poem index

Dancing at the Crossroads

Dancing at the Crossroads
next
Eighth Sky
Michael Palmer, 1942
It is scribbled along the body
Impossible even to say a word

An alphabet has been stored beneath the ground 
It is a practice alphabet, work of the hand

Yet not, not marks inside a box
For example, this is a mirror box

Spinoza designed such a box
and called it the Eighth Sky

called it the Nevercadabra House 
as a joke

Yet not, not so much a joke
not Notes for Electronic Harp

on a day free of sounds
(but I meant to write "clouds")

At night these same boulevards fill with snow 
Lancers and dancers pass a poisoned syringe,

as you wrote, writing of death in the snow, 
Patroclus and a Pharaoh on Rue Ravignan

It is scribbled across each body
Impossible even to name a word

Look, you would say, how the sky falls 
at first gently, then not at all

Two chemicals within the firefly are the cause 
Twin ships, twin nemeses

preparing to metamorphose
into an alphabet in stone


        St.-Benoît-sur-Loire
               to Max Jacob

Dancing at the Crossroads
next
A Table in the Wilderness
Li-Young Lee, 1957
I draw a window
and a man sitting inside it.

I draw a bird in flight above the lintel.

That's my picture of thinking.

If I put a woman there instead
of the man, it's a picture of speaking.

If I draw a second bird
in the woman's lap, it’s ministering.

A third flying below her feet.
Now it's singing.

Or erase the birds
make ivy branching
around the woman's ankles, clinging
to her knees, and it becomes remembering.

You'll have to find your own
pictures, whoever you are,
whatever your need.

As for me, many small hands
issuing from a waterfall
means silence
mothered me.

The hours hung like fruit in night's tree
means when I close my eyes
and look inside me,

a thousand open eyes
span the moment of my waking.

Meanwhile, the clock
adding a grain to a grain
and not getting bigger,

subtracting a day from a day
and never having less, means the honey

lies awake all night
inside the honeycomb
wondering who its parents are.

And even my death isn't my death
unless it's the unfathomed brow
of a nameless face. 

Even my name isn't my name
except the bees assemble

a table to grant a stranger
light and moment in a wilderness
of Who? Where?
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
The Myth of Innocence
Louise Glück, 1943
One summer she goes into the field as usual
stopping for a bit at the pool where she often
looks at herself, to see
if she detects any changes. She sees
the same person, the horrible mantle
of daughterliness still clinging to her.

The sun seems, in the water, very close.
That's my uncle spying again, she thinks—
everything in nature is in some way her relative.
I am never alone, she thinks,
turning the thought into a prayer.
Then death appears, like the answer to a prayer.

No one understands anymore
how beautiful he was. But Persephone remembers.
Also that he embraced her, right there,
with her uncle watching. She remembers
sunlight flashing on his bare arms.

This is the last moment she remembers clearly.
Then the dark god bore her away.

She also remembers, less clearly,
the chilling insight that from this moment
she couldn't live without him again.

The girl who disappears from the pool
will never return. A woman will return,
looking for the girl she was.

She stands by the pool saying, from time to time,
I was abducted, but it sounds
wrong to her, nothing like what she felt.
Then she says, I was not abducted.
Then she says, I offered myself, I wanted
to escape my body. Even, sometimes,
I willed this. But ignorance

cannot will knowledge. Ignorance
wills something imagined, which it believes exists.

All the different nouns—
she says them in rotation.
Death, husband, god, stranger.
Everything sounds so simple, so conventional.
I must have been, she thinks, a simple girl.

She can't remember herself as that person
but she keeps thinking the pool will remember
and explain to her the meaning of her prayer
so she can understand
whether it was answered or not.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
It is Night, in My Study
Miguel de Unamuno, 1864 - 1936
It is night, in my study.
The deepest solitude; I hear the steady
shudder in my breast
--for it feels all alone,
and blanched by my mind--
and I hear my blood
with even murmur
fill up the silence.
You might say the thin stream
falls in the waterclock and fills the bottom.
Here, in the night, all alone, this is my study;
the books don't speak;
my oil lamp
bathes these pages in a light of peace,
light of a chapel.
The books don't speak;
of the poets, the meditators, the learned,
the spirits drowse;
and it is as if around me circled 
cautious death.
I turn at times to see if it waits, 
I search the dark,
I try to discern among the shadows
its thin shadow,
I think of heart failure,
think about my strong age; since my fortieth year
two more have passed.
Toward a looming temptation
here, in the solitude, the silence turns me--
the silence and the shadows.
And I tell myself: "Perhaps when soon
they come to tell me
that supper awaits,
they will discover a body here
pallid and cold
--the thing that I was, this one who waits--
just like those books quiet and rigid, 
the blood already stopped,
jelling in the veins,
the chest silent
under the gentle light of the soothing oil,
a funeral lamp.
I tremble to end these lines
that they do not seem
an unusual testament,
but rather a mysterious message
from the shade beyond,
lines dictated by the anxiety
of eternal life.
I finished them and yet I live on.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
At Baia
H. D., 1886 - 1961
I should have thought
in a dream you would have brought
some lovely, perilous thing,
orchids piled in a great sheath,
as who would say (in a dream),
"I send you this,
who left the blue veins
of your throat unkissed."

