The dark was not complete; for even there,
your head at rest, perhaps, against the dusty,
rough-milled planks, & hidden, safe at last
& most endangered, even there the light
could find you, fall upon you gently through
the cracks between the tool-shed’s warping boards;
& you, as if already dead, could see
the yard you’d played in as a little boy,
discovering its tribes & customs, now
as then, so many years ago, or else
so few, awash with stormlight, pursed & green
with April’s pangs.
Which now no longer hurt you
as before, no longer rose like panic
through the roots & branches of your heart,
but left you calm, almost indifferent,
& as that longest day wore on, the sky
turned clear, the sun intensified its gaze,
but you stayed hidden in that quiet dusk,
that solitude as secret as a tree-house
gently rocked in boyhood’s murmuring blue.
Some birds chirp in the neighbor’s apple tree.
Behind you, up where Turnpike Road curves out
into the county, an engine rises & fades.
Across the yard, your parent’s house is still
& shaded, as if everyone were napping.
A sniff of rust. Stale gasoline. A tiny
leaf hangs twirling by a spider’s thread.
And when at last you pressed the metal to
your skin, a thousand angels held their breath.
Well, my friend––yes, you of the memorial gaze, that look
that never did know when to quit till something raw &
truthful happened (you’re at it again, I see)––old friend,
let’s toast another dark, another year survived beneath
this gaudy moon & these frayed, threadbare constellations,
which do so little, in the end, to screen us from the day.
Some things have changed. The hemlock hedge is dying, blighted,
burning slowly from the bottom up. Everywhere the same,
I hear: the trees are sick here in the mountains, no one knows
with what. That pair of buntings––you remember: blue
as the east at evening from our Roan Mountain perch––
I’ve not seen them in—what? three years? The cardinal
still comes round the feeder now & then, but where’s his
mate? And that’s the other thing: I’ve started talking to myself,
or rather, posing certain twilit questions. I don’t sleep much.
The wind keeps me awake. At least, it sounds like wind,
this constant murmuring through the gap of your departure.
But that’s to be expected. What can I say? Life goes on
without you, as it must: the hours chew their way across
the yard, the days roll over on their backs & scratch
themselves, kick up a cloud of stars, & howl at the moon
waxing & waning on as if annihilation were a thing
to flirt with, & the seasons—well, you remember the seasons,
what a motley band of minstrels they are, thrown together
by a comet’s errant curve. It sure is muggy for September
in the mountains, though. And hazy, hardly the ideal
for poets of the crusted stone & crisp horizon, ridges
ringing like burnished bells under the stroke of light
& so forth. Maybe that’s why I’m so damn depressed,
if that’s what this is, this swampy feeling in the guts,
against which even dear old dry Montaigne & the heat
I’m sipping from this chipped green thrift-store glass
have no perceptible effect. And so I ask you: can the spirit
get a sore throat? I’m just wondering, because I wince
each time I try to swallow certain facts. You know the ones.
It’s nothing serious. Not enough to kill me. Still, if you had any
thoughts on that, I’d take yours over, for example, Kierkegaard’s.
(For what is Kierkegaard to me, & what am I to Kierkegaard?)
But over anybody’s really, though it’s hard these days to get
the gist of what you mean, you speak so softly now, softer even
than the shish of rain against the leaves outside the window.
Even softer than the silence underneath the rain, which I can hear,
but only when I hold myself extremely still, almost as still
as you are. Go ahead, then: tell me if I’m crazy, & I’ll listen up
for old time’s sake. Thing is, we go back quite a ways,
the two of us, & that has got to count for something. I say
let it count. —Ah, look: you haven’t even touched your drink.
So be it. Well, then here’s to you & me. And here’s to you.
Dusk-light scrapes the winter hill.
Is this the place where he stepped from the light?
Snowflakes cauterize the glass.
Is this the sound of his unborn sentences?
Stillness tingles on the bare tree.
Is this his arm conducting the symphony of lead?
Footsteps ring out on the last constellations.
Is this how the soul sets a course for the dark?