for Max Ritvo

Three weeks until summer and then—what?
Midsummer’s gravity makes our heads spin
each hour a gilt thread spool, winding through
the second hand, gossamer fin de semaine,
fin de siècle, fin slicing the water
of the too-cold-to-breathe bay, molten silver,
then receding as if we hadn’t seen it,
sultan of so long, see you tomorrow.
               Dead man’s fingers, lady’s slippers, a seal
who swims too close—too close for what? The needle
swerves. Our element chooses us. Water
fire, air, earth—the rosebush, Lazarus,
hot to the touch, gold reticulate, is love’s
bull’s-eye, attar rising from the rafters.
If I could make it stop I would. Was it
the crocodile Hook feared, or was it time?
The hour’s arrow never misses, the gnomon,
glinting, cuts the Day-Glo sun to pieces.
In the ultraviolet palace of the Mermaid King
his girls wear scallop shells, one for each year
on their turquoise tails. Even they have birthdays,
why not you? Death, hold your ponies with one
hand, and stay awhile. On my desk, the lion’s
paw lamps scavenged from the winter beach,
its poppy-colored shells like the lit scales
of an enormous Trojan fish … teeth chattering,
its metronome time bomb tsk tsk
when is giving up not giving in?
III (child’s pose)
When Alice pulled the stopper, did she get
smaller, or did the world get larger? In
the bath, your nose bleeds a bouquet of tissue
roses, white stained red—adolescence
is to overdo it, but really? Thirty
stories up, our birds’-eye view is
the hummingbird tattoo on your bare head,
wings beating, too tiny and too big to see,
your wire-thin profile drawn upright, bones
               daring the air, marionette running on
the brain’s dark marrow, tungsten for the fireflies’
freeze tag. Due south, the Chrysler Building’s gauntlet
holds a lit syringe. We do and do not change.
Let me go from here to anywhere.
That’s it for now. And so we turn the page
your poems standing in for you, or—that’s
not it, what’s left of you, mediating
between what you’d call mind and body
and I, by now biting my lip, call grief,
               the lines netting the enormous air
like silver threads, the tails of Mr. Edwards’s
spiders with which they sail from ledge to branch
“as when the soul feels jarred by nervous thoughts
and catch on air.” Pace. Your trousers worn
to mouse fur dragging on the stoop, your hip
prongs barely holding them aloft, the past
a phaeton, its sunlit reins bucking
at before and after, but there is no after.
Or is there? For once, when you rock back
on the chair I don’t say don’t do that,
forelegs lifting, hooves pawing the air—
Every departure’s an elopement,
the shy cat fiddling while Rome sizzles,
spoon mirror flipping us upside down.
               Son of Helios, rainbow fairy lights
blazing, when one light goes out they all
go out. At the top of the dune, the thorny
crowns of buried trees, their teeter-totter
branches a candelabra for the spiders’
silvery halo of threads. What a terrible
business it is, saying what you mean.
               Speak, sky, the horizon scored by talons.

Cynthia Zarin, "Summer" from Orbit.  Compilation copyright © 2017 by Cynthia Zarin.  Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Source: Orbit (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017)
More Poems by Cynthia Zarin