Koi, by Katie Ford

After all the days and nights we’ve spent
with Starry Messenger, with Dante,
with Plato, his temperance
painted as a woman who pours
water into a bowl but does not spill,
after particle theory and the geologic time of this quartz
gilded beneath the roaming gone,
composites of limestone calculated down to the animal
that laid upon it and quietly died,

after hearing how camels carted away the broken
Colossus of Rhodes, showing us how to carry
and build back our destroyed selves,

hearing there was once a hand
that first learned to turn
an infant right in the womb,

that there was, inside Michelangelo, an Isaiah to carve out
the David, the idea, the one buried
in us who can slay the enormities,

after all visions and prophecies that made the heart large,
once and again, true or untrue,

after learning to shave the gleaming steel down—
the weapon, the bomb we make,
and the watercolor made after
of the dropped-upon crowd, thin strokes
over a pale wash—
after all this, still
one of us can’t know another.

Once under an iron sky I listened
to a small assemblage of voices.
Two by two broke off into the field
to strip down the unbroken flock of starling dark
between them. The ceremony of the closing in,
the hope each to each might not stay tourists
before the separate, chiseled ruin of the other:

The unspeakable, illegible one before us—

this is what the linguists call the dead, isn’t it?

But how are you, we say,
meaning how have you been made,
what is wrong, what
happened, we ask, how long have you been waiting,
are you on my side, can you promise to stay,
will you keep
the etchings clear on my stone
and come visit me, your never-known,

will you lean over my ghost
how we leaned over the green pools of the Japanese garden,
a cluster of lanterns blowing out above us
wisp by wisp, a school of koi pausing at the surface,
letting us look all the way in
until we saw each eye
was like a net heaped on shore.

Just like our eyes, weren’t they? all accidents, wastes,
all saving needs filled and unfilled, the cracked shells,
the kelp fronds torn from their buoys, all caught here,
inside us—
the seven we loved, the six we lost—
seaglass the living
and the human, alone.

Advice to a Prophet, by Richard Wilbur

When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God’s name to have self-pity,

Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange.

Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?–
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
A stone look on the stone’s face?

Speak of the world’s own change. Though we cannot conceive
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
How the view alters.  We could believe,

If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip

On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling.  What should we be without
The dolphin’s arc, the dove’s return,

These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
Ask us, prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken

In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
Horse of our courage, in which beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.

Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.

Prophecy, by Dana Gioia

Sometimes a child will stare out of a window
for a moment or an hour—deciphering
the future from a dusky summer sky.

Does he imagine that some wisp of cloud
reveals the signature of things to come?
Or that the world’s a book we learn to translate?

And sometimes a girl stands naked by a mirror
imagining beauty in a stranger’s eyes
finding a place where fear leads to desire.

For what is prophecy but the first inkling
of what we ourselves must call into being?
The call need not be large. No voice in thunder.

It’s not so much what’s spoken as what’s heard—
and recognized, of course. The gift is listening
and hearing what is only meant for you.

Life has its mysteries, annunciations,
and some must wear a crown of thorns. I found
my Via Dolorosa in your love.

And sometimes we proceed by prophecy,
or not at all—even if only to know
what destiny requires us to renounce.

O Lord of indirection and ellipses,
ignore our prayers. Deliver us from distraction.
Slow our heartbeat to a cricket’s call.

In the green torpor of the afternoon,
bless us with ennui and quietude.
And grant us only what we fear, so that

Underneath the murmur of the wasp
we hear the dry grass bending in the wind
and the spider’s silken whisper from its web.