At the time the time felt well spent but now
I see it was wasted. Not a waste—it just had
no point—no shape—no hourglass’ tapering
waist. At a certain point, bliss gets replaced
by disinterest. If you will allow me for once
to be honest. I left the sea’s lacy wake, waking
each day well-rested, untested, unmet. Nothing
was going to change, and that was the point.
The seabirds sang: Protect your gifts! burying
their doomed eggs in the sand—sand to heat,
to melt, shape into that chalice of time: bulb
upon bulb, curvaceous, urgent as an aging
odalisque. It was a version of love not meant
to set—the best—not trashed, but wholly left
to the mists of that idly mown lawn, the little
boat trolling a coast, bereft of tide or tempest.

More by Nathaniel Bellows

Russian Birch

Is it agony that has bleached them to such beauty? Their stand 
is at the edge of our property—white spires like fingers, through which
the deer emerge with all the tentative grace of memory. Your father

loved these trees. When you try to imagine his childhood, it is all old 
footage, in a similar scheme: black and white. But he died, and all you know 
is that they reminded him of home.  As they remind you he is gone

to a country as unimaginable as his life before you were born, before
the woman who would be your mother lived as she does now—lost, 
wandering at the edge of her life’s whitened gates. 

After a storm, one birch fell in the field, an ivory buttress collapsed across
the pasture.  Up close there is pink skin beneath the paper, green lichen
ascending in settlements of scales. In the dark yard it beckons you back 

to snow, the static of the past—your father, a boy, speaking in a tongue
you never knew, calling down from the branches. Or the letter you wrote
to a mother you weren’t allowed to miss—black ink scrawled across

the white pulp of the page: I am very lonely without you.

Move to the City

live life as a stranger. Disappear
into frequent invention, depending
on the district, wherever you get off
the train. For a night, take the name
of the person who’d say yes to that
offer, that overture, the invitation to
kiss that mouth, sit on that lap. Assume
the name of whoever has the skill to
slip from the warm side of the sleeping
stranger, dress in the hallway of the
hotel. This is a city where people
know the price of everything, and
know that some of the best things
still come free. In one guise: shed
all that shame. In another: flaunt the
plumage you’ve never allowed
yourself to leverage. Danger will
always be outweighed by education,
even if conjured by a lie. Remember:
go home while it’s still dark. Don’t
invite anyone back. And, once inside,
take off the mask. These inventions
are the art of a kind of citizenship,
and they do not last. In the end, it
might mean nothing beyond further
fortifying the walls, crystallizing
the questioned, tested autonomy,
ratifying the fact that nothing will be
as secret, as satisfying, as the work
you do alone in your room.

Related Poems

My Philosophy of Life

Just when I thought there wasn't room enough
for another thought in my head, I had this great idea—
call it a philosophy of life, if you will.  Briefly,
it involved living the way philosophers live,
according to a set of principles. OK, but which ones?

That was the hardest part, I admit, but I had a
kind of dark foreknowledge of what it would be like.
Everything, from eating watermelon or going to the bathroom
or just standing on a subway platform, lost in thought
for a few minutes, or worrying about rain forests,
would be affected, or more precisely, inflected
by my new attitude.  I wouldn't be preachy,
or worry about children and old people, except
in the general way prescribed by our clockwork universe.
Instead I'd sort of let things be what they are
while injecting them with the serum of the new moral climate
I thought I'd stumbled into, as a stranger
accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back,
revealing a winding staircase with greenish light
somewhere down below, and he automatically steps inside
and the bookcase slides shut, as is customary on such occasions.
At once a fragrance overwhelms him—not saffron, not lavender,
but something in between.  He thinks of cushions, like the one
his uncle's Boston bull terrier used to lie on watching him
quizzically, pointed ear-tips folded over. And then the great rush 
is on.  Not a single idea emerges from it.  It's enough
to disgust you with thought.  But then you remember something
   William James
wrote in some book of his you never read—it was fine, it had the
   fineness,
the powder of life dusted over it, by chance, of course, yet
   still looking
for evidence of fingerprints. Someone had handled it
even before he formulated it, though the thought was his and
   his alone.

It's fine, in summer, to visit the seashore.
There are lots of little trips to be made.
A grove of fledgling aspens welcomes the traveler.  Nearby
are the public toilets where weary pilgrims have carved
their names and addresses, and perhaps messages as well,
messages to the world, as they sat
and thought about what they'd do after using the toilet
and washing their hands at the sink, prior to stepping out
into the open again.  Had they been coaxed in by principles,
and were their words philosophy, of however crude a sort?
I confess I can move no farther along this train of thought—
something's blocking it.  Something I'm 
not big enough to see over.  Or maybe I'm frankly scared.
What was the matter with how I acted before?
But maybe I can come up with a compromise—I'll let
things be what they are, sort of.  In the autumn I'll put up jellies
and preserves, against the winter cold and futility,
and that will be a human thing, and intelligent as well.
I won't be embarrassed by my friends' dumb remarks,
or even my own, though admittedly that's the hardest part,
as when you are in a crowded theater and something you say
riles the spectator in front of you, who doesn't even like the idea
of two people near him talking together. Well he's 
got to be flushed out so the hunters can have a crack at him—
this thing works both ways, you know. You can't always
be worrying about others and keeping track of yourself
at the same time.  That would be abusive, and about as much fun
as attending the wedding of two people you don't know.
Still, there's a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That's what they're made for!  Now I want you to go out there
and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too.
They don't come along every day. Look out!  There's a big one...