For Audrey Richardson Curdy (1931–1986)
It was 1986, when currencies to be changed
Into multiple-launch-surface, anti-tank missiles
Swarmed through numbered bank accounts
Like Ovid’s seething knotted seed of frog-slime,
Which not seldome attracted by the sun falls
In little frogs with the rain; when it also rained
Radionuclides, strontium, caesium, & iodine,
Over river & clay, & over the poet’s Black Sea
Exile, before the prevailing winds blew them all
Across Europe from Chernobyl (jewel of a name
That means black stalks & tasted newly of metal),
& I was in your room trying to build a ﬁre.
Wet branches breaking, those were your breaths
Ripped out of the air. What was it hiding you
So that at every hour’s dusk I startled on you
Where you lay, nearly resigned in the talons
Of your most personal shape? Something still
Obdurate, still wild as the horned lark
Rising from its nest at the hunter’s feet.
I didn’t allow you to speak what I didn’t know
To ask. As far as the bolted iron door to adust
I could have followed, to watch the way
You put on your ﬂame like sweetness
Wearing the skin of a lion, & there kept
My vigil mild while bones leached minerals
& cell walls ruptured. It isn’t you
Curled like a seed of storm-pine in a furrow
Of ash, but your same small jeweled hand
Belonging to a Roman matron that I see,
Its livid reach forth the black igneous rock.
Too late to retrieve the truth, too late not to
Have been like the alchemist who, lowered by rope
Into the volcano, feeling the sharp concussion
Of heat, reported his own eyes saw olive groves
& sky, mountains, & rivers of water & fire.
What can I make of this? Oh, what am I to make?