Poetry has to do with the dynamization of emotion into a separate form. This is the force of imagination.
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
I think the sea is a useless teacher, pitching and falling
no matter the weather, when our lives are rather lakes
unlocking in a constant and bewildering spring. Listen,
a day comes, when you say what all winter
I’ve been meaning to ask, and a crack booms and echoes
where ice had seemed solid, scattering ducks
and scaring us half to death. In Vermont, you dreamed
from the crown of a hill and across a ravine
you saw lights so familiar they might have been ours
shining back from the future.
And waking, you walked there, to the real place,
and when you saw only trees, come back bleak
with a foreknowledge we have both come to believe in.
But this morning, a kind day has descended, from nowhere,
and making coffee in the usual way, measuring grounds
with the wooden spoon, I remembered,
this is how things happen, cup by cup, familiar gesture
after gesture, what else can we know of safety
or of fruitfulness? We walk with mincing steps within
a thaw as slow as February, wading through currents
that surprise us with their sudden warmth. Remember,
last week you woke still whistling for a bird
that had miraculously escaped its cage, and look, today,
a swallow has come to settle behind this rented rain gutter,
gripping a twig twice his size in his beak, staggering
under its weight, so delicately, so precariously it seems
from here, holding all he knows of hope in his mouth.
My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
Is just frosting
On somebody else’s
And so must be
Learn how to
What we eat is resurrection
of what we have eaten.
The flesh we had is changed
beyond any words we knew
into this unity we are:
woman, man, and earth,
each other’s metaphor.
I say this while the age
achieves its ruin, rain
falling hard in the night
into the swollen river,
a rage of lies in the air.
This weather is not spent.
But we have healed together
earth and eye and hand.
That is our sacrament.