The Great House in Various Light

The evening empty as a convex
coconut split down the seam:
not that it