Friday, January 23, 2009

Fix It

Fix It (Winter)

He disappeared in the dead of winter.
—W. H. Auden

lips part
To greet the perfect stranger.
—James Merrill

Heart’s February: fill it in as bleak
and lonely. But today a warming flood
of color stains the calendar’s pale cheek.
The eve of your return I give my blood.
Picture a glacier bruising into bloom.
I let it all hang out and drain from my
right, my writing arm: the silent room,
morning and evening’s empty bed. I lie
between two bodies, palping a red ball,
flushed to pallor, gazing at the ceiling,
as hollow days are dammed into a crimson pool
soon to be sealed and channeled to a stranger
and even more precarious life. I’m filling
a loving cup to raise to mortal danger.

What the eye, seeking, fails to penetrate
the ear awaits. Presently a cry

(baby waking, tomcat, beaten dog,
or floating rage caught raw between the walls)

shrills from the street. No, from the locked
interior whose study window, bright

with strained attention, now winks suddenly
from a blank surface. You’ve turned in the light.

Beyond the potted palms in some remote
anteroom the beaded curtains stir:

so I must sense, must pluck from winter air
the snatches of that song, or let the link

between our skulls (now stretched; now tighter) loosen.
I shut my eyes and almost hear you think.

I read much of the night. Ineptly woo
some shabby cousin of oblivion
out of the garish hours after two.
Having locked the secret inmost door,
stretched, and remembered once again you’re gone,
I wander to the kitchen for a swig
of milk, and creak back down the corridor
to a ghost bedroom, chilly and too big.

No, but the necklace! Burst
and scattered agates sprayed apart and rolled
under the furniture, and it was lost,
a labyrinth of winter, overnight
and not to be recovered. Somehow scaled
in those cold globes was a whole summer’s wealth of light.

I lean my ladder on
the beautiful, the flawed
handiwork of God
and turn to spy my son

busy way down there
patching a balloon,
filling in the moon.
The whole world needs repair.

Broken! he calls the moon
if it is less than round.
These syllables resound
domestically soon

as lightbulb, pencil, tile
get broken. His decree
Fix it! shows faith in me
that prompts me first to smile

and then suppress a sigh
and fetching tape and glue
climb up to mend the blue
disasters in the sky.

I lean my ladder on
the beautiful, the flawed
handiwork of God
and turn to spy my son.

Time to tunnel deeper into winter.
Broken! the boy cries, pointing at the moon.
Agates roll downhill into the river.

I stretch my chilly legs awake and wonder
whether this absence will seem warmer soon
and, sighing, rise: another day of winter.

It’s not as if I’m lonely. I’m a mother,
busy with fixing—pop went that balloon.
Agates roll away into a river

opaque with ice. So walk across the water,
so fix the brownouts of a cloudy sun?
No use. We’re heading deeper into winter.

What has been lost is gone and gone forever:
such knowledge is what forty winters mean.
My agates (yours?)—they vanished in the river

like last year’s snows. The only ever after
is what’s already written in the rune
of losses deeply etched into the winter
while agates settle blackly at the bottom of the river.

Something terrible is going to happen.
Something terrible has already happened.

Up from the dark words of authority rise,
anger, affection. Lights

gleam a minute till the door is slammed.
Easier to instruct anyone else in the truth of feeling

than try to span the awful gap yourself,
yourself to search for stones to leapfrog on

across the—is it water or a tunnel?
And in. And shut that door.

I don’t hear or listen well these days.
Did you say your new poem about your father

was to be called “Lines Found in a Bottle”?
I think I got it wrong. This bottle had

milk in it, bourbon, apple juice—not words.
It plugged three generations’ mouths to dumbness.

Weaned to a cup, my son escaped the bottle
and now eats sugar by the spoonful. I chew gum.

Faces stuffed, we slam right out of this
impossible world, propelled at speed

by terror, rage, loss,
and enter the shadow room of mourning.

Now it is multiplied as in a hall of mirrors.
Unpeeled of memory, ranks of men leap up

leaving lighted rooms with a start to go
in search of those lost lives:

precious particulars of how and when,
not whether, something terrible has happened.

“Both my fathers have cancer,” you said once.
I think you said it. Asymmetrically

you had two fathers, I had none. I had to
run upstairs one summer, slam a door,

and cry about my father: not that the loss was fresh
but that downstairs a woman also wept

whose ripened loss matched mine.
Two wounds touching start to bleed again.

Wetness is blessed: fountain stubbornly tumbling
to rise again over dust, shit, shards of glass.

“Now I want to kneel at a stream and drink,
or drink from a cup”; words flow from you

the week I’m teaching water, dipping deep
in Walden Pond, cursing aridities.

It had been said before as praise: “Recovered
greenness”; as prayer: Send my roots rain.”

Subterranean fathers hollowly
boom at the bottom of their empty cistern

Drink me.
My son’s new interest in drains
and water fountains (mountains, as he calls them):

he squats or lies face down to peer below
the grating; stretches up to touch the water.

Mountain of water, shine another spring
so we can drink from you and wet our lips

or raise a chancy cup
and across the rim salute each other’s

continued greenness. But the wind blows fresh
and filthy from the river.

Fix what is broken. What is scattered gather.
Easy to say. Not far from here, a woman

looks up to meet her eyes in the mirror
and sees a death. Her own?

Something terrible is about to happen?
Something terrible has already happened.

Not in the dead of winter
her father went, but one day before Easter

he walked the green, the warming earth, then vanished.
Pieces of his shirt still lay on the rug that night

where they’d cut it off to try to start his heart.
The tick, the march, inexorable. She touches

her own heart. It’s beating.
Wait. There are children sleeping.

There is unfinished music on the table.
The rest of a life waits on the other side of the mirror

and also somewhere invisible a limit.
A wall. If it were only painted black,

if she could see dark glass, it would be clearer.
She would be able to turn away from light

awhile and walk the room of the dead and say
it again: Something terrible has happened.

Fix what is broken. What is scattered gather.
Love’s gift of agates sown on the barren winter:

find them, restring them in another order.
And news of the lost father—

bottle bobbing, contents still unread,
toward a nameless destination,

perhaps a country where there are no fathers,
far out across the black and oily water.

Swoop of a bird swung between high walls.
Cry of a child rising from the house of darkness.

Up, uppie, says the boy, and holds his arms
up to be lifted in a world where sink
and table, chair and crib are still so tall
they have to be looked up to. Uppie, up!

The small bones lengthen, stretching in his sleep.
He is growing up. Our idiom features
cosily preposition-ended phrases
as well for aging, as slow down, dry out,

finally shrivel up.
Withered, a bush blows hard in autumn wind,
bald of petals now but still upright,
up, up,
obeying the commands of appetite.

:: Rachel Hadas, Pass It On (1989)

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