settlement cracks in plaster, for example.
Though I spackled inch by inch
and sanded crossways to the faultlines
before applying, in even strokes,
the most expensive white latex,
the gaps resurfaced overnight.
Neither the second nor the third coat
conceals the view I wake to now:
a jagged line bisecting the ceiling,
predicting how the house will fall
in equal pieces in an earthquake.
The spider must have noticed too,
for though he likes to anchor webs
securely, deep inside the fissures,
he didn’t build across this.
Instead, he built in a ceiling corner,
tacking his guys in wet paint
so that when I sweep them down
they leave lasting imperfections
in the ceiling’s new skin:
hairline fractures in enamel,
microscopic footprints, a dead fly
outlined black against the white.
How often will I climb this ladder
clutching paint and touch-up brush,
as persistent as the spider
to destroy by day his night constructions
while both of us concede the crack
we cannot stitch shut? It widens
ever so slowly. Last year a razor,
today a knife will barely wedge
inside it. It deepens imperceptibly,
like the first wrinkle in my forehead,
which I can almost smooth out
by staring blankly in a mirror,
the way I stared at ice last summer,
peering through yards of glacier
to see, beneath the sun’s reflections,
million-year-old frozen grasshoppers.
Lying in thin black strata
blurred and magnified by depth,
they resembled cracks inside the surface.
How quickly winter has advanced!
The mirror turns my breath to frost;
the spider skates across new paint;
I lie back down and cover my face
with sheets, to hide the fractured sky.
Till ten I lived as in this Breughel painting,
a simple-minded kid on skates whose city,
contracted by the artist to chimney smoke
in the high right corner of the canvas
spun, like a whole world, on pirouettes.
I fell down dizzy on the ice and watched
clouds describe their courses through the grid
of naked branches, or where the sky was solid,
watched the branches circle the ghosted sun.
When they stopped, I wobbled to my feet,
crying because I’d scared myself. The elms
looked as dead as in that Hobbema landscape
framing rows of houses in black perspective.
Behind the houses the painted sky refracted
December light at four o’clock—too early
to set the candles in the windows and call
the children home, though they, by then, would come
without a fight. His picture is of a moment,
a single yellow leaf, a red glove, a shout
could shatter into life. Instead, the gray
shaded delicately into mauve hills and died—
a light I hid from, tunneling in the snow.
I wrapped my scarf around and around my head,
pretending arctic night. Soon, I slept.
I knew that it was fatal to close my eyes,
but when I squinted them to slits I saw,
instead of grayness, an aurora borealis
which brightened when they shut completely. It dimmed
when my mother held a lantern to my face
and screamed. She looked like that gold Van Gogh,
half in, half out of the artificial light
that blurred the outlines of her coat, her hands,
even the trees inside its sharp circumference:
they shook, like flames, in my ungrateful eyes.
Dejection is labor-intensive, you see not feel.
It is easier to turn tail by the stove, the one
Purring blackness, inside with the folks smiling.
But now that the curtain has been drawn back you see
In the storm pane the picture above your head, which you
Had not looked at for months, for years: at twilight
On a river in mountains the riverboat glows with warm
Cabin lanterns, men pole it onward to the West
Where gray cloud foams over the orange sun
And little tinks of laughter waft from the gray craft
In its slow progress. Ah, what is in your eyes,
Blankard, clinging as a frightened child’s?
World to a close at last? The flares of laughter
Have no bed, as I-beams do, driven to rock before
The pouring begins. Your laugh, and my laugh too,
Like opened fans in separate cases on the wall.