Character Being a Different Thing from Beauty, Describe the Difference

- 1959-

                 And sometimes, yes, I’d beg for it—
           he’d make me beg: Shy moon, 
                      why shy tonight? 

I heard the geese before I saw them again this morning—
this time, flying north. Above them, thunderheads like doomed 
zeppelins, like whales when sounding, though they brought 
no rain. That’s how I used to write, insisting on ordinary things 
being somehow more than that, that they had to mean something, 
the way disruption can punctuate with meaning an established 

pattern, or as when finding out one’s silence has been mistaken 
for arrogance or, worse, indifference, when all you meant 
was to be kind—retreat, not exile; less the monsters, than 
how we lived beside them, our lives not leaves not trash on an 
updraft that at random carries them then refuses them, can a wind 
refuse. And yet… 

                        Shy moon --

As if doing what we’d always done were enough to be grateful for, 
as if to keep doing it were itself to be grateful. You just forgot, 
that’s all. It’s harder not to forget. How the yard gave way 
like a ragged imperative to a forest of scrub-pines and oak, mostly, 

how a stand of ferns there almost looked, from above, like a boat 
of shadows, coming at last unmoored, and the forest a sea—that 
endless-seeming, that steeped in night-dark, beg for it, why shy
tonight?

Passing

When the Famous Black Poet speaks,
I understand

that his is the same unnervingly slow 
rambling method of getting from A to B
that I hated in my father,
my father who always told me
don't shuffle.

The Famous Black Poet is
speaking of the dark river in the mind
that runs thick with the heroes of color,
Jackie R., Bessie, Billie, Mr. Paige, anyone
who knew how to sing or when to run. 
I think of my grandmother, said
to have dropped dead from the evil eye,
of my lesbian aunt who saw cancer and
a generally difficult future headed her way
in the still water
of her brother's commode.
I think of voodoo in the bottoms of soup-cans,
and I want to tell the poet that the blues
is not my name, that Alabama
is something I cannot use
in my business.

He is so like my father,
I don't ask the Famous Black Poet,
afterwards,
to remove his shoes,
knowing the inexplicable black
and pink I will find there, a cut 
gone wrong in five places.
I don't ask him to remove
his pants, since that too
is known, what has never known
a blade, all the spaces between,
where we differ .  .  .

I have spent years tugging
between my legs,
and proved nothing, really.
I wake to the sheets I kicked aside,
and examine where they've failed to mend
their own creases, resembling some silken
obstruction, something pulled
from my father's chest, a bad heart,
a lung,

the lung of the Famous Black Poet
saying nothing I want to understand. 

Leda, After the Swan

Perhaps,
in the exaggerated grace
of his weight
settling,

the wings
raised, held in
strike-or-embrace
position,

I recognized
something more
than swan, I can't say.

There was just
this barely defined
shoulder, whose feathers
came away in my hands,

and the bit of world
left beyond it, coming down

to the heat-crippled field,

ravens the precise color of
sorrow in good light, neither
black nor blue, like fallen
stitches upon it,

and the hour forever,
it seemed, half-stepping
its way elsewhere--

then
everything, I
remember, began
happening more quickly.

Aubade: Some Peaches, After Storm

So that each
is its own, now—each has fallen, blond stillness.
Closer, above them,
the damselflies pass as they would over water, 
if the fruit were water,
or as bees would, if they weren't
somewhere else, had the fruit found
already a point more steep
in rot, as soon it must, if
none shall lift it from the grass whose damp only 
softens further those parts where flesh
goes soft.

There are those
whom no amount of patience looks likely
to improve ever, I always said, meaning
gift is random, 
assigned here, 
here withheld—almost always
correctly
as it's turned out: how your hands clear
easily the wreckage;
how you stand—like a building for a time condemned,
then deemed historic. Yes. You
will be saved.

Related Poems

Preamble

Childless, I am in a house on the ocean-edge
of a national park. Nights, I consider broadcast horrors. This is not
my house. I am a stranger, a newcomer. So often, too,

is the horror. Passes time. Passes time. Past time lights
up my liturgical tendencies, illumines past time, my lovelies.
Here, in this room, in this house, the light is sometimey as always.

Clouds. Wind and all. Pronounced through windows onto woods, onto lawns.
Say “Light casts its tender hieroglyphs on the mundane
and cataclysmic equally,” and fancify a nothing, go straight

for an inaccuracy that distracts and passes time.

And light comes before the hieroglyph, and (as marker)
these hieroglyphs give meager insight into the “nature” of light beyond
some minor perceptions. And what? Shall I ride the alliterative waves

of articulation and silence that fog my mouth and mind? Or just let
the words like particles roll? See where and what this accrual of syllables gets us?
It’s midday, and you are both years before the you to whom this poem

whispers, before the women with whom these syllables conspire. Lullaby, loves,
this ain’t. I have become a woman who screams softly. Maybe an over-abundance
of caution? Of caustic care? Well, I’ve seen the clips and memes, heard the murmurs

and corporate decisions meant to mark-up and mock the nature of you that’s well beyond
easy perception. In past times,

I’ve been medicated out of my self, locked under
an atmospheric feeling, the condition of which would not relent, which could will “will not”

to relent. Wheels of wheeling won’t re-
lent. Absolve your self sunken between
Breath breath breathe                and the toxic dirt.

Poem Dedicated to Spatola

The sea has white points that I don't know and tempo, so good
it wags good in my embrace, I corrupt sweetly—
and slight it laments the aches at the knee touched to me.
Without spite I remind you of an immense day of joy
but you forget true knowledge. If the night is a
trueful abature I would like again to play with the sweet
belles mister who taught you that giving or the true, is
not true.
 

Sensing sweet tyranny die I recall you,
eager siren—but the face stripped of a lucid prediction
of other faults and docile submissions promotes idiot
hopes in me.
 

Grave misfortunes solicit.
 

The truth is a death entire.

from "ShallCross"

I’m sure there is a word

In English there is always a word

What is that low-flying short-winged bird

Your mother would know

Even if she can’t call up its name

They fly alone notwithstanding

They are abundant

But they fly only the breadth of a field

Traveling silently

It is early yet you said I’m going back to my study

A hand reaching toward your half-turned head

Pale sun filtering through the cloud floor

Passing over a tangle of tensions and angularities

A silver band suddenly visible in the grass

The perennials by the shed identifying

Themselves by vibration alone

The light discolored as candelabrum

From a preceding life your Junoesque

Hand turning the handle to a door carved

From a Tree of Tomorrows

Don’t shut it I said We lack for nothing

Indissolubly connected

Across the lines of our lives

The once the now the then and again