Friday, September 28, 2012

Sheila Black

Coup de Foudre

“Somehow I outlived a stormy night with snow on my eyelids”

          Yusuf Komunyaka

You fell around me & into every palpable

thing—rhododendron, cracked sidewalk. The
world became stranger. You fell around me and
each time it was slightly different, a glitter of ice
on boots, the hush as under an elevated train,
white noise breeding silence, an under-
ground life, furtive, quickening like prey
in gun-sight. And often as if from another life,
a picture of walking through and around
the blue chambers of longing which folded
in on themselves like chambers of the
nautilus, which wills itself to sink down into
the pink sand of the bottom, whatever is
untrammeled, virgin. Once on a circular
stair, I stopped before a small round peephole
a vision of sky in which I glimpsed you, winking
even-star, ice planet, space-that-never-was,
untenable and quick-vanishing as snow.


Poem for a Birthday

(for Duncan)

Don’t say a word, just breathe on the window

and trace a shape. If it is a branch may it flower,

weighted with the green globes of

pears. If it is a bird

let it rest on the tallest branch, breathe in a

more crystal air.

Let it flap its wings, ascending through

the layers until

it feels a stranger to itself. Let

if fly home. Let it be the rabbit whose quick

heart pulses in the tall grass.

Let it run and past

the window and into the white

world, and the moon in the morning, and the stars

which no one can see.


For John Keats

You wait for the last carriage or

it has arrived—horse breath,
chestnuts in bloom, a circle of

white. A spot spreads on a cloth—

crest of the red poll—thin
stripped poppy—a brightness you

could not help but love. I cannot

be mistaken in that color, you
said. This is arterial blood and I

must die. In a heaviness of night,

I wake confused, my left arm burns,
nerves throbbing, and I touch it

to cool plaster. You kept walking,

I am sure of it—descending Maida
Vale to Marleybone, a pallor

of skies, the tap rooms, stables,

a linden in new leaf in which
you struggled to read the fortitude

it takes to love. A critic writes that

your poems, until almost the last,
are never about despair—the self

collapsing inward, but always a

projection outward—songbirds
scaling a space that unreels

to silk. In my night room—the

pitted walls, I grow afraid a day
will come when I cannot picture

the lark ascent—blues ineffable

as taste. Bitter and uneasy in mind.
Yet at the end you tried to comfort

your friend—you said, for you had

seen it before, Death is coming.
It will not be so terrible. Poor Severn.


Paso Del Norte

There would have been a reason to settle
here, perhaps when the river rose,

the rows of concrete-poured houses
plaster saints, Christmas lights. At the edge

tarmac roads decline to dirt, beyond
the chalked squares of developments,

stalled by recession, scrub, mesquite.
Above the bridge by Fort Bliss: It’s a good day

to be a soldier. The legends of desert battle:
the men who marched off into nowhere.

In Flaubert’s story St. Julian I’Hospitalier
the boy who wishes to be great murders a

mouse, and this small death ignites a blood
hunger so acute, every day the boy rides out

driving his horse until its mouth turns white.
He slaughters the foxes, the water birds, the

stags in the deep woods, pushing a whole herd
into a small river; and the red of the water pleases

him, he loves it as he loves no person, scheming to
kill the wife who has betrayed him, until, cursed,

he murders both his parents instead--his sword
pushing through his mother’s white shawl.

This is the valley of bones where nothing
can grow. Blood-strain dimming behind his eyes,

he redeems himself, carries a leper through high waters,
pressing the man’s open wounds against his

own. A story about hunger and its slow slaughter.
Behind the gates of Fort Bliss, the young boys

with shaved heads wait for their transport to
a desert much like this one. The same spit

in their mouths, tang of dust, blood-rust,
longing—the red of the water, the stags leaping.

The Saint of Hospitality is the murderous
boy. He becomes the host who carries us all

across. I would not stop him from passing through this
city: Passage of the North where the migrants

slide across the dessicated river, abandoning
names and shoes. On the corner walking past us

like ghosts, and we touch them, even when we
do not touch them—not even with our eyes.


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