A ploughman comes to me in my dream—synesthesia—his odor is of wine, the taste of wine, ripened cherries and earth and when he speaks I hear only syllables as I do not know his language. Even in dreams there’s something of the ironist, the upper hand of the subconscious, and I know this is a Finno-Ugrian tongue, Altaic and not calibrated to contemporary joy. Each sound is sorrow. We meet on a plain of losses and the sun is amber like Russian tea in a glass and soon it will be gone and the ploughman says things I do not understand but in my dream-like way I take to mean: sun-sorrow; course-sorrow; child-loss; deep-hunger; long shadows.
My dog of course, now in a can, who saved my life. She’s on my mantle, and I would scatter her to the wind but sadness presses down the tin box, my sadness akin to faith-paranoia, like the superstitious passenger who thinks his mind holds the plane aloft. I must keep my dog’s ashes close just as I maintain books on shelves and worn shoes in the closet.
There was a year in my youth when I was terribly lonely in a strange city. I knew very few people and the ones I did know were the quotidian kind—magazine seller, doorman, a severe librarian at the local university, which is to say they knew me as a creature, and I knew them as living beings but without true culture—we had no shared songs. One may live this way for a season or two. This was that kind of time. I arranged knickknacks carefully on my desk.
Sometimes I went to the botanical garden. It dated from Tsarist times and there were winding paths that seemed to lead nowhere—bafflements for clandestine conversations—and I walked in expanding circles among lilies, ferns, and flowers whose names I’d never know for vandals had long ago stolen the signs. Yes, there were flowers taller than men and they had no names and I liked them a great deal. It’s foolish to say it, but plants are silent the way you wish your friends could be, and this was especially true that year, when I was far from friends back home. The great, drowsy, half shaggy plants of the Tsars…how kind they were. They simply “were” and this was all I needed most mornings.
I had books. Stendahl, Neruda, Harry Martinson. In those days I smoked cigarettes and I’d light up in my imperial bower with its anonymous shrubs and think about what I liked and didn’t like about words. I saw I didn’t like “faith” or “rage” but I could do with “ardor” and “pique”—not because they were literary words but because they had nuance and unless you’re genuinely seasick this is how you want your feelings to be—of or pertaining to intuitions, gut gasps, solitudes in gardens.
Of course I’d put the ashes in my pockets along with the cigarette butts. It was best not to leave a trace. And here I am, forty years later, holding on to my lovely dog’s ashes because I can’t bear to part with even the starkest reminder. What coat might I carry them in? What knowing garment?
Foolish again. The ashes in every instance.
I had a dream last night about old Bill Yeats
Who lived for the heart in an age of knives,
Whose loves came apart like moth wings
Whose nation was cruel
When not boastful, then both, then dark,
So I was swept along by a shade
Who’d suffered much, who even so
Had found my sleeping head
And bending close
He opened his shirt—
Where his heart should have been
There was a hole—
“Believe this” he said,
“In remembrance of me.”
Autumn, or, Rain and a Lingering Soft Light of Sleep
I brew coffee while steam pipes talk
And my smallness in the scheme of things
Circles cat-like, though I have no cat.
Bride’s dress, goat’s wool, side by side in attic.
Here we walk now
My dead brother with me—
He’s the one (sensibly) wearing
White rubber boots.
Pawnshop in Athens
Not for from Syntagma Sq.
Saw I’d remain half crazy
For one more day…
There are lots of blind people my age
Who don’t much like themselves
Zig-zag lines of darkness
Make you (on the inside) drift like a leaf
Just a bone in a larger collection of bones,
What I am…call it the body if you like,
I know better. Soon now,
Rocks will roll straight through….
Never got over it.
Seven years old.
You give it your all, you and your dog,
Alone, late Fall, together
In joyful agony
For both of you are old,
Both seek a lonesome
And artless fullness.
It’s empty the day ahead
The meaninglessness of sun
Following—or is it
The other way around,
Maybe the old Labrador
Will know, his black face
Probing among roots.
Aging is often without guile,
Written between lines.
He’s found black currants
Keen friend, picks one
With his teeth,
Drops it in your hand.
You never swim out into the same water
But I woke this morning, blind,
A flock of school children passing,
One child drawing a stick along the fence,
The music of people
Who have more than they can carry,
And I thought, I’m no longer
So fond of travel…
Not old but inside
I’m pushed now
Farther to a corner,
The birds of my flesh lifting
Coursing over my house.
Have you ever been in an old style Italian greenhouse, the limonia, built close to the kitchen, so you could have citrus in winter, the tongue sensing something to live for? You could open the door and smell piney, sweet, uncompromising odors of the tropics, even on a day of cold rain.