He was only the pale winter light
listening. He was old.
The woman had come, shimmering
like a tree reflected in water, and given him eyes.
Now she was fading back into forest
where he could not follow. She hated
his dreary naps, lies. Eternity yawned
into the wavering salt flats of his youth
that had meant distance and loneliness
and something he could not name,
yawned into the land of the dead
where all the old ghosts stood like statuary
with no need for names. His mind
the black edge of a crow’s wing,
it had been a long winter, a white desert.
He was listening.
Armies on the move again
and the rice bowls empty. Bodies in the mountains,
bulging in rivers. A small man, unhoused
in a small boat, trying to save his skin.
In the palace a little wine under the indifferent
beauty of sky, a little sex, a little death.
And the stink of it, rape and the mad dance
Li Po trudging the hills far from home.
As if the sky itself were sluicing down
into their slumbrous bodies: blue horses
in an orange field ablaze in late sun,
a kind of paradise of the moment, out of time
and therefore holy. At the edge of the field
a shadow, the menace of time. Or is it
the face with many lines gazing from the window
into the fragrance of horses, the draped manes
and long faces of peace in the grass, skin
that rippling makes the whole body smile.
The woman had shown him this, in her broad hips
and liquid thighs, the chime of her laugh.
He imagined the up thrust cathedral’s burden of stone
poised impossibly on a mathematical notion,
moonlight streaming down through the clerestory—
all that blood soaked stone aching to be light,
or if not light, wings—
voices glancing off stone muffled in the tall air,
officious whisperers, assorted saints, She
off in a corner encaved in her forest of stone,
only the Mother of God now,
not of the trees and grass.
The Oneidas tell their stories only in winter
so that the snakes who hide behind leaves
cannot hear them—the way poems are made
so the thugs lurking behind walls
with their electronic gadgetry
grow blank as river stones.
In dreams I return to the hill people’s
fires and drum circles, speaking my poems
to the dark full of sparks and fireflies.
A woman lay down like a black river there
in the moonlight drunk with poets.
He came on the rank river of swarming humanity
and beautiful ochres
to the gold temple with its leafy chimes
pearling the air like the voices of insect angels—
the pumpkin headed, pumpkin colored monks
anonymous as flowers—
a place of exact thoughtlessness
stirred by a single tremulous note
like the smile of the sky itself.
Overhead in the voluptuary trees,
the white fanged, long tailed gods and goblins
chuckling like monkeys—
in the time before time in the reign of the tiger.
He dreamed these things as the wind blew and the cold deepened
and the shadows behind his face
became a gathering of crows arguing with evening—
each caw a vanishing soul, each coal-black eye
ironic and insolent. Praise be
to the nefarious crow—carrion eater,
Praise be to our allotted cup of blood.