The Three Times
The first will no doubt begin with morning's Stainless-steel manners and possibilities Out of number. Sunlight scold too much? So a tense gets thinned out with solvents, Preternaturally bright with the will To swap laziness or pleasure for paper money. The future may appear as a winter day, colors Of the façades like frozen jellies and sherbets, Palaces of frost in crystalline order; Then fall into shards at the approach of fact, A needle of starlight aimed at your heart. This one has all the force and danger of Randomness: image drips into daydream As waters gather to sea level and go With the tide. Clouds. Chain lightning. The waves move in like destroyers. And— And only subside when, for example, I stop to prove a cup off-center In its saucer. A door closes, footsteps; The night outside warm and silent As an underground parking lot; askew stacks Of books and papers; raw material; Clues to a life. Because it's the time Of pain—always the same—and pleasures: Taste, touch, work, walking, music—not one Of these trivial and all incomplete. The last was always a famous storehouse; Or you sit down before an amphitheater Of tiered keyboards, repertory of stops; To choose diapason. bourdon, vox humana— A stone wall, the shadow of a leaf, The gate I saw and then the grass Running in place before the wind. The place of the mind moved on, just Failing to be everywhere at once; And reconstructed an autumn afternoon From the highest window, when the buildings Forcing up against an imposed sky, Fused into background, embraced the park, Rested. The last baseball players Swarmed around a tiny diamond template; Man and his games a perfected miniature— Like the past you almost don't believe in. Yet it's there, behind perhaps a blue veil; Sturdy; calm; unless put out of countenance By drab standards of exactitude. The last word was never, was always About to be written; so that none of us Could know whether hope, become action, Exposed to the elements—a bronze monument, Negligible among the surrounding towers, But somehow truly central—would corrode, Crumble, dissolve; or weather into A fact of nature, continue to be.
From Stake: Selected Poems 1972-1992 by Alfred Corn (Counterpoint, 1999). Copyright © 1999 Alfred Corn. Used with permission of the author.