After all the days and nights we've spent with Starry Messenger, with Dante, with Plato, his temperance painted as a woman who pours water into a bowl but does not spill, after particle theory and the geologic time of this quartz gilded beneath the roaming gone, composites of limestone calculated down to the animal that laid upon it and quietly died, after hearing how camels carted away the broken Colossus of Rhodes, showing us how to carry and build back our destroyed selves, hearing there was once a hand that first learned to turn an infant right in the womb, that there was, inside Michelangelo, an Isaiah to carve out the David, the idea, the one buried in us who can slay the enormities, after all visions and prophecies that made the heart large, once and again, true or untrue, after learning to shave the gleaming steel down— the weapon, the bomb we make, and the watercolor made after of the dropped-upon crowd, thin strokes over a pale wash— after all this, still one of us can’t know another. Once under an iron sky I listened to a small assemblage of voices. Two by two broke off into the field to strip down the unbroken flock of starling dark between them. The ceremony of the closing in, the hope each to each might not stay tourists before the separate, chiseled ruin of the other: The unspeakable, illegible one before us— this is what the linguists call the dead, isn't it? But how are you, we say, meaning how have you been made, what is wrong, what happened, we ask, how long have you been waiting, are you on my side, can you promise to stay, will you keep the etchings clear on my stone and come visit me, your never-known, will you lean over my ghost how we leaned over the green pools of the Japanese garden, a cluster of lanterns blowing out above us wisp by wisp, a school of koi pausing at the surface, letting us look all the way in until we saw each eye was like a net heaped on shore. Just like our eyes, weren’t they? all accidents, wastes, all saving needs filled and unfilled, the cracked shells, the kelp fronds torn from their buoys, all caught here, inside us— the seven we loved, the six we lost— seaglass the living and the human, alone.
I stared at the ruin, the powder of the dead
now beneath ground, a crowd
assembled and breathing with
indiscernible sadnesses, light
from other light, far off
and without explanation. Somewhere unseen
the ocean deepened then and now
into more ocean, the black fins
of the bony fish obscuring
its bottommost floor, carcasses of mollusks
settling, casting one last blur of sand,
unable to close again. Next to me a woman,
the seventeen pins it took to set
her limb, to keep every part flush with blood.
In the book on the ancient mayfly
which lives only four hundred minutes
and is, for this reason, called ephemeral,
I couldn't understand why the veins laid across
the transparent sheets of wings, impossibly
fragile, weren't blown through in their half-day
of flight. Or how that design has carried the species
through antiquity with collapsing
horses, hailstorms and diffracted confusions of light.
If I remember correctly what's missing
broke off all at once, not into streets
but into rows portioned off for shade as it
fell here, the sun there
where the poled awning ended. Didn't the heat
and dust funnel down
to the condemned as they fought
until the animal took them completely? Didn't at least one stand
I said to myself: Beyond my husband there are strange trees
growing on one of the seven hills.
They look like intricately tended bonsais, but
enormous and with unreachable hollows.
He takes photographs for our black folios,
thin India paper separating one from another.
There is no scientific evidence of consciousness
lasting outside the body. I think when I die
it will be completely.
But it didn't break off all at once.
It turns out there is a fault line under Rome
that shook the theater walls
slight quake by quake. After the empire fell
the arena was left untended
and exotic plants spread a massive overgrowth,
their seeds brought from Asia and Africa, sewn accidentally
in the waste of the beasts.
Like our emptying, then aching questions,
the vessel filled with unrecognizable faunas.
How great is the darkness in which we grope,
William James said, not speaking of the earth, but the mind
split into its caves and plinth from which to watch
its one great fight.
And then, when it is over,
when those who populate your life return
to their curtained rooms and lie down without you,
you are alone, you
When the mayflies emerge it is in great numbers
from lakes where they have lived in nymphal skins
through many molts. At the last
a downy skin is shed and what proofed them
is gone. Above water there is
nothing for them to feed on—
they don't even look, except for each other.
They form hurried swarms in that starving, sudden hour
and mate fully. When it is finished it is said
the expiring flies gather beneath boatlights
or lampposts and die under them minutely,
drifting down in a flock called snowfall.
Nothing wants to break, but this wanted to break,
built for slaughter, open arches to climb through,
lines of glassless squares above, elaborate
pulleys raising the animals on platforms
out of the passaged darkness.
When one is the site of so much pain, one must pray
to be abandoned. When abandonment is
that much more—beauty and terror
before every witness and suddenly
you are not there.