When his dogs leapt on Actaeon, he
cried (did he cry out?)—He flung
his arm to command, they tore his hand
from the wrist stump, tore
guts from his belly through the tunic, ripped
the cry from his throat.
That’s how we know a god, when the facts
leap at the tenderest innards, and we know
the god is what we can’t change. You
stood over me as I woke, I opened my eyes, I saw
that I’d seen and that it was too
late: the seeing
of you in the doorway with weak electric light
fanning behind you in the hall, and my room and narrow pallet steeped in shadow
were what I couldn’t change, and distantly
I wanted you, and, as distantly,
I heard the dogs, baying.
And yet the fountain spends itself, and it is
in the clear
light of its losing that we seem
to take delight:
you dipped your hand in its running braid
to sprinkle my forehead, my lips.
Garden deities observed us: three nymphs
with moss staining their haunches, a pug-nosed faun.
The wound in water closed
perfectly around your gesture, erasing it,
so that only the glimmer, swiftly
drying, on my face recalled
of the faultless, cold, passionate, perpetual
idea of the stream’s descent—
which, unlike ours, would always be renewed.
I kissed a flame, what did I expect.
Those days, you painted in fire. Tangerine, gold:
one would have had to be a pilgrim to walk
through that wall of molten glass.
could be conceived, if not
attained, only after many years,
in autumn, in a fire greater than yours,
though menstrual blood still tinged the threshold
and our ex-votos were sordid—scraps of blistered flesh
taped to kitsch prayer cards—and neither of us knew
the object of this exercise, except
having, inadvertently, each of us, burned
we recognized the smell
of wood smoke, the slow swirl
flakes of wood ash make in heavy air;
and we were ready, each in a private way, to make
the gifts the season required.
Mine was the scene
of my young self in your arms,
eyes in your eyes, clutched in the effort
to give each other away—when I glimpsed
behind your pleasure, fear; behind
fear, anger; and knew
in a bolt some gifts
conceal a greater gift.
I have kept it. Now I am ready to give it back
into darker flame
in this season of goldenrod, the ardent weed,
and Queen Anne’s lace in its mantilla of ash.
And yet, how lumpishly, how stupidly I stand.
How much that is human will never burn.
And if you should answer?
I listened, years before I knew you, to the whine
of wind through the high stony pastures above my childhood village;
I breathed lavender and thyme and burned my bare legs
on nettles, scraped them on thistles, and rubbed
the sore skin till it reddened all the more. When we
walked the uplands together, you burned your hand
and I kissed the crimsoning nettle-rash. “We are the Lords of need,”
you said Hafiz said,
and I believed you, and we were.
In the rugs of your country, carmine is crushed
from insects, cochineal; saffron gold
is boiled from crocus stamens; and indigo
of heaven and fountain pools is soaked, hours upon hours,
from indigo leaves. “Like the angel Harut,”
you said, “We are in the calamity of love-desire.”
The angel is chained by neck and knees, head down, in the pit of Babel
for falling in love. Your carpets
told a different story: scarlet and saffron
blush as in Paradise, and God reveals himself
in wine, flame, tulips, and the light in a mortal eye.
All night you held me, sleepless, on my childhood cot in the stone house;
all night the wind seethed through crags and twisted olive trees,
high on the scents of thyme and goat droppings. “All night,”
Hafiz sang, “I hope the breeze of dawn will cherish the lovers.”
But the breeze of dawn is the angel of death.
You are in your far landscape now, I am in mine:
the wind complains and I can’t understand the words.
And if you should answer?
You, ten years away, in a different wind.
“We are in the calamity,” Hafiz sang. “But tell the tale
of the minstrel and of wine, and leave time alone. Time
is a mystery no skill will solve.” We should
thread words like pearls, you said, and the grateful sky
would scatter the Pleiades upon us
though we couldn’t see, and that was long ago.
The carpet is not a story. It is a place,
garden of crisscrossed pathways, labyrinth,
fountain, pool, and stream.
As though the fabric had ripped at the vanishing point
at the top of the street
of ashen façades and slate-sloped roofs, you stepped
through the gap, out of your own world.
I had already lost my world.
We met in a torn design
which we tore further, pulling the tall warp,
thread wrapped tightly around our fingers until it bit the flesh
and the rue de Lille unravelled.
I know about design: it’s my job,
arranging other people’s letters in star charts
that phosphoresce in the dark between the closed covers of books.
You knew about design from the holes
blown through your country.
We spoke in a language of no country on earth.
You moved slowly, in shadow, teaching the shadows
to echo my name. You ripped my shirt at the neck.
Was it The Beloved I held, holding you?
Down the middle of the carpet the river
weaves a thousand gray glimmers into the deeper green.
The river knows about mourning; that’s its job.
How many years has it practiced? With such fleet fingers. A man
woke me at dawn this morning, sobbing and cursing in the street,
reeling from sidewalk to gutter and back again.
On my long gray street, the rue de Lille, where I still live.