My Other Life; Solstice in Age; Trees Full of Prayers; The Way It Is

My Other Life


Unwished-for, my other life
sails to the port of home.
The dome of that old volcano
floats over pickets of green,
serene as a ghost.
What would I wish for,
what would I see in the night
as it breathed at the window
and frightened the only boy
I would ever be?
The life in which I never left
that town, never learned
a word of Greek or burned
in the rubble of my own wreckage,
never stumbled in cities
but drove down the old roads—
remember them? The way
their crookedness beckoned,
or the salt tides among
creosoted pilings.
Perhaps. But staying home
could only have been futile
as woods and fallow fields
now ploughed under and paved
by those who don’t remember.
And still my other life
arrives by sail from the bay
under that same volcano,
that song at the bend of the road,
that hanging glacier, so cold.


Solstice in Age


Days are so short it’s hard to see
how anything gets done. The sea
reflects the sky’s translucent skin
while the sky itself is growing thin.
The color of the light is pale,
more of a lager than an ale
until the searchlight of the sun
flames out. The day is overrun.
The prisoners of thought escape
where stars cast shadows and reshape
an earth grown darker than a bruise.
The mind holds on, but it will lose.
Old age is like that, free and far
from all it can remember, star
and water, skin and burning sand,
a gesture made from mouth to hand,
dictating aether with an ache
the body offers for our sake,
and when we can no longer see
the body sighs to no one: Me.


Trees Full of Prayers


The limestone bluffs and pines above the shrine
to Artemis, and nearby the little house
where the virgin mother is said to have ended her days—
I have seen the wire gratings covered in prayers
written on scraps of paper and cloth by pilgrims
who come by the busload. I have stood outside
the magic circle of their intimations,
have seen on a Turkish hillside trees full of prayers.
The same in Wyoming under the laccolith,
and at Chief Joseph’s meager grave by the river.
Prayers to goddesses and men caught in the wind,
the scramble and trouble of history erased
by sincere effort to send the most private words
across from this world with its noise and division
there to that other realm where they might be heard.
So the wind takes them as it takes the leaves
and the pine boughs, the Tibetan prayer flags
climbing the hillside to the golden Buddha,
and the sun goes down in a gleam of burning gold
and the rutted snow is pocked by the spring rain
and somewhere a mother is naming the smallest child.
These aspirations move me, these fraught whispers,
voices left behind only in memory,
these small hands reaching into the bright air,
the pilgrim breath beginning the long journey
beyond consolation. Because the first voice
is the voice of the mother, and also the last.


The Way It Is


Signing off, we say, not sighing,
as if the air waves were a kind of writing,
devised, revised, measured and thought through,
as even a kind of poem ought to
give pause to the whirl of events we call
the latest chaos holding us in thrall.
A moment standing still, so we can see
its image pulsing with such clarity
only the hurt nerve could know it.
Old or young, we might endow it
with our listening eyes, our hearing sight.
I remember good old Walter Cronkite
signing off with “That’s the way it is,”
in days like these with burning cities,
and everything from Vietnam to Watergate
turned to story. The hour was late
then, and is later now.
Perhaps we will come through somehow.