The great poet came to me in a dream, walking toward me in a house drenched with August light. It was late afternoon and he was old, past a hundred, but virile, fit,leonine. I loved that my seducer had lived more than a century and a quarter. What difference does age make? We began to talk about the making of poems, how I craved his green cockatoo when I was young, named my Key West after his, like a parent naming a child "George Washington." He was not wearing the business suit I'd expected, nor did he have the bored Rushmore countenance of the familiar portrait. His white tee shirt was snug over robust chest and belly, his golden hair long, his beard full as a biker's. How many great poets ride a motorcycle? We were discussing the limits of image, how impossible for word to personate entirely thing: "sea," ocean an August afternoon; "elm," heartbreak of American boulevards after the slaughter of sick old beautiful trees. "I have given up language," he said. The room was crowded and noisy, so I thought I'd misheard. "Given up words?" "Yes, but not poems," he said, whereupon he turned away, walking into darkness. Then it was cooler, and we were alone in the gold room. "Here is a poem," he said, proffering a dry precisely formed leaf, on it two dead insects I recognized as termites, next to them a tiny flag of scarlet silk no larger than the price sticker on an antique brooch. Dusky red, though once bright, frayed but vivid. Minute replica of a matador's provocation? Since he could read my spin of association, he was smiling, the glee of genius. "Yes," he said, "that is the poem." A dead leaf? His grin was implacable. Dead, my spinner brain continued, but beautiful. Edge curling, carp-shaped, color of bronze or verdigris. Not one, but two termites—dead. To the pleasures of dining on sill or floor joist, of eating a house, and I have sold my house. I think of my friend finding termites when she reached, shelf suddenly dust on her fingers, library tumbling, the exterminator's bill. Rapacious bugs devour, a red flag calls up the poem: Blood. Zinnia. Emergency. Blackbird's vermillion epaulet. Crimson of manicure. Large red man reading, handkerchief red as a clitoris peeking from his deep tweed pocket— Suddenly he was gone, gold draining from the walls, but the leaf, the leaf was in my hand, and in the silence I heard an engine howl, and through the night that darkened behind the window, I saw light bolt forward, the tail of a comet smudge black winter sky.
"Wallace Stevens" is reprinted from Red Shoes by Honor Moore. Copyright © 2005 Honor Moore. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.