Breathing, by Josephine Dickinson

As I walk up the rise into the silence of snow, in the sough of brittle snowflakes,
you are breathing shallow breaths in bed.
A paper tissue lies discarded where I dabbed a drip from your nose.

As I sit in another room you are swishing your lips.
You have become the inside of my body. I am gasping for the crackle
and whistle of your chest. My body is your world under a blanket of snow.

The wolf leaves paw prints on it, catching a niff of tussocky breasts,
dipping thighs, flat tummy, tight skin, the mutter of a bony outcrop.
Hills rise and fall with your breathing, its spate and its whisper.

The snow is lisping from the eaves as I listen for the blab of your heart.
You stir to speak. Your chest heaves. Fistfuls of ice slack off and pelt the stones,
sluds of snow stretch and slide under the window.

There is a quiver, a tingle, then icy water stutters after the snow in a stream.
The night before last, you stopped.
There was a gulp, then stillness and listening — for the lick

of the meniscus on a swollen river, for a trickle in the dried-out bed
of a beck, the jostle of fingertips, snapping of feet. You nestled in a heap
under jacket, quilt, hat, light, scarf, shawl, sheet,

you were all twined and tangled up,
your suck held back by a puff, a spanking sea breeze,
then, flat out, pillows concertinaed, released a salty waft, a redolence

while you held one slippered foot under the sinews, stung and docketed
the twisted jumble, face motionless apart from spitting pith,
and I hoicked you up, straightened the pillows in your shadow

and your voice spurted out as I kibbled your lungs in my own chest’s thump.
A sky flipped open when you breathed again, like the tilt over Hartside Top.
No birds. No scratchings. Just rustling of clothes and clacking of teeth.

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Coda, by Marilyn Hacker

Maybe it was jet lag, maybe not,
but I was smoking in the kitchen: six,
barely, still dark: beyond the panes, a mix
of summer storm and autumn wind. I got
back to you; have I got you back? What
warmed me wasn’t coffee, it was our
revivified combustion. In an hour,
gray morning, but I’d gone back to my spot
beside you, sleeping, where we’d stayed awake
past exhaustion, talking, after, through
the weeks apart, divergent times and faces.
I fell asleep, skin to warm skin, at daybreak.
Your breasts, thighs, shoulders, mouth, voice, are the places
I live, whether or not I live with you.

Fog hid the road. The wipers shoved back torrents
across the windshield. You, on knife-edge, kept
driving. Iva, in the back seat, wept
histrionically. The crosscurrents
shivered like heat-lightning into the parent’s
shotgun seat. I shut up, inadept
at deflecting them. A Buick crept
ahead at twenty-five an hour. “Why aren’t
we passing him? My Coke spilled. The seat’s wet.
You guys keep whispering so I can’t hear.”
“Sit in the front with us, then.”
“No! I’ll get
too hot. Is the fan on? What time is it?
What time will it be when we get there?”
Time to be somewhere else than where we are.

“What do we have? I guess we still don’t know.”
I was afraid to say, you made me feel
my sectioned heart, quiescent loins, and spill
past boundaries the way blackberry-brambles grow
up those tenacious hills I left for you.
Their gritty fruit’s ripe now, but oceans still
separate us, waves opaque as oatmeal,
miles of fog roiling between your pillow
and mine while you say your best: sometimes, she’s where
your compass points, despite you, though a meal
with me, or talk, is good . . . Where our starfire
translated depths, low fog won’t let you steer
by sight. The needle fingers one desire,
and no other direction can compel.

If no other direction can compel
me upward from the dark-before-the-dawn
descending spiral, I drop like a stone
flung into some scummed-over stagnant well.
The same momentum with which once we fell
across each other’s skies, meteors drawn
by lodestones taproots clutched in unmapped ground
propels me toward some amphibious hell
where kissing’s finished, and I tell, tell, tell
reasons as thick and sticky as frogspawn:
had I done this, that wouldn’t have come undone.
The wolf of wolf’s hour cried at once too often
picks out enfeebled stragglers by the smell
of pond scum drying on them in the sun.

I miss you more than when I was in France
and thought I’d soon be done with missing you.
I miss what we’d have made past making do,
haft meshing weft as autumn days advance,
transliterating variegated strands
of silk, hemp, ribbon, flax, into some new
texture. I missed out on misconstrued
misgivings; did I miss my cue; boat? Chanc-
es are, the answer’s missing too. At risk
again, sleep and digestion, while I seize on
pricklier strands, crushed to exude the reason
I can’t expect you’ll ring up from your desk,
calling me Emer, like Cuchulain’s queen,
to say, we need bread and some salad greens.

On your birthday, I reread Meredith,
whose life’s mean truths inform, tonight, his text
so generously framed. There’ll be the next
night, and the next, cold gaps. I’d have been with
you now, lover and friend, across the width
of some candle-lit table as we mixed
habit and hope in toasts. Instead, perplexed
by separation like a monolith
bulked in the rooms and hours I thought would be
ours, I practice insensibility.
We crossed four miles, three thousand. You diminish
now, on a fogged horizon, far away.
Your twenty-fifth was our first class Tuesday
—will one year bracket us from start to finish?

Will one year bracket us from start to finish,
who, in an evening’s gallant banter, made
plans for new voyages to span decades
of love and work around a world we’d win? Wish
was overgrown with fears; voyages vanish
with empty wine bottles and summer’s paid
bills. Lengthens the legendary blade
between us: silence; hope I hope to banish;
doubt, till I almost doubt what happened, did.
Chicken from Zabar’s warms, and frozen spinach
simmers, while Iva writes a school essay:
“Both Sides: Everything has an opposite . . .”
sucking her inky fingers and her braid,
and I read Meredith, on your birthday.

“Why did Ray leave her pipe tobacco here
in the fridge?” Iva asks me while we’re
rummaging for mustard and soy sauce
to mix with wine and baste the lamb. “Because
cold keeps it fresh.” That isn’t what she means,

we both know. I’ve explained, there were no scenes
or fights, really. We needed time to clear
the air, and think. What she was asking, was,
“Why did Ray leave

her stuff if she’s not coming back?” She leans
to extremes, as I might well. String beans
to be sautéed with garlic; then I’ll toss
the salad; then we’ll eat. (Like menopause
it comes in flashes, more or less severe:
why did you leave?)

“Now that you know you can, the city’s full
of girls—just notice them! It’s not like pull-
ing teeth to flirt,” she said, “or make a date.”
It’s quite like pulling teeth to masturbate
(I didn’t say), and so I don’t. My nice

dreams are worse than nightmares. As my eyes
open, I know I am; that instant, feel
you with me, on me, in me, and you’re not.
Now that you know

you don’t know, fantasies are more like lies.
They don’t fit when I try them on for size.
I guess I can, but can’t imagine what
I’d do, with whom, tonight. It’s much too late
or soon, so what’s yours stays yours. It has until
now. That, you know.

Who would divorce her lover with a phone
call? You did. Like that, it’s finished, done—
or is for you. I’m left with closets of
grief (you moved out your things next day). I love
you. I want to make the phone call this
time, say, pack your axe, cab uptown, kiss
me, lots. I’ll run a bubble bath; we’ll sing
in the tub. We worked for love, loved it. Don’t sling
that out with Friday’s beer cans, or file-card it
in a drawer of anecdotes: “My Last
Six Girlfriends: How a Girl Acquires a Past.”
I’ve got “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted”
run on a loop, unwanted leitmotif.
Lust, light, love, life all tumbled into grief.
You closed us off like a parenthesis
and left me knowing just enough to miss.

“Anyone who (I did) ran down Broadway
screaming, or dropped in Bryant Park in a faint
similarly provoked, will sniff a taint
of self-aggrandizement in the assured way
you say: so be it; then she cut the cord; hey,
the young are like that. Put yourself on main-
tenance, stoically, without more complaint?
Grown-ups, at least, will not rush to applaud. They
won’t believe you.” And he downed his Negroni.
Who wants to know how loss and sorrow hit
me daily in the chest, how like a stone
this bread tastes? Even though lunch is on me,
he doesn’t. Home alone is home, alone.
(I’d reach for Nightwood, but she “borrowed” it.)

Did you love well what very soon you left?
Come home and take me in your arms and take
away this stomach ache, headache, heartache.
Never so full, I never was bereft
so utterly. The winter evenings drift
dark to the window. Not one word will make
you, where you are, turn in your day, or wake
from your night toward me. The only gift
I got to keep or give is what I’ve cried,
floodgates let down to mourning for the dead
chances, for the end of being young,
for everyone I loved who really died.
I drank our one year out in brine instead
of honey from the seasons of your tongue.

The Book of a Thousand Eyes [A dream, still clinging like light to the dark, rounding], by Lyn Hejinian

A dream, still clinging like light to the dark, rounding
The gap left by things which have already happened
Leaving nothing in their place, may have nothing to do
But that. Dreams are like ghosts achieving ghosts’ perennial goal
Of revoking the sensation of repose. It’s terrible
To think we write these things for them, to tell them
Of our life—that is, our whole life. Along comes a dream
Of a machine. Why? What is being sold there? How is the product
emitted?
It must have been sparked by a noise, the way the very word “spark”
emits a brief picture. Is it original? Inevitable?
We seem to sleep so as to draw the picture
Of events that have already happened so we can picture
Them. A dream for example of a procession to an execution site.
How many strangers could circle the space while speaking of nostalgia
And of wolves in the hills? We find them
Thinking of nothing instead—there’s no one to impersonate, nothing
To foresee. It’s logical that prophesies would be emitted
Through the gaps left by previous things, or by the dead
Refusing conversation and contemplating beauty instead.
But isn’t that the problem with beauty—that it’s apt in retrospect
To seem preordained? The dawn birds are trilling
A new day—it has the psychical quality of “pastness” and they are trailing
It. The day breaks in an imperfectly continuous course
Of life. Sleep is immediate and memory nothing.

In Memory of W. B. Yeats, by W. H. Auden

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the
Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly
accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his
freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.