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Tenements of Rose and Ice

ISSUE:  Spring 1991
Under the frosty stars in the gardens
of brick, the grape vines frozen
along the eaves, leaves like hearts
you shoveled into a furnace last fall,

the man dribbles the moon
and throws it through a hoop—
for one moment it suspends
high among a spiral nebula—

the planet suspends then drops
through the hoop, the cold ring
and watch left on a bench
at the edge of the court, like time itself

for the grapevines, shadows along the eaves,
memories, left like sticks
and an audience of one—you
cheer and Adam glances under a halo of sweat

from his forehead—one more basket
and you’ll make the team, solve time,
like Einstein in the patent office,
something to compensate

for your divorce—this rounded fire, perhaps
Heraclitus would have called the ball,
Adam who cannot talk to save his soul,
whose hands are awkward fish at parties,

but who on the court turns mercury
of motion, his scuffed tennis shoes flashing
like wings over clay, to impress who?
Me? The tenements of windows?

The roses of stars? These brick containers
with sticks of memory? One brother
to another: who cares? You need only
that motion of hands balancing the ball,

testing its weight, its fate to the hoop,
the effortless arc in the air as you stand
breathless and wanting for just one thing—
that embrace of the circle, the fearful sphere

of Pascal. God is a circle whose center
is everywhere and circumference is nowhere
Robert Pinsky too turned God into a game,
a field of baseball bums around a central drum

of fire in the mind of a computer, the birth
of stars, the death of stars, the opening
and closing of a synapse, lonely for the other,
the valve of the hoop—and Adam

pauses again, judging the air, the stars
in his sweat, like pearls, judging the distance,
as if the rest of his life depended
on this shot alone—then up

it goes, spinning, careening
among the grapevines, who snatch it in its flight
and deflect it to the brick of tenements—
Adam grins and retrieves the shadow

from among the shadows, then turning quickly
shoots his shot
and like a star it falls
into the hoop,

into his hands to do it once again. Do the roses
applaud? No. Do the stars swoon? No.
Does your wife come back? Not a chance.
So why do it? Is it just to walk the flat roses

of the clay? Recall that anxious cheerleader
puffed with pompoms who became your wife?
The years of faculty dinners of the Philosophy
Department where you were always embarrassed?

The final obliquity of her affair
with the drug store owner where you bought
your Valium? Your daughter a coke-head
who blurted out the news, one night,

after your conference in St. Paul.
Last spring, when the roses fluffed their pompoms
all along the wall, you took your shears
and cut them off—concise as a poem

by Emily Dickinson—The Frost beheads it
at its. play
/In accidental power
“The muscles are a kind of philosophy,”
you said. You took to running,

and then to basketball at night. Sometimes
I think it’s your wife’s head
sailing through the air,
the faintest whisper of a scream,

or sometimes just your heart,
a temporary planet,
burning, beating against the clay,
like a burning field of beans

which you cannot cross—
Pythagoras stopped—who once said
you said, “Step not beyond the center
of the balance.” Yet sometimes

you’ll play all night, waking the birds
even, rattling the frost
like delicate stars from the vines,
and powdering the bricks

with your steps.


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