Why was it that your hands
(that never took mine),
your hands that I could see
drift over the orchid-heads
so carefully,
your hands, so fragile, sure to lift
so gently, the fragile flower-stuff--
ah, ah, how was it

You never sent (in a dream)
the very form, the very scent,
not heavy, not sensuous,
but perilous--perilous--
of orchids, piled in a great sheath,
and folded underneath on a bright scroll,
some word:

"Flower sent to flower;
for white hands, the lesser white,
less lovely of flower-leaf,"

or

"Lover to lover, no kiss,
no touch, but forever and ever this."
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
What is Broken is What God Blesses
Jimmy Santiago Baca, 1952
   The lover's footprint in the sand
   the ten-year-old kid's bare feet
in the mud picking chili for rich growers,
not those seeking cultural or ethnic roots,
but those whose roots
have been exposed, hacked, dug up and burned
			and in those roots
			do animals burrow for warmth;
what is broken is blessed,
	not the knowledge and empty-shelled wisdom
	paraphrased from textbooks,
		not the mimicking nor plaques of distinction
		nor the ribbons and medals
but after the privileged carriage has passed
	the breeze blows traces of wheel ruts away
	and on the dust will again be the people's broken
							footprints.
What is broken God blesses,
	not the perfectly brick-on-brick prison
	but the shattered wall
	that announces freedom to the world,
proclaims the irascible spirit of the human
rebelling against lies, against betrayal,
against taking what is not deserved;
	the human complaint is what God blesses,
	our impoverished dirt roads filled with cripples,
what is broken is baptized,
	the irreverent disbeliever,
	the addict's arm seamed with needle marks
		is a thread line of a blanket
	frayed and bare from keeping the man warm.
We are all broken ornaments,
		glinting in our worn-out work gloves,
		foreclosed homes, ruined marriages,
from which shimmer our lives in their deepest truths,
blood from the wound,
				broken ornaments—
when we lost our perfection and honored our imperfect sentiments, we were
blessed.
Broken are the ghettos, barrios, trailer parks where gangs duel to death,
yet through the wretchedness a woman of sixty comes riding her rusty bicycle,
			we embrace
			we bury in our hearts,
broken ornaments, accused, hunted, finding solace and refuge
		we work, we worry, we love
		but always with compassion
		reflecting our blessings—
			in our brokenness
			thrives life, thrives light, thrives
				the essence of our strength,
					each of us a warm fragment,
					broken off from the greater
					ornament of the unseen,
					then rejoined as dust,
					to all this is.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
Balance
Adam Zagajewski, 1945
I watched the arctic landscape from above
and thought of nothing, lovely nothing.
I observed white canopies of clouds, vast
expanses where no wolf tracks could be found.

I thought about you and about the emptiness
that can promise one thing only: plenitude—
and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland
bursts from a surfeit of happiness.

As we drew closer to our landing,
the vulnerable earth emerged among the clouds,
comic gardens forgotten by their owners,
pale grass plagued by winter and the wind.

I put my book down and for an instant felt
a perfect balance between waking and dreams.
But when the plane touched concrete, then
assiduously circled the airport's labryinth,

I once again knew nothing. The darkness
of daily wanderings resumed, the day's sweet darkness,
the darkness of the voice that counts and measures,
remembers and forgets.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
Placements I: "The New Wilderness"
Clayton Eshleman, 1935

for Jerome Rothenberg
 

Anguish, a door, Le Portel, the body bent over jagged rock, 
in ooze, crawling in darkness to trace the button of itself
--or to unbutton the obscure cage in which a person and an 
animal are copulas--or are they delynxing each other? Or 
are they already subject and predicate in the amniotic cave 
air watching each other across the word barrier, the flesh?

