You sleep with a dream of summer weather,
wake to the thrum of rain—roped down by rain.
Nothing out there but drop-heavy feathers of grass  
and rainy air. The plastic table on the terrace
has shed three legs on its way to the garden fence.     
The mountains have had the sense to disappear.  
It's the Celtic temperament—wind, then torrents, then remorse.
Glory rising like a curtain over distant water.
Old stonehouse, having steered us through the dark,
docks in a pool of shadow all its own.
That widening crack in the gloom is like good luck.
Luck, which neither you nor tomorrow can depend on.

More by Anne Stevenson

On Reflection

That fire in the garden's an illusion—
the double of the fire that cheers this room.
Now standing at the window in between them,
I watch the spiked montbretia suddenly bloom
and guess the glass is telling me a lie. 
But no, the flames are there. I can't deny
the evidence presented to my eye. 
Only to my doubt can I appeal 
for news of what is false and what is real.

All those Attempts in the Changing Room!

          An Interrupted Monologue by Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1630

Look for me
where I learned to look for myself, 
in my ring of attempts
in the light of a sinking candle.

A candle?

       My soul, if you will.
My paintings bear witness to its
long affair with the real.
My flesh preferred games and counterfeits.

Counterfeits?

       My portraits!
The diary I kept in pigments.
This youthful 'me'—one instance—
in a beret and swaggering chain.
The sneer on my lips?
       That's Envy spurring Ambition.
The gold of my cheek and chin?
       There's the cost of pretence. 

So I played to the glass,
desiring the sweets of applause,
every morning delivered my face
to a rasher cause:
       van Rijn, the actor, the lover,
       the courtier, the beggar,
       the burgher, the sinner, 
       the saint, the seducer…

The more lies I told under cover
the truer they were. 
God save me! My pictures, whatever my will,
told the truth to my eyes!

And that was your genius.

My ingenium? Christ's punishing muscle!
God was always at war with my skill. 

With your skill?

More likely the Devil.
Oh, my struggles with God
rivalled Jacob's with the angel.
Even as a young man, I knew where I stood:
Here was God.  Here was Lucifer.
I prayed to them both, damned both, 
took from both when I could.

From Lucifer, his light—ochre bronze and lead-white.
A fine brush for elegance—linen and gold—
His greed to paint glory and splendour in firelight—

But from the Lord God, eyes.

And when He handed me eyes,
I knew I'd never escape them.
I shrunk them, I botched them again and again
in the shade of my hair or my hat.
I surrounded my forehead with shadows,
wore black and more black.
 
But my eyes still insist that I judge
myself through them—
myself in the changing room of myself,
myself in Act One on the world's stage,
my root nose—lecherous, cruel, pocked, thick,
my smooth skin bared for the plague,
myself who would see myself mocked in old age,
poor, unrepentant, penniless...sick, sick! 

Self-portrait as a young man?
Ignorant, egotistical, clever young man.
Who could know then
what I'd be in years to come?
Or what eventually did or must happen?

Related Poems

Rain

I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;

one big thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score
before the act, before the blame, 
before the lens pulls through the frame

to where the woman sits alone
beside a silent telephone
or the dress lies ruined on the grass
or the girl walks off the overpass,

and all things flow out from that source
along their fatal watercourse.
However bad or overlong
such a film can do no wrong,

so when his native twang shows through
or when the boom dips into view
or when her speech starts to betray
its adaptation from the play, 

I think to when we opened cold
on a starlit gutter, running gold
with the neon drugstore sign
and I'd read into its blazing line: 

forget the ink, the milk, the blood—
all was washed clean with the flood
we rose up from the falling waters
the fallen rain's own sons and daughters

and none of this, none of this matters.