A MEETING IN GREEN
In Scotland walking one time
I came up a ridge thick with dark trees
and sauntered among them
a hint of snow in the air
but mild enough in here
soon there was a smallish man
sitting on a fallen tree
who looked up at me.
A thousand year old tweed jacket was on him
like poets and professors used to wear
but his chest was bare, scant grey hairs
curling here and there. Around his neck
a bright green silky cloth was knotted
Words seemed called for
but what did I know worth telling a stranger?
Always a problem. He helped by asking
what I thought of all these trees.
I liked them, the dark of them, how they held
the crest of the ridge and seemed to guide
the landscape of the eye north
out of valley of the Annan
towards the far highlands. He spat.
These are not trees, just interlopers,
spruces from Alaska, grow fast
and have no character, the government
plants them because they’re cheap.
But they have nothing to do with us,
picturesque yes, but the wrong picture,
the wrong ecology you’d call it
and when I say they have no character
I mean they have none yet, he said.
Ah weary me, he said, we have to work
so hard to make them fit the place
and give off the balsam and the dreams
such trees are made for, trees
are the sources of our dreams, I assume
a traveler like you knows that?
I didn’t or hadn’t but did now, thanked him
for it but wondered what the Arabs do
who have no trees, or red deserts of Rajasthan
where also I once walked. He guessed
what I was doubting. Listen, and look,
not all trees are shaped like trees, some
are invisible and made of air, some curl
snakewise beneath the desert sands but all
fuel the preposterous gospel of the night
you woke from to find this place. Find me.
And who might you be, I felt bold
enough to ask. I am one of them
and I wear green, I have seen
the likes of you climb up this hill
more years than I need specify.
Sometimes there were trees
and sometimes not, sometimes stags
clambered up to rouse the shyling doe,
sometimes birds were my good company,
hoodies and small sparrows and the dawn.
Now you come along to pass
the time of day with, and that’s not wrong.
If you linger somewhere long enough
someone’s bound to come along and speak.
That’s the only kind of talk makes any sense.
as the light increases,
& a joyous 2012 to come
(On a painting newly ascribed to Leonard of Vinci)
This is she of whom we spoke
whose character doth alter
in proportion with our closeness to her
unlike an image: which is fixèd
certainly, and changeth not
if we come near or stand afar
This one is she who changeth
as we change, who is all hurry
towards us when we approach
yet turneth chill when from her
we strive for our souls’ sake
to move a little off. She knoweth
all things we ponder, all wishes
we endure within our hearts
she knoweth well, and from us
turneth only a little bit aside—
still close—and peereth calmly
at quiet distances she alone can see.
22 January 2010
And the Bishop of Manila
Saffron blind and poor
Says mass with two chisels
For women and for men.
—Lorca, “San Miguel”
It is Good Friday and why.
I am waiting for something
to tell me something
about why I am waiting
and for whom. It is not
the Bishop with the files
in his hands to saw down
the cross that has seen
so much pain in its name.
O when the cross
was just wood!
O when the bishop
was just a man and I was a man
like you and a woman
like you and the saffron
in the waterbowls
made their own daylight
in the shimmer of the butterlamps,
o when light
was only light, when the world
was enough of a mass to say.
= = =
high tension of reading a poem is such that any reader is somehow,
somewhere, secretly or otherwise anxious for The End, for the poem to
end. That anxiety for conclusion is built into the nature
of the lyric poem, the short poem, and we can't escape it. Poetry
seems like a clash of Gertrude Stein's "writing wants to go on" with a
kind of Aristotelian "the form wants closure" -- it may be the very
tension that makes us love the delicate discomfort of the poem.
= = =
the page looked like this, in the sense that a sentence was continuing from an earlier page, but what is the earlier page of a dream? Is the answer any clearer than if I asked: what is the earliest dream? But it looked like this, the way a page in a book looks, a page in a slim English book of a few decades back, a book about the poet Louis MacNeice and his book or long poem Ten Burnt Offerings which I’d read once on the old B&O train one spring afternoon on my way to Baltimore and we kept stopping by sidings near Havre de Grace, fields full of Queen Anne’s lace. So when the page I was reading got about this far, it quoted some lines from MacNeice:
You’re in God’s
wee hands now and the world away
and who can say
this is how it looked,
the words go on to make a shape
elegant and lean against the dream,
white of the last page
and then the page went on again, elucidating as I cannot hope to do the few lines I actually saw and retained in dream (the first two verses above, and then just the shape of the rest) and I woke up thinking about MacNeice’s voice when I heard him read once, that dry intelligent voice with what I would come to know as the Belfast upbeat in the last word of every poem, like the trope we heard a decade back in the talk of Valley girls, uptalk, and I thought about girls from the valley, and MacNeice and all the dead, dead railroads, dead cities, dead friends and pages that are always virgin, ready for new life, fields of space open just like this