                              *

At arm's length the image, my focus the extent of my reach. 
Where I end the other begins. And is not all art which gen-
uinely moves us done in the "dark" against a "wall"? Olson's 
whisper (a prayer), "(boundary
            Disappear."

                              *

Artaud's hatred of depth near the end of his life. All real 
action, he ranted, was at surface. Beyond? Nothing. Below 
and above? Nothing. At the same time he desired to be or-
ganless, eternal. James Hiliman writes: "Every rebirth fan-
tasy in psychology may be a defense against depth." If com-
ing up out of the cave of night can mean an openness to know-
ing we've never left the cave, then rebirth ceases to be an-
tagonistic to depth.

                              *

The beginning of the construction of the underworld takes
place in Upper Paleolithic caves. To identify this "place
under construction," I use the later Greek word "Hades,"
and it is there that the first evidence of psyche we can 
relate to occurs. To be in the cave is to be inside an an-
imal--a womb--but to draw there is to seek another kind of
birth; an adjustment to the crisis of the animal separat-
ing out of the human--or, the Fall. To be inside, to be 
hidden, to be in Hades--where the human hides in the animal.

                              *

Semi-conscious scanning through the lich gate. Wandering 
the winding windows of images. Knowing that as we see through, 
we only at best see into dream to touch the cave wall socket 
in which the current is called animal. Its adamant muzzle 
confers moisture on my deathly palm.

                              *

Since the hidden is bottomless, totality is more invisible 
than visible. Insistence on a totality in which life is tot-
ally visible, is the anti-dream, Hades deprived of his cave, 
Satan attempting to establish a kingdom--or death camp--
solely on earth.

                              *

As species disappear, the Upper Paleolithic grows more vivid. 
As living animals disappear, the first outlines become more 
dear, not as reflections of a day world, but as the primal
outlines of psyche, the shaping of the underworld, the point 
at which Hades was an animal. The "new wilderness" is thus 
the spectral realm created by the going out of animal life
and the coming in, in our time, of these primary outlines.
Our tragedy is to search further and further back for a
common non-racial trunk in which the animal is not separated
out of the human, while we destroy the turf on which we
actually stand.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
Lot's Wife
Anna Akhmatova
And the just man trailed God's shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
"It's not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed."

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . .
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
Charlotte Bronte in Leeds Point
Stephen Dunn, 1939
From her window marshland stretched for miles.
If not for egrets and gulls, it reminded her of the moors
behind the parsonage, how the fog often hovered
and descended as if sheltering some sweet compulsion
the age was not ready to see. On clear days the jagged
skyline of Atlantic City was visible—Atlantic City,
where all compulsions had a home.

"Everything's too easy now," she said to her neighbor,
"nothing resisted, nothing gained." Once, at eighteen,
she dreamed of London's proud salons glowing
with brilliant fires and dazzling chandeliers.
Already her own person—passionate, assertive—
soon she'd create a governess insistent on rights equal
to those above her rank. "The dangerous picture

of a natural heart," one offended critic carped.
She'd failed, he said, to let religion reign
over the passions and, worse, she was a woman.
Now she was amazed at what women had,
doubly amazed at what they didn't.
But she hadn't come back to complain or haunt.
Her house on the bay was modest, adequate.

It need not accommodate brilliant sisters
or dissolute brothers, spirits lost or fallen.
Feminists would pay homage, praise her honesty
and courage. Rarely was she pleased. After all,
she was an artist; to speak of honesty in art,
she knew, was somewhat beside the point.
And she had married, had even learned to respect

the weakness in men, those qualities they called
their strengths. Whatever the struggle, she wanted men
included. Charlotte missed reading chapters to Emily, 
Emily reading chapters to her. As ever, though, she'd try
to convert present into presence, something unsung
sung, some uprush of desire frankly acknowledged,
even in this, her new excuse for a body.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
Mermaid Song
Kim Addonizio, 1954
         for Aya at fifteen

Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself 
upside down across the sofa, reading, 
one hand idly sunk into a bowl
of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on. 
I think they are growing gills, swimming 
up the sweet air to reach you. Small girl, 
my slim miracle, they multiply.
In the black hours when I lie sleepless, 
near drowning, dread-heavy, your face 
is the bright lure I look for, love's hook 
piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
The Pomegranate
Eavan Boland, 1944
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere.  And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted.  Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
                    It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate!  How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and 
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry.  I could warn her.  There is still a chance.
The rain is cold.  The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world.  But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.  
She will enter it.  As I have.
She will wake up.  She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips.  I will say nothing.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
Song
Brigit Pegeen Kelly
Listen: there was a goat's head hanging by ropes in a tree.
All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it
Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing
The song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, and then
They lay back down again. In the night wind, the goat's head
Swayed back and forth, and from far off it shone faintly
The way the moonlight shone on the train track miles away
Beside which the goat's headless body lay. Some boys
Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.
The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they
Finished the job. They hung the bleeding head by the school
And then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.
The head hung in the tree. The body lay by the tracks.
The head called to the body. The body to the head.
They missed each other. The missing grew large between them,
Until it pulled the heart right out of the body, until
The drawn heart flew toward the head, flew as a bird flies
Back to its cage and the familiar perch from which it trills.
Then the heart sang in the head, softly at first and then louder,
Sang long and low until the morning light came up over
The school and over the tree, and then the singing stopped....
The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named
The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after
The night's bush of stars, because the goat's silky hair
Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.
The girl lived near a high railroad track. At night
She heard the trains passing, the sweet sound of the train's horn
Pouring softly over her bed, and each morning she woke
To give the bleating goat his pail of warm milk. She sang
Him songs about girls with ropes and cooks in boats.
She brushed him with a stiff brush. She dreamed daily
That he grew bigger, and he did. She thought her dreaming
Made it so. But one night the girl didn't hear the train's horn,
And the next morning she woke to an empty yard. The goat
Was gone. Everything looked strange. It was as if a storm
Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain
Stripping the branches of fruit. She knew that someone
Had stolen the goat and that he had come to harm. She called
To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called
And called. She walked and walked. In her chest a bad feeling
Like the feeling of the stones gouging the soft undersides
Of her bare feet. Then somebody found the goat's body
By the high tracks, the flies already filling their soft bottles
At the goat's torn neck. Then somebody found the head
Hanging in a tree by the school. They hurried to take
These things away so that the girl would not see them.
They hurried to raise money to buy the girl another goat.
They hurried to find the boys who had done this, to hear
Them say it was a joke, a joke, it was nothing but a joke....
But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have
Their fun and be done with it. It was harder work than they
Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the job,
Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.
What they didn't know was that the goat's head was already
Singing behind them in the tree. What they didn't know
Was that the goat's head would go on singing, just for them,
Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen,
Pail after pail, stroke after patient stroke. They would
Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees
Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder. There
Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,
The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother's call.
Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song
Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.

Dancing at the Crossroads
next
My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer
Mark Strand, 1934 - 2014
1

When the moon appears
and a few wind-stricken barns stand out
in the low-domed hills
and shine with a light
that is veiled and dust-filled
and that floats upon the fields,
my mother, with her hair in a bun,
her face in shadow, and the smoke
from her cigarette coiling close
to the faint yellow sheen of her dress,
stands near the house
and watches the seepage of late light
down through the sedges,
the last gray islands of cloud
taken from view, and the wind
ruffling the moon's ash-colored coat
on the black bay.


2

Soon the house, with its shades drawn closed, will send
small carpets of lampglow
into the haze and the bay
will begin its loud heaving
and the pines, frayed finials
climbing the hill, will seem to graze
the dim cinders of heaven.
And my mother will stare into the starlanes,
the endless tunnels of nothing,
and as she gazes,
under the hour's spell,
she will think how we yield each night
to the soundless storms of decay
that tear at the folding flesh,
and she will not know
why she is here
or what she is prisoner of
if not the conditions of love that brought her to this.


3

My mother will go indoors
and the fields, the bare stones
will drift in peace, small creatures --
the mouse and the swift -- will sleep
at opposite ends of the house.
Only the cricket will be up,
repeating its one shrill note
to the rotten boards of the porch,
to the rusted screens, to the air, to the rimless dark,
to the sea that keeps to itself.
Why should my mother awake?
The earth is not yet a garden
about to be turned. The stars
are not yet bells that ring
at night for the lost.
It is much too late.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
A Blessing
James Wright, 1927 - 1980

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Poetry Valentines   Browse all six free cards

Dancing at the Crossroads
next
A Green Crab's Shell
Mark Doty, 1953
Not, exactly, green:
closer to bronze
preserved in kind brine,

something retrieved
from a Greco-Roman wreck,
patinated and oddly

muscular. We cannot
know what his fantastic
legs were like—

though evidence
suggests eight
complexly folded

scuttling works
of armament, crowned
by the foreclaws'

gesture of menace
and power. A gull's
gobbled the center,

leaving this chamber
—size of a demitasse—
open to reveal

a shocking, Giotto blue.
Though it smells
of seaweed and ruin,

this little traveling case
comes with such lavish lining!
Imagine breathing

surrounded by
the brilliant rinse
of summer's firmament.

What color is
the underside of skin?
Not so bad, to die,

if we could be opened
into this—
if the smallest chambers

of ourselves,
similarly,
revealed some sky.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
Deer Dancer
Joy Harjo, 1951
Nearly everyone had left that bar in the middle of winter except the
hardcore.  It was the coldest night of the year, every place shut down, but
not us.  Of course we noticed when she came in.  We were Indian ruins.  She
was the end of beauty.  No one knew her, the stranger whose tribe we
recognized, her family related to deer, if that's who she was, a people
accustomed to hearing songs in pine trees, and making them hearts.

The woman inside the woman who was to dance naked in the bar of misfits
blew deer magic.  Henry jack, who could not survive a sober day, thought she
was Buffalo Calf Woman come back, passed out, his head by the toilet.  All
night he dreamed a dream he could not say.  The next day he borrowed
money, went home, and sent back the money I lent.  Now that's a miracle.
Some people see vision in a burned tortilla, some in the face of a woman.

This is the bar of broken survivors, the club of the shotgun, knife wound, of
poison by culture.  We who were taught not to stare drank our beer.  The
players gossiped down their cues.  Someone put a quarter in the jukebox to
relive despair.  Richard's wife dove to kill her.  We had to keep her
still, while Richard secretly bought the beauty a drink.

How do I say it?  In this language there are no words for how the real world
collapses.  I could say it in my own and the sacred mounds would come into 
focus, but I couldn't take it in this dingy envelope.  So I look at the stars in 
this strange city, frozen to the back of the sky, the only promises that ever
make sense.

My brother-in-law hung out with white people, went to law school with a
perfect record, quit.  Says you can keep your laws, your words.  And
practiced law on the street with his hands.  He jimmied to the proverbial
dream girl, the face of the moon, while the players racked a new game.
He bragged to us, he told her magic words and that when she broke,
  became human.
But we all heard his voice crack:

What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?

That's what I'd like to know, what are we all doing in a place like this?


You would know she could hear only what she wanted to; don't we all?  Left
the drink of betrayal Richard bought her, at the bar.  What was she on?  We all
wanted some.  Put a quarter in the juke.  We all take risks stepping into thin
air.  Our ceremonies didn't predict this.  or we expected more.

I had to tell you this, for the baby inside the girl sealed up with a lick of
hope and swimming into the praise of nations.  This is not a rooming house, but
a dream of winter falls and the deer who portrayed the relatives of 
strangers.  The way back is deer breath on icy windows.

The next dance none of us predicted.  She borrowed a chair for the stairway
to heaven and stood on a table of names.  And danced in the room of children 
without shoes.

You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille With four hungry children and a
crop in the field.

And then she took off her clothes.  She shook loose memory, waltzed with the
empty lover we'd all become.

She was the myth slipped down through dreamtime.  The promise of feast we
all knew was coming.  The deer who crossed through knots of a curse to find
us.  She was no slouch, and neither were we, watching.

The music ended.  And so does the story.  I wasn't there.  But I imagined her
like this, not a stained red dress with tape on her heels but the deer who
entered our dream in white dawn, breathed mist into pine trees, her fawn a 
blessing of meat, the ancestors who never left.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
Sequestered Writing
Carolyn Forché, 1950
Horses were turned loose in the child's sorrow. Black and roan, cantering through snow.
The way light fills the hand with light, November with graves, infancy with white.
White. Given lilacs, lilacs disappear. Then low voices rising in walls.
The way they withdrew from the child's body and spoke as if it were not there.

What ghost comes to the bedside whispering You?
-- With its no one without its I --
A dwarf ghost? A closet of empty clothes?
Ours was a ghost who stole household goods. Nothing anyone would miss.
Supper plates. Apples. Barbed wire behind the house.

At the end of the hall, it sleepwalks into a mirror wearing mother's robe.
A bedsheet lifts from the bed and hovers. Face with no face. Come here.
The bookcase knows, and also the darkness of books. Long passages into,
Endless histories toward, sleeping pages about. Why else toss gloves into a grave?

A language that once sent ravens through firs. The open world from which it came.
Words holding the scent of an asylum fifty years. It is fifty years, then.
The child hears from within: Come here and know, below 
And unbeknownst to us, what these fields had been.
Dancing at the Crossroads
next
Diving into the Wreck
Adrienne Rich, 1929 - 2012
First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.