First Things at the Last Minute (audio only)

- 1941-


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Heroic Simile

When the swordsman fell in Kurosawa's Seven Samurai 
in the gray rain, 
in Cinemascope and the Tokugawa dynasty, 
he fell straight as a pine, he fell 
as Ajax fell in Homer 
in chanted dactyls and the tree was so huge 
the woodsman returned for two days 
to that lucky place before he was done with the sawing 
and on the third day he brought his uncle.

They stacked logs in the resinous air, 
hacking the small limbs off,
tying those bundles separately. 
The slabs near the root
were quartered and still they were awkwardly large; 
the logs from midtree they halved:
ten bundles and four great piles of fragrant wood, 
moons and quarter moons and half moons 
ridged by the saw's tooth.

The woodsman and the old man his uncle 
are standing in midforest
on a floor of pine silt and spring mud.
They have stopped working 
because they are tired and because 
I have imagined no pack animal 
or primitive wagon. They are too canny 
to call in neighbors and come home 
with a few logs after three days' work. 
They are waiting for me to do something 
or for the overseer of the Great Lord 
to come and arrest them.

How patient they are!
The old man smokes a pipe and spits. 
The young man is thinking he would be rich 
if he were already rich and had a mule. 
Ten days of hauling
and on the seventh day they'll probably 
be caught, go home empty-handed 
or worse. I don't know 
whether they're Japanese or Mycenaean
and there's nothing I can do.
The path from here to that village 
is not translated. A hero, dying, 
gives off stillness to the air. 
A man and a woman walk from the movies 
to the house in the silence of separate fidelities. 
There are limits to imagination.

The Apple Trees at Olema

They are walking in the woods along the coast
and in a grassy meadow, wasting, they come upon
two old neglected apple trees. Moss thickened
every bough and the wood of the limbs looked rotten
but the trees were wild with blossom and a green fire
of small new leaves flickered even on the deadest branches.
Blue-eyes, poppies, a scattering of lupine
flecked the meadow, and an intricate, leopard-spotted
leaf-green flower whose name they didn't know.
Trout lily, he said; she said, adder's-tongue.
She is shaken by the raw, white, backlit flaring
of the apple blossoms. He is exultant,
as if some thing he felt were verified,
and looks to her to mirror his response.
If it is afternoon, a thin moon of my own dismay
fades like a scar in the sky to the east of them.
He could be knocking wildly at a closed door
in a dream. She thinks, meanwhile, that moss
resembles seaweed drying lightly on a dock.
Torn flesh, it was the repetitive torn flesh
of appetite in the cold white blossoms
that had startled her. Now they seem tender
and where she was repelled she takes the measure
of the trees and lets them in. But he no longer
has the apple trees. This is as sad or happy
as the tide, going out or coming in, at sunset.
The light catching in the spray that spumes up
on the reef is the color of the lesser finch
they notice now flashing dull gold in the light
above the field. They admire the bird together,
it draws them closer, and they start to walk again.
A small boy wanders corridors of a hotel that way.
Behind one door, a maid. Behind another one, a man
in striped pajamas shaving. He holds the number
of his room close to the center of his mind
gravely and delicately, as if it were the key,
and then he wanders among strangers all he wants.