The Pontalba Apartments in the View-Master
and the cardboard cathedral as if trapped in the dream
twenty years early, the whole a furious search
as if for a reason. Still, it's sex that spoils it, isn't it?
Jackson Square was the smallest sufficient landscape,
but that was before, and now the gates are locked
at sundown, and the smell of the river fails,
falls ever backward. Some of us lived there, though:
What shall we say who have knowledge
carried to the heart? Back then those flat facades
shone on young couples acting like lovers
or something, sitting on the bench, listening
to chimes, living on doughnuts.
There were pink roses on the iron fence
washing white in the streetlight.
Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon
a nice person owns a house of pink stone
with green lawns and little statues lining the drive.
Sometimes there are maids at the windows
shaking things in the breeze, sheets and pillows.
Sometimes those houses have gardeners
whose slim shears glisten in the sun, whose powders
and viscous liquids kill the slugs and common
little moles and dank dwellers.
But in the movies there is music for anything.
Every man matures in spite of himself,
thus deserves no credit after all. Another landscape
opened once on Ursulines Street: a convent
conveniently tended by tall nuns stooping.
Sounds of sprinklers somewhere in the air,
smell of sanctity and rose dust, brief and golden.
Carson McCullers thought it a party to which
she had no invitation. I would have told her
how it was, taken her for walks among the herbs.
But young men have no school for love, alas,
learn what we can too late, too lingeringly,
then women wither from us like the state.
Children abuse us mightily, running off
to play in traffic along any dangerous life,
daring us to die or watch trying.
Memory Gardens, they are sometimes called,
often lonely cimetière, as Mallarmé would say,
Egypte ancienne–embaumements, the same forever:
Haven't we all planted a friend or two, a father
or a daughter or a distant cousin? My father's house
a mausoleum. Here the landscape means business, boy.
Here the man with the shovel is king.
(More truly today, the man with a backhoe.)
I also like the green, grassy rug they throw
over the dirt, the sweet discreet mound
rising humbly among the mourners, hands folded
at crotch level, eyes focused inward
or on the ankles of your favorite cousin.
There is sometimes a walk afterward
among arcades and hanging cascades,
along the lyric delphinia and daphne.
You talk with your scandalous cousin who lived
twelve years with a man in Brazil.
She tells you about the bougainvillaea
both pink and white. And you say
how your job keeps you indoors most of the summer:
tall in the ear, cathedral quiet and dark
in its own soothing sort of way, lingering
like the tap of the tourist's toe on terrazzo,
her memory, your cousin's presence after all
these years remains. Love, you might say,
but would she remember your visits
among the gravestones, and your vows of celibacy
and your attempts late into the nights to settle
the issue of Fermat's Last Theorem once
and for all? She sees her version
of your sad affair; you see the sordid
evenings at prayer in the cathedral, your beads
entangling, your hands shuddering into spire-
shaped wings wafting as if with incense
into the hopeless future you shared so gladly,
you who call yourself a man or a woman.