The great poet came to me in a dream, walking toward me in a house
drenched with August light. It was late afternoon and he was old,
past a hundred, but virile, fit, leonine. I loved that my seducer
had lived more than a century and a quarter. What difference
does age make? We began to talk about the making of poems, how
I craved his green cockatoo when I was young, named my Key West
after his, like a parent naming a child "George Washington." He was
not wearing the business suit I'd expected, nor did he have the bored
Rushmore countenance of the familiar portrait. His white tee shirt
was snug over robust chest and belly, his golden hair long, his beard
full as a biker's. How many great poets ride a motorcycle? We
were discussing the limits of image, how impossible for word
to personate entirely thing: "sea," ocean an August afternoon; "elm,"
heartbreak of American boulevards after the slaughter
of sick old beautiful trees. "I have given up language," he said.
The room was crowded and noisy, so I thought I'd misheard.
"Given up words?" "Yes, but not poems," he said, whereupon
he turned away, walking into darkness. Then it was cooler, and
we were alone in the gold room. "Here is a poem," he said, proffering
a dry precisely formed leaf, on it two dead insects I recognized
as termites, next to them a tiny flag of scarlet silk no larger than
the price sticker on an antique brooch. Dusky red, though once
bright, frayed but vivid. Minute replica of a matador's provocation?
Since he could read my spin of association, he was smiling, the glee
of genius. "Yes," he said, "that is the poem." A dead leaf? His grin was
implacable. Dead, my spinner brain continued, but beautiful. Edge
curling, carp-shaped, color of bronze or verdigris. Not one, but two
termites—dead. To the pleasures of dining on sill or floor joist, of
eating a house, and I have sold my house. I think of my friend finding
termites when she reached, shelf suddenly dust on her fingers,
library tumbling, the exterminator's bill. Rapacious bugs devour,
a red flag calls up the poem: Blood. Zinnia. Emergency. Blackbird's
vermillion epaulet. Crimson of manicure. Large red man reading,
handkerchief red as a clitoris peeking from his deep tweed pocket—
Suddenly he was gone, gold draining from the walls, but the leaf,
the leaf was in my hand, and in the silence I heard an engine howl,
and through the night that darkened behind the window, I saw
light bolt forward, the tail of a comet smudge black winter sky.