In Praise of Idleness

For the second time this week
I've watched snow fall at sunrise,
dawn arrive on a breeze
(the way I think it always does).
I don't know which, time or the weather,
woke me, charmed me out of a dream
where a few of us floated around,
gravity's jokers,
face-up in the quiet water
and the jetsam of a slow life.
I had one line that I'd saved
and let it go as though it were mine,
calling for “Darker days and brighter gods!” 
Then I only had my waking instant,
but it opened with that same shadowless light,
a sense of change, of something both near
and remote, first and last,
blowing with the wind and snow
through my reflection in the window.
And then I lost it.

So here I am, with cigarettes and cold coffee,
an unfinished ode to idleness,
cobwebs in high places,
a spider that rappels down the bookshelves,
and a commotion recollected in tranquility;
sunlight pouring through,
and another bright page
with a peculiar darkness flowing over it
shadows of heatwaves from the radiator,
or my thoughts going up in smoke.

The glass, when misted over,
reminds me of store windows,
how they're swathed with soap,
shrouded in secrecy
before a grand opening
or after an ignominious closing.
Either way, not very interesting
except, perhaps, when the grafitti,
the anonymous messages appear
scrawled across them
by some child of the air,
words you can see through
or a clear smear.

And at twilight I'm still here,
the same place, the same light.
Nothing to do but move with the view:
snow, wind over soft ruins,
unfinished buildings that loom
like monuments to a spent curiosity.
I'm in the tallest, up here with the Nopes
roosting on soggy flunkgirders.
Want a cigarette? Nope.
Got a match? Nope.
See any alternative to solipsism? Nope.
Hedonism? Nope. Sloppy stoicism? Nope.
Did you know that Maryland
has no natural but only man-made lakes? Nope.

The creatures of idleness
are pure speculation.
They follow the weather,
shadow the wind, fill in the blanks.
Some are big and clumsy and sly
and like to lick my watch;
others, like gerunds,
have already drunk themselves
into a state of being.
Another, with time on his hands
and the sense of how windows
are both inside and outside a place,
stands there watching his silhouette
change to a reflection
as the light shifts
and he moves forward or back,
plays like a god
stepping in and out of himself,
and hears the wind as the breath of change
when the last flurry whirls away in the light. 

The last flake grows larger
as it descends, and presents
when it lands in a burst of brilliance
the floorplan for a new building
where every wet, beaded window
is a picture of pleasure and expectation.
The drops ripen, moments in the light,
questions that, answered by a feeling,
slide away as clear as my being,
a drop at a time down the glass.
When the wind blows this hard
it's about to say something at last.
The earth down to its bare magic,
wind and glass, water and light.

Paul Violi, "In Praise of Idleness" from Likewise. Copyright © 1988 by Paul Violi.  Reprinted by permission of Hanging Loose Press.
Source: Likewise (Hanging Loose Press, 1988)
More Poems by Paul Violi