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.
When a human is asked about a particular fire,
she comes close:
then it is too hot,
so she turns her face—
and that’s when the forest of her bearable life appears,
always on the other side of the fire. The fire
she’s been asked to tell the story of,
she has to turn from it, so the story you hear
is that of pines and twitching leaves
and how her body is like neither—
all the while there is a fire
at her back
which she feels in fine detail,
as if the flame were a dremel
and her back its etching glass.
You will not know all about the fire
simply because you asked.
When she speaks of the forest
this is what she is teaching you,
you who thought you were her master.