The Ploughman

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.

Essay Concerning Last Year’s Ashes

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.

 

Eucharist 

 

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.”

 

From a Notebook, Again…

 

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…

**

The trick:

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….

**

Mahler’s Fifth.

Never got over it.

Seven years old.

Gramophone. Winter.

 

Walking

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,

Daylight beckoning,

Maybe the old Labrador

Will know, his black face

White muzzle

Probing among roots.

Aging is often without guile,

Straight, entire,

Written between lines.

He’s found black currants

Keen friend, picks one

With his teeth,

Drops it in your hand.

 

The Body, Again

 

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.