BALCONY ABOVE ANTIBES
The South of France
then wind drags time through their fingers
puddling it on the table, against a chair leg,
there on the terrace with the Antibes sun
stuck on the tip of a single green cypress,
comfort thick in their veins
they sit in painted poses, these cousins,
as if Renoir and Matisse had chosen them too,
faces flat against the brightness,
thought bleaching away
and I want to climb into this picture,
into this unmown time that my parents
always hoarded like candy--untasked time
beyond Sunday, beyond Summer,
hidden in some locked drawer
I sit beside them aping their indolence,
reach for an olive which slips from my fingers
to flagstones brushed with light
I can leave the olive for the black-tailed squirrel
tending its summer babies, a small mercy,
but I stretch down out of some ancient fear of waste
and my chair catches in a crevice,
balancing me in a moment full of ...
comfort that swells up, that I can lean into,
a softness without edge that demands...nothing
lines and letters fall through the fraying web
as the moment stretches thinner and thinner
in this place that cannot stay itself and slips me
toward all those unused minutes
laid open on the flagstones
Her feet trust the ground
when she walks barefoot
across the monastery lawn,
unshivering in the agitation
of my stare.
"Forgive me," I block her
moving meditation with my plea.
"Visit my friend, please.
He's so sick he stopped fighting.
He's given me up."
Our cropped haircuts, revealing
our ears, are interchangeable,
but not my western dress
her batik shawl laced with antlers
and a sea of scales.
Her eyes, patient with old pain,
invite me to suck out her steadiness,
make amulets of her understanding.
"Help me." I grasp her arm.
Palm up, she unfurls her fingers.
"Do this," she says. "Let him go."
At first I thought of the silence as brittle,
afraid it would craze and shatter
without constant vigilance.
I carried it like a delicate plant,
attentive for any disturbance in the air.
Gradually, still holding it, I let my thoughts wander
as I walked the monastery paths,
stiffening less as I passed another.
My skin softened and relaxed onto my bones.
Soon my eyes stopped registering people,
though I still saw trees and clouds, brushed my teeth
unaware of male or female at the sinks on either side.
I packed away my voice as you wrap treasured ornaments
before a journey, happy to be free of their care,
sure of joy later when unwrapping them.
Time spread and slowed,
like a drop of water on a napkin,
reaching into each grain of rice at meals.
I needed less food, less sleep,
no longer feeding my defenses.
Each day I carried fewer things,
didn't record my thoughts,
freeing each moment for the next.
A banyan tree could fill a morning,
a breeze lift me from the ground.
And a week later, when the keen,
thrumming chant of one hundred monks
burst aloud, my body vibrated into light.
I'm driving in fog
in the empty gray breath of earth
headlights beaming into the anarchy
for shadow that might be a street sign
fence line, the trunk of a tree
searching for shape in this exhalation
for mass, circumference
that can be winnowed out
be the beginning, the center
even the edge
the ways poets pull image from vagueness
words from noise
if I can silence this frantic hum in my head
stop clattering against the future
walk out of the past that is dragging
and banging at my feet
be still enough to see in the softness
hear the generation of form
there will be a moment when
the fog will bloom into brightness
the poem alight on my lips
QINIBAGH HOTEL, CHINA
A dirty stream, a random catch-now, scales glittering,
this fish commands the lobby of the Qinibagh Hotel
Thrice filtered water, daily food, he circles mouth to tail,
tail to mouth, teeth clenched down, the shape of final sorrow
And guests glide across the crimson marble floor,
gift shop to bar, bar to lounge chair, chair to shop
Do any take the measure of the other or the girl, starched uniform,
pushing a broom across her assigned squares of polished tile
What happens to footprints that can't cohere,
ripples that extinguish themselves as the fish swims
and the girl sweeps the distance between shape and shadow,
erasing memories forever fallow and unfledged