To raise a stump of rock into a tower, rolling a stone in place as the years pass. Strangers who only know your silhouette bid it farewell and travel to Japan, Cross China, venture into India, to Europe, and, changed by time and space, Sail home over the bulging eye of ocean only to see, when landfall looms in view, The stump of rock--your tower--on the headland, and you there, rolling a stone in place, The edifice apparently no taller, as if each night you had dismantled it And every day had raised it up again. To know, only in completion, the nisus That dominates the spider when it spins, the bird building its nest, the gray whale Turning toward Mexico and the sea lion clambering up shingle toward its mate-- The nisus of cairn-building, rock-piling, mortaring stone has dominated you. It dominates the reader bent above the book, poised like a stork hunting; like sleep, It is an utter unity of will and action, known--at least by man or woman-- Only when it is over. And when the work is over--tower building, poem writing-- You hear gulls cry and see them kiting at the bull terrier out in the garden. He has snatched up some strip of bloody fur they meant to mince with beaks. Best to detach it From his jaws, let gulls eat refuse like that. Go out into the damp twilight, feel The chill along the arms, through cloth, and take the petty morsel from the pet dog, toss it To the scolding gulls, down the rocky bank beyond the garden. And lead the dog to food Inside the kitchen. Enter, expecting to see the woman, the two sons, and your place at table, Waiting. And find you are alone. Even the dog at heel-- vanished. The stone house Glumly dark and a dumb cold coming from its walls, that only whiskey cuts. The cold and dark conceal much, and memory must be evoked to penetrate them. Meanwhile, they are the elements that starlight loves. Clear cold, pure darkness, outside the window, Beside the guestbed, where you have planned to lie at last, viewing the pure, clear stars without Obstruction by the crude suburban dwellings--that absurd roof, down there, like a coal scoop, And the spite fences either side your property. Nothing in creation shows More the supreme indifference to humanity, despite the patterns of the zodiac. The stars, like bits of crystal ground into a griststone's granite rim, are small themselves. Only the surrounding emptiness is great. Take comfort in the emptiness; lie down. The drink will help you sleep awhile alone, without her, until that section of the night You've come to know--that region you once sailed through peacefully, worn out by work and love. Now, stranded there till dawn, sleepless, it will not matter that you foresaw the planet's end Or our end on the planet. Only sleep will matter. At that hour, in those conditions, Just out of reach, receding like the dark itself as daylight pushes in, sleep only Will be the thing you want. Powerless to attain what you desire, yet bitterly Desiring at all costs. Perhaps, then, memory, not starlight, will intercede, And the stone house gather warmth from its hearth fire, and loved ones reappear, and you will sleep.
From Iris, published by Story Line Press, 1992. Copyright © 1992 by Mark Jarman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.