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Untitled in Four Parts


ISSUE:  Spring 2004


i.

Dawn boils up like milk, cloudy with disrespect.
Like Tin Pan Alley hacks, paid for each line,
neighborhood wrens bang out their high-pitched notes.
The narrow windows offer nothing, the glass
brushed with dark leaf-shapes, like a Japanese scroll.
A smudge of nimbus glows. The gray burns to blue.
Love is now overrated, out of date—
when I first glimpsed you in those green-leaf days,
my heart consoled itself in heats of longing.
Your creamy flesh has chipped away like marble,
your ink-black hair filling with silver vein.
Time’s furnaces are banked, the wood lots gone.
Downriver something steams, two plumes of smoke,
with fire belching from its barren stacks.


ii.

Adam in his frame, Eve at last in hers.
Having no words, they must make empty signs.
How do we know, how do we know the sign?
The girl in the pale albumen photograph
takes off her dress, and stares back. There it is,
the magpie poignance of the stolen life.
Upstairs a something stirs within the womb,
and downstairs griping mourners grip the corpse,
bearing the ruined heaven in its weight.
The vision in the photograph says nothing,
only the there that needed to be said.
In Cranach’s diptych, the couple hesitates—
drawing the thorny leaves across their skin,
divided from each other by their shame.


iii.

How many stumbled in Sodom’s painted halls
or greeted death below Gomorrah’s stairs?
The grain of new experiment rubs away.
Urbs turn to suburbs, naked, garish, endless,
the Renaissance perspective doomed to grace
where each tarred footprint knows the way to God.
The ordered trees, scorched clean of mockingbirds,
waver in nervous ranks like smooth-cheeked sentries,
recruited in the province, stuck in Rome
without the language or the will to pain,
just hanging on till the hills are set alight
or traitorous flocks of cranes comes home to roost.
Feathered barbarians knock at the gates.
All for a paycheck, some acres free and clear.


iv.

The mists leak cream, clouds filthier than cream,
draggling from the dead inverted bowl
of the sky. Redemptive hills march toward the sea.
In this uncertain spring, the lilacs blaze
like deco chandeliers. Seasick with hope,
each dawn Odysseus casts off for home
with ten years on his watch. Is Nausicaa
crossed through in his black book, a snapshot now?
And what dog answers at the old address?
By dawn the wren has spent itself in song,
a grater rasped against a bicycle chain.
I greet the mirror and cannot recognize
the gray-haired revenant grown picket-boned,
the stranger’s bitter glance like rotten wood.

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