Time, relentless wind. Awake this winter night
I hear its empty roar, filled with angry nothing
Passing on its way to nothing beyond the ice
On our window pane. When the sun rises
The ice may last a day or two, that’s how cold
The wind has made us, but it’ll melt when we’re
Not looking, like it was never there, like we
Won’t be someday. My hand is on your hip.
Our bodies’ warmth a single thing I won’t
remember when I’m dead, so I’ll remember
Now, unless our minds are like the wind
And carry some fragment from our time
Together, dislodged from this world and
Blown to the next, together, or empty,
Or empty, together, no memory but the thing
Itself, afloat and away, that’s the both of us.
—for Mary, 12/24/22
The sun molts behind its cloud chrysalis.
Into something colder. Something staring
Through a dirty window. Face with no
Features from which there’s no sense of being seen
But the possibility of being seen feels like a violation
Of a rule older than writing. Who’s breaking it? This old
Morning, who is in the wrong? Starlings carelessly
Scribble song across the lower skies. It’s fun
Being a troubled young man; but a troubled
Old man is a different bird. And the trouble
Bursts out slowly, like a butterfly pulls
Itself from its insufficient tomb.
In the house my parents built. These mirrors have seen my face,
my naked body, for longer than any living thing: at twelve, sunburned
And skinny and flush with summer friendships from the beach;
at twenty-three, back from graduate school with the young writer
who’d become my wife, tired after walking ten miles from Hyannis
to Dennis to surprise my parents with a visit from Boston.
And now at fifty-six. Watching our three teenagers watch the sun
Set from the Cape’s highest point, stone tower a stone’s throw
From this house. O age inexorable and gentle has given me
A face weathered with seasons of gratitude. In this bathroom mirror is
An image of each time I’ve stood before it, in the same place,
Dripping wet, a little transparent, my selves seeing uneasily through each other’s
particular reflections. It took every second to get us all here.
No wonder the image wavers.
Outside and a mile away through scrub oak and sand the bay
glints with day’s embers, the slow ticking away of light
dropping through the horizon’s grate and the oncoming
Rolling rememberlessness of night, the countless
Reflections no one will see
We never went to your father’s river
though far north of here we stood
on a jetty at the end of a normal day
while my mother took pictures of the sky.
Heartbreak is heartbreak at any age:
always too big to fit into a single person.
Pick any shell off this Cape Cod beach
and listen: the sound goes on forever although
every shell’s message is short: “I’m alive
and well” though it always arrives a lifetime
too late or should we assume the life is ours?
Sunset was so big, like a normal day’s sunset
with a bonus sunset for tourists, my mother
had to take another picture and another.
Still the sky wouldn’t fit. And in every photo
you and I stood among strangers like every
group that gathers by happenstance along water
and each held a shell and my mother took
their picture and wrote their names in a notebook
I found years later far from her photographs
and she told them how I laughed so heartily
as an infant people would interrupt my naps
just to watch me wake up and laugh and it
found its way into their heads so that even when
it left a memory had formed around it like a shell
and it was their own laughter saying I’m alive
and well and I wish you all well without your names
in my mother’s pictures with my father at her side
In the stressed syllable of the last month
sometimes I wake in the middle of the night
in the unstressed syllable of the third hour
and feel my heart moving around inside me
as if it is trying to escape when I am
not looking but where would it go?
It’s too early for the scrabble of starling
in the gutter above the open window
The cold air comes in, musical notes
the size of pillows. Like I haven’t
figured out how to dream yet
a window trying to be a wall
What magic changed glass into night?
Then today as the moon rose just after
sunset I found myself in a clearing
mind, thoughts scattered into the thicket beyond.
My heart circles slowly at the edge of the light.
I trust the trees like it trusts the trees.
Like a large cat it shrugs its shoulders
as it walks, like it’s forgetting to take
responsibility for anything like with each step
it’s a step further from what it’s done
Its fur glows at the edge of the circle of light
maybe waiting for me to turn my head
or for another like it to show up at the edge
then from the outside it will come for me
The moon crawls over my windshield, a bored insect.
Reflection of a reflection of light
on the grim and circling stone.
The world does not share my sense of time:
In a vehicle parked off the road, going nowhere
I sense no motion at all in this luminous bug
on the curved glass. Doesn’t it know
I don’t have all night to be moved?
The last warm day of the year
The October sun rests on a loblolly pine.
Late afternoon, slight breeze. River
of leaves sliding along the street side.
I am too old, says the sun, for this: I get
up later every day and I’m tired earlier.
The pine squints at the sun’s single ring
of fire: Try having as many rings as I do
says the pine. Try living in full seasons
instead of skating above it all. Try,
just once, standing still.
So small it is, what gathers in this empty round of clay
As the rain takes over the air, glistens in grass below.
Yet so real, that small enlarging circle of grief.
Where the light falls may fail
something else along its edge
close enough to see it
but not be in it or of it
Sun streams through stained
glass but not to the people inside
under the shadows each of
their individual Gods
My bench in the shade got cold
but all I had to do was walk
a few steps past the walnut tree’s
highest eminence now just
shifting sparkle and shadow
at my feet — even on the ground
I’m higher than spires
my limbs bound to no rooted
trunk of belief — I know
I’ll float freely one day
but I’ll fall like we all fall
and the landing I have seen
against living’s gravity
is almost weightless