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Loose leaves in a metal ball Or men in a shark cage steeping, Ideas stain the limpid mind Even while it’s sleeping: Ginseng or the scent of lymph Or consequences queasing Into wide awareness, whence, Like an engine seizing Society remits a shudder Showing it has feeling, And the divers all have shaving cuts And the future’s in Darjeeling— Blind, the brain stem bumps the bars Of the shark cage, meanwhile, feeding, And the tea ball’s cracked, its leaves cast To catastrophic reading: Ideas are too dangerous. My love adjusts an earring. I take her in my arms again And think of Hermann Göring, And all liquidities in which A stain attracts an eating, And of my country’s changing heart, And hell, where the blood is sleeting.
There are places where the eye can starve, But not here. Here, for example, is The Piazza Navona, & here is his narrow room Overlooking the Steps & the crowds of sunbathing Tourists. And here is the Protestant Cemetery Where Keats & Joseph Severn join hands Forever under a little shawl of grass And where Keats' name isn't even on His gravestone, because it is on Severn's, And Joseph Severn's infant son is buried Two modest, grassy steps behind them both. But you'd have to know the story—how bedridden Keats wanted the inscription to be Simple, & unbearable: "Here lies one Whose name is writ in water." On a warm day, I stood here with my two oldest friends. I thought, then, that the three of us would be Indissoluble at the end, & also that We would all die, of course. And not die. And maybe we should have joined hands at that Moment. We didn't. All we did was follow A lame man in a rumpled suit who climbed A slight incline of graves blurring into The passing marble of other graves to visit The vacant home of whatever is not left Of Shelley & Trelawney. That walk uphill must Be hard if you can't walk. At the top, the man Wheezed for breath; sweat beaded his face, And his wife wore a look of concern so Habitual it seemed more like the way Our bodies, someday, will have to wear stone. Later that night, the three of us strolled, Our arms around each other, through the Via Del Corso & toward the Piazza di Espagna As each street grew quieter until Finally we heard nothing at the end Except the occasional scrape of our own steps, And so we said good-bye. Among such friends, Who never allowed anything, still alive, To die, I'd almost forgotten that what Most people leave behind them disappears. Three days later, staying alone in a cheap Hotel in Naples, I noticed a child's smeared Fingerprints on a bannister. It Had been indifferently preserved beneath A patina of varnish applied, I guessed, after The last war. It seemed I could almost hear His shout, years later, on that street. But this Is speculation, & no doubt the simplest fact Could shame me. Perhaps the child was from Calabria, & went back to it with A mother who failed to find work, & perhaps The child died there, twenty years ago, Of malaria. It was so common then— The children crying to the doctors for quinine. It was so common you did not expect an aria, And not much on a gravestone, either—although His name is on it, & weathered stone still wears His name—not the way a girl might wear The too large, faded blue workshirt of A lover as she walks thoughtfully through The Via Fratelli to buy bread, shrimp, And wine for the evening meal with candles & The laughter of her friends, & later the sweet Enkindling of desire; but something else, something Cut simply in stone by hand & meant to last Because of the way a name, any name, Is empty. And not empty. And almost enough.