing dark and moving 

through the white woods, and my leg kept leaving me
small grey commas of ice seen coming back.  

This is a very long talk we’ve been having. My body already knew 
and began to make an important list.

[‘Tis the first snow—]

’Tis the first snow—
Just enough to bend
The gladiolus leaves!

 

 

 

                                              —Translation by William George Aston