The Three Times

- 1943-
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. 

More by Alfred Corn

Promised Land Valley, June '73

     The lake at nightfall is less a lake,
but more, with reflection added, so
this giant inkblot lies on its side,
a bristling zone of black pine and fir
at the dark fold of the revealed world.
 
     Interpret this fallen symmetry, 
scan this water and these water lights, 
and follow a golden scribble toward
the lantern, the guessed boat, the voices
that skip across sky to where we stand. 

     You are vanishing and so am I
as everything surrenders color, 
falling silent to vision. Darkness
rises to drown out the sky and silence
names us to the asking boat. 

     Who echoes who in the black mirror? 
Riddles are answers here at the edge. 
And still, we can imagine some clear call, 
a spoken brilliance blazing the trail . . . 
ourselves moving out across the sky. 

The Bridge, Palm Sunday, 1973

It avails not. time nor place—distance avails not. . . 
                                   —Whitman. "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"
 
The bridge was a huge sentence diagram, 
You and I the compound subject, moving 
Toward the verb. We stopped, breathing 
Balloonfuls of air; and noonday sun sent down 
A hard spray of light. Sensing an occasion,
I put my arm on your shoulder, my friend 
And brother. Words, today, took the form of actions. 

The object of the pilgrimage, 110 Columbia Heights,
Where Hart Crane once lived, no longer existed, 
We learned, torn down, the physical address gone. 
A second possible tribute was to read his Proem 
There on the Promenade in sight of the theme. 
That line moved you about the bedlamite whose shirt 
Balloons as he drops into the river, much like 
Crane's death, though he wasn't a "bedlamite"; 
A dreamer, maybe who called on Whitman and clasped 
His present hand, as if to build a bridge across time. . . . 

We hadn't imagined happenstance would lead us next
To join with the daydreamers lined up before 
An Easter diorama of duck eggs, hatching 
Behind plate glass. The intended sentiment featured 
Feathered skeletons racked with spasms of pecking 
Against resistant shell, struggling out of dim 
Solitary into incandescence and gravity, and quaking 
With the shock of sound and sight as though existence 
Were a nervous disease. All newborns receive the same 
Sentence—birth, death, equivalent triumphs. 
 
Two deaf-mutes walked back the same but inverse way, 
Fatigue making strangers of us and the afternoon 
Hurt, like sunburn. Overexposure is a constant 
Risk of sensation and of company. I wondered 
Why we were together—is friendship imaginary? 
And does imagination obscure or reveal its subject? 
The ties always feel strange, strung along happenstance, 
Following no diagram, incomplete, a bridge of suspense. . . .

 Sometimes completed things revisited still resonate. 
I'm thinking about Crane's poem of the Bridge, 
Grand enough to inspire disbelief and to suspend it. 
The truth may lie in imagining a connection 
With him or with you; with anyone able to overlook 
Distance, shrug off time, on the right occasion. . . . 

If I called him a brother—help me with this, Hart—
Who climbed toward light and sensation until the sky 
Broke open to reveal an acute, perfect convergence 
Before letting him fall back into error and mortality, 
Would we be joined with him and the voyagers before him? 
Would a new sentence be pronounced, a living connection 
Between island and island, for a second, be made? 

Naskeag

Once a day the rocks, with little warning—
not much looked for even by the spruce 
and fir ever at attention above—
fetch up on these tidal flats and bars.
Large. crate-like rocks, wrapped in kelp; 
layer on imprinted layer,
umber to claret to olivegreen
of scalloped marbling. . . . 
Not far along the path of obstacles 
and stepping stones considered,
fluid skeins of bladder wrack 
lie tufted over the mussel shoals— 
the seabed black as a shag's neck, 
a half-acre coalfield, but alive. 
Recklessly multiple, myriads compact, 
the small airtight coffers (in chipped enamel) 
are starred over with bonelike barnacles 
that crackle and simmer throughout the trek, 
gravel-crepitant underfoot. 

Evening comes now not with the Evening
Star, but with a breathing fog. 
And fog is the element here, 
a new term, vast by indefinition, 
a vagrant damping of the deep tones 
of skies and bars and sea. 
Sand, mud, sand, rock; one jagged pool 
basining a water invisible
except as quick trembles 
over algal weed—itself 
half-absent, a virid gel. 

Walking means to lose the way 
in fog, the eye drawn out to a farther point,
a dark graph on the faint blue inlet watershine; 
out to where a heron stands, 
stationing its sharp silhouette 
against the fogbright dusk. 
Then, not to be approached, 
lifts off and rows upward, up, up,
a flexible embracing-forward on the air, 
rising out of view 
behind an opaque expanse of calcium flame.

The great kelp-dripping rocks, 
at random positions,
lost in thought and dematerializing 
with the gray hour,
release, indelibly, their pent-up contents. 
—Even the scattered feathers here 
are petrified, limewhite blades and stony down. 
The sky, from eastward, deepens 
with the dawning insight 
as the seas begin to rise, the flats 
slide away, the hulls bear off the ground,
and the eye alien to so self-sufficing 
a tidal system turns and takes up how to 
retrace the steps that brought it there.