Older ones are written on scraps
of yellowed paper folded like
letters that will never be mailed.
Some recent ones have been
written in the kitchen and bear
unsavory, unrecognizable stains.
Some are dumb in the sense they
will never speak again, and in
the other sense—full of false
grandeur, silly notions, abstract
weightless ideas, wrong words.
On many unfinished poems
the hopeful poet has written
copious notes to herself about
how the poem must be revised:
add a word here, this is a terrible
title. What does it mean? Here
is the key stanza. Why is it
buried in the middle of the poem?
Some of the notes are questions,
but the poet is scolding
the unfinished poem as well.
Most of these works-in-progress
will always be in progress,
because the poet doesn’t have
the sense to know when to stop.
Those writers who stop in the middle
of a line presage a failure of nerve
or breath or pure ennui.
The words, the gaps, quenched
flame—all must be read like runes.
I Love You, Says the Heart
We can come to terms with things that can’t be seen,
and reconcile ourselves to the fact that this
need not be tied to a belief in the supernatural.
Who stands behind the door that has just closed?
And from the shards of broken pottery on the asphalt--
can you reconstruct what the jar looked like?
Or was it a vase?
The air, that phantasmagoric tease, isn’t to be
confused with the wind, intimately raking back
our hair or insolently bending trees to its will.
Who wears the shoes with the pattern of radio
waves on their sole? And who has seen radio waves?
The difference between things that can be
measured, but never seen, and things
that will never be seen can be understood.
This recognition will lessen our frustration
and cause us to love shadows even
if we sometimes fear darkness.
This isn’t a how-to manual; No metaphysical
claims are being made but absences
are being described. Absences that resonate
with their own importance--
what the roots of a tree look like, or a seed
swelling in spring-warmed earth, what people
wear under their skin, what is really inside
the book, under the child’s bed. The message
carried by the unopened letter you burned.
What does a quark look like?
It's not meaningful to speak of optical
properties of subatomic particles,
especially components of nucleons.
So that means they’ll never be seen,
merely believed in, theorized about.
Or the universe itself—can it be seen?
The universe is a fist, opening
and closing like a pulsing heart
I love you, says the heart, but you
will never look upon me.
A river scene forms slowly in the sketchbook.
Today the artist experiments with watercolor.
He has an audience who murmur about
the sketch, imagining what river the artist
will have depicted when the painting is finished.
They imagine, as he paints, the flowing
rivers of the world. As he paints
their thoughts become busy with
images of their own. They imagine
the Li, a tributary of the Yangtze.
The Loire. The Colorado. The Nile.
The Ganges. The Irrawaddy.
The Amazon; the thinkers are beguiled
by what they believe they will see
as details emerge with each brushstroke.
They dream while awake of hippo pods,
ancient temples, funeral ghats, the Valley
of Kings, mountains, grand chateaus,
the planet alive with each flowing river,
each with its own capacious heart.
The painter paints light. Light and shadow,
warm reflected light, sky light, direct light.
He himself has drifted into the flowing
waters of a dream, tangled in half-formed
images. The uber-river flows silently
through his mind.
The Astronomy Book
I took the astronomy book from the shelf--
the one I bought on our first anniversary
to teach my husband the stars.
Light rolled off the slick pages.
The gray italic print of formulas
galactic dust impressed there.
I thumbed through suns and solar
systems, remembering the point
of my search: some star I wanted
to pluck out of the book to bring
on darkness and the glitter of the moon,
further spreading the farmer’s brash
white floodlights over the rutted fields.
Outside together, I follow your arm,
raised toward the sky, pointing out,
a star, as you tell your colorful story
of its discovery, and how it must
have winked out millennia ago.
You sent shivers up my spine
as I thought of interstellar dust
and matter adrift. You school me--
from hottest to coldest, the seven main
groups of stellar spectra—OBAFGKI.
Oh be a fine girl, kiss me.
And I did, standing under
the faint light of millions of stars.
She finds the photograph, 5 x 7,
black and white and gray, depicting
three figures in complete silhouette.
Not a detail of their faces, their
features or their clothing can be
made out, though the one in the middle
a bit shorter than the other can be seen
to have long wavy hair, and the one
on the left, hands on hips, elbows
forming triangles the crepuscular
light shows through, wears a cap,
bill turned sideways. Little can
be known of the one on the right,
round alien-shaped head melded
with the top of what might be
a spruce tree. Above a faint horizon
line, a gray background can be seen,
suggesting mountains or smoke
from a fire billowing out of control.
Who are these people and what
happened when the fire, if it was a
fire, drew closer? Even studying
the photograph deeply, under
magnification, reveals no more
than this. Three people, outdoors,
whose lives are in danger
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