A Child's Plate c. 1840


This is the last of you, consigned
as part of a collection to Sotheby’s
for an afternoon auction. Lifted from
the salt-glazed stoneware teapots –

a Staffordshire child’s plate,
polychrome, 5-3/4” in diameter.
Impressed on the border, a pearl-white
pattern of alternating pinwheel daisies.

In the center, a garden scene –
handpainted in orange, yellow, red and
green – an oblivious boy, intent
on his book, and a young girl pining:

The tulip and the butterfly
appear in gayer coats than I -
Let me be dress'd fine as I will,
such poesie exceeds me still.


Your first discovery, unearthed
from an outing to Portobello Road. Later,
when I got back from my conference,
you presented it to me in triumph.

I remember it, your smile –
the same smile you had that last night,
propped among your pillows and tubes,
the muted blip of the bedside monitor

pacing my own heart. You pressed
my palm with the soft of your thumb,
whispered finally to me Piaf’s:
Non, je ne regrette rien.

But this is mine: that I might have seized
more zealously our days with one another.
And now, this is all that is left of you,
the pearlware figurines, the pottery

figural clocks, the thimbles, the scent-bottle
holders, enamel necessaires. And they mean
nothing, nothing – only your smile
remembered, wistful, underglaze.


Imprint

Dicere quae puduit, scribere iussit amor
A pale medieval manuscript, your skin
is touched, illuminated by these words
that flicker, feathered like the wings of birds.

I imagine your life spelled out in ancient
tongues upon your skin, a vulgar Latin,
a hieroglyphic tinged in pigments of amaranth
and rust, underneath your tunic, like a psalm.

Let me thus lift up, as from your outstretched
arms, this binding, this fabric coverlet that
hides the pages of your flesh, your fragrant
etymology, your history, your verse.

For I would pull you to me, trace out that
finery of words, transliterate your soul into
my alphabet of longing, mouth unto mouth,
until I brand you mine, mine, mine.


Hallelujah


You may have heard this song before,
A carol to a mournful score,
But you don’t really care for Christmas, do you?
When all you hear is reveille,
The treble of the cavalry,
An old, unspoken psalm, this Hallelujah.

     Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Your soldiers round on Bethlehem;
The angels, they all say they see right through you.
How swift your brothers disappear,
Your sisters' eyes avert in fear,
And in their hearts they stifle Hallelujah.

     Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

The columns burn, the fourth, the fifth;
The major falls, the armor lifts,
And finally the foe who near outdrew you.
Your ammunition's shown its worth,
Now maybe there’ll be peace on earth,
Not just this cold and broken Hallelujah.

     Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

Maybe there’s a God above,
And maybe all you've known of love
Was when a painted Death knelt down and blew you.
But Cohen sang and Lennon fell;
If there’s a heaven, there’s a hell,
Where all the damned compose their Hallelujahs.

     Hallelujah, Hallelujah.


Radar


Against the violet sky my Piper Saratoga
banks and shifts, a paltry sparrow
lost in the expanding gloom.
Dimmed in a room below me,
the radar on the Island Airport
circumnavigates the darkness.
Its luminescent arm swings a clockwise
arc across its screen, and pings
the rumor of my existence, up above.

Last month, I stood beneath the wash
of the rainshower, the buzzing of your
Philips razor mixing with the water’s hiss –
love’s wondrous morning ritual,
familiar as coffee, comfortable,
soapy, serene – when I found it.
Two fingers retracing open circles from the
areola, ranging in spirals across soft
tissue, outward like a radar’s sweep.

Like a malign backscatter off my
startled fingertips, a sudden thickening,
unaccustomed, beneath the surface. There.
Two weeks later, at my call-back diagnostic
screening, the radiologist scanned the bright
Nazca lines of my mammograms.
Aerial maps, pinpointing my pain, this
purgatory between parallel plates,
compressing my world, again, again.

Last week, a stereotactic biopsy,
a geologic intrusion into the core,
an aftertremor shattering my broken world.
140 knots, 5000 feet. Rain falls,
the wind shifts, and my aircraft’s wings
drop suddenly on a power-on stall.
If I chose silence, I could ease up,
let the winds wash over these
pallid wings as I fall.

I could close my eyes, let gravity’s distant
wavelength uncoil, and draw this shell
into its tethered, unrelenting pull.
But here, in the momentary silence
of this spin, my heart’s radar reaches out,
probing hope’s dim cavern –
pings the summer of our daughter’s graduation;
pings a showering of rice at her wedding;
pings our grandson’s wavering first steps;

pings him scoring in his first home game;
pings us on the shore at Orchid Beach;
pings you holding me crying in the shower,
that first day, love, as if you’d never let me go;
pings this life, this fragile, precious life –
And I must draw my strength into my hands, haul
resolution’s ailerons back, back – until the curve
is righted, and the wind is stilled, and the
airfield markers part the darkness into stars.


Garden


I stop at Williams
Cafe, victim of
a conspiracy
of hunger and rain.

In the line ahead
of me, a couple
hover, fourth in line
to place their order.

Blonde hair cascades like
dawning over her
sunprint dress – a rich
tapestry of light,

Gauguin’s dream,
a collage of leaves
and streams, and a frail,
pastel innocence.

He circles his arm
all around her waist;
and as he does so,
the emerald snake

that is the tattooed
sleeve on his right arm –
his ring and middle
finger the forked tongue

grazing serpentine
her sheering fabric –
slithers into Paradise,
tightens its embrace.


Tears


after Kotaro Takamura

The world sinks, downcast, into night.
Evening, and at Hibiya Park, people gather
Near the edge of the palace bridge,
Smiles masking disquiet hearts.

At the gardens of Matsumotoro,
We share crushed ice and syrup.
The rumors travel in whispers,
Faint, like the sound of a distant bell.

Like Meiji-tennō’s verses,
Silence pierces us, like knives.
But nothing makes sense now,
Not poetry, nor this summer night.

Not this night, veiled in ice like grief,
Grief as cold as silver. Your folding fan,
Inconsequential, falls as you flee. I pick it up.
Outside, by the dark road, you are crying.

But I dare not say what I should.
Outside, the people walking past us
Think it is all about the palace news –
Heartbreaking, heartbreaking

Strangers, passing us by, leaving us
Awash in our own desolation, our sorrow
Swallowed up in theirs, praying
They forgive us these, our secret tears.