translated by William O’Daly
Today is that day, the day that carried
a desperate light that since has died.
Don’t let the squatters know:
let’s keep it all between us,
day, between your bell
and my secret.
Today is dead winter in the forgotten land
that comes to visit me, with a cross on the map
and a volcano in the snow, to return to me,
to return again the water
fallen on the roof of my childhood.
Today when the sun began with its shafts
to tell the story, so clear, so old,
the slanting rain fell like a sword,
the rain my hard heart welcomes.
You, my love, still asleep in August,
my queen, my woman, my vastness, my geography
kiss of mud, the carbon-coated zither,
you, vestment of my persistent song,
today you are reborn again and with the sky’s
black water confuse me and compel me:
I must renew my bones in your kingdom,
I must still uncloud my earthly duties.
Of course it was a disaster.
The unbearable, dearest secret
has always been a disaster.
The danger when we try to leave.
Going over and over afterward
what we should have done
instead of what we did.
But for those short times
we seemed to be alive. Misled,
misused, lied to and cheated,
certainly. Still, for that
little while, we visited
our possible life.
The quake last night was nothing personal,
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders,
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.
But the earth said last night that what I feel,
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me.
One small, sensuous catastrophe
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.
The earth, with others on it, turns in its course
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross,
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell
to planets, nearing the universal roll,
in our conceit even comprehending the sun,
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.
We make dogma out of letter writing: the apocryphal story
of Lincoln who wrote angry letters he never sent. We wait for letters
for days and days. Someone tells me I’ll write you a letter
and I feel he’s saying you’re different than anyone else.
Distance’s buzz gets louder and louder. It gets to be a blackest hole.
I want the letter about the time we cross the avenue, and you reach
for my hand without looking—I am afraid I’m not what you want.
We float down the street as if in the curve of a pod
and the starry black is like the inside of a secret. We’re drunk.
The streetlight exposes us which becomes the deepest
horror. Yes. End the letter like that, so it becomes authorless.
Then the letter might give off secrets: acid imbalances that detonate.
The best part
is when we’re tired
of it all
in the same degree,
a fatigue we imagine
to be temporary,
and we lie near each other,
What’s done is done,
we don’t say,
to begin our transaction,
each letting go of something
bringing it to mind
until we’re lighter,
and a current
runs between us
where our toes touch.
It feels unconditional.
Remember this, we don’t say:
The Little Mermaid
was able to absorb
to form legs.
This meant that
and that everything is played out
Spring is not so very promising as it is the thing
that looking back was fire, promising:
ignition, aspiration; it was not under my thumb.
Now when I pretend a future it is the moment
he holds the thing I say new-born,
delicate, sure to begin moving but
I am burned out of it like the melody underneath
(still not under my thumb)—
was he ambiguous, amphibian?
Underneath, his voice, the many ways
he gathers oxygen; it will not stop raining
until the buds push through the brittle trees.
If they fail we will not survive,
washed and washed with rain, will we?
No,we are not there yet.
She is pushing me two ways until
I am inside the paradox, the many lungs,
and they’re at it again, gathering oxygen;
no wonder I am wrung out
holding out for the promise of
something secret, after—
A secret came a week ago though I already
knew it just beyond the bruised lips of consciousness.
The very alive souls of thirty-five hundred dead birds
are harbored in my body. It’s not uncomfortable.
I’m only temporary habitat for these not-quite-
weightless creatures. I offered a wordless invitation
and now they’re roosting within me, recalling
how I had watched them at night
in fall and spring passing across earth moons,
little clouds of black confetti, chattering and singing
on their way north or south. Now in my dreams
I see from the air the rumpled green and beige,
the watery face of earth as if they’re carrying
me rather than me carrying them. Next winter
I’ll release them near the estuary west of Alvarado
and south of Veracruz. I can see them perching
on undiscovered Olmec heads. We’ll say goodbye
and I’ll return my dreams to earth.