Through an accidental crack in the curtain
I can see the eight o’clock light change from
charcoal to a faint gassy blue, inventing things
in the morning that has a thick skin of ice on it
as the water tank has, so nothing flows, all is bone,
telling its tale of how hard the night had to be
for any heart caught out in it, just flesh and blood
no match for the mindless chill that’s settled in,
a great stone bird, its wings stretched stiff
from the tip of Letter Hill to the cobbled bay, its gaze
glacial, its hook-and-scrabble claws fast clamped
on every window, its petrifying breath a cage
in which all the warmth we were is shivering.
Am I not alone, as I thought I was, as I thought
The day was, the hour I walked into, morning
When I felt night fly from my chest where prospect had
Slackened, and close itself off, understanding, as I thought I did,
That the ground would resist my legs and not let them
Break nor let them be released into air as my heart, in its
Muscle, might be released from the body that surrounds it,
Like someone who, placing a hand on a shoulder’s
Blade, felt a life move inside an hour and a day
Break from the day the hour meant something more than weakness,
More than fear, and flew forward into the depths of
Prospect, your arms, where you’d been, before me, waiting
For me, the way the body has always been waiting for the heart to sense
It is housed, it is needed, it will not be harmed.
Sunlight scatters wild bees across a blanket
of flowering lavender. The garden
grows, visibly, in one morning—
native grasses push up, tough and lovely
as your angel’s trumpets. At midday
the weather, with bushfire breath, walks about
talking to itself. A paper wasp zooms
above smooth river pebbles. In the trees
possums lie flat on leafy branches to cool off,
the cats notice, then fall back to sleep.
This day has taken our lives to arrive.
Afternoon swings open, although
the mechanics of the sun require
the moon’s white oil. Daylight fades to twilight
streaking bottlebrush flowers with shade;
a breeze clatters in the green bamboo and shakes
its lank hair. At dinnertime, the French doors present us
with a slice of night, shining clear—
a Naples-yellow moon outlines the ridges
of the mountains—all this, neatly laid out
on the dining room table
across patches of moonlight.
For the father who wakes
and wakes himself, eyes full of himself
and for the one, who when the sun descends
slips into the stormy
smite flat the rotundity o’ the world.
Done in with conspiracy and murder
in his sleep (his eye-tooth finally unfixed
and tucked into a cheek for safekeeping)
he dreams of a three-armed garment
unable to wonder or comprehend
how he has come to this blurred ridge and broken—
I try to fix in my mind, his shining eyes
the terrors he shut his lips against
and his early morning utterly lucid accusation:
“I never would have believed,” he said to me
“that you would be among them.”
About this Poem
“‘King Lear’ is part of a sequence of poems that explore the intersection of reading and the construction of identity. Many of the different relationships in King Lear have resonated for me at different points in my life and by the time I wrote this poem, I had already written two other poems with this title. During the last days of his life, my father, mad with what the hospice nurse called ‘sundowner syndrome,’ made me understand the play again in a completely unexpected and heartbreaking way.”
(Too sound of mind)
The paper table cloth was tastefully bleak,
The misty morning light shone on his cheek,
And made him look alone and masculine.
He talked of Seneca and bad translations,
Of modern critics’ lightweight observations;
A bread crumb rested sweetly on his chin.
Behind him, through the glass, the ocean’s heave
Uncurled against the sand, beside his sleeve,
As Eros aimed his toxic javelin.
I ducked out of the way, to no avail;
It glanced my flesh, injecting quite a cocktail
That blurred my sight and caused my head to spin—
Never mind the coffee we were drinking,
Whatever I said was not what I was thinking.
I wanted to become his mandolin,
And lie across his lap, a dainty lute,
And sing to him and feed him ripened fruit,
While light upon the sea turned opaline.
Instead, this conversation about art
And formal education—God, he’s smart!
Such rationality should be a sin.
The hour was up, he had to run, of course;
A handshake and a peck of shy remorse—
Outside, the sea was gray and dull as tin;
It ruled the shore with tedious discipline.
Love gives all its reasons
as if they were terms for peace.
Love is this but not that
that but not this.
Love as it always was.
But there is no peace in the mountain
cleft where the fruit bats scatter
from the light.
There is no peace in the hollow when
the heat snuffs night’s blue candle.
The outline of brown leaves on
the beach is the wind’s body.
A crow is squawking at the sun
as if the screech itself is dawn.
Let me hear every perfect note.
How I loved that jasper morning.
March 29, 2010
Every morning since the time changed
I have woken to the dawn chorus
And even before it sounded, I dreamed of it
Loud, unbelievably loud, shameless, raucous
And once I rose and twitched the curtains apart
Expecting the birds to be pressing in fright
Against the pane like passengers
But the garden was empty and it was night
Not a slither of light at the horizon
Still the birds were bawling through the mists
A million small evangelists
How they sing: as if each had pecked up a smoldering coal
Their throats singed and swollen with song
In dissonance as befits the dark world
Where only travelers and the sleepless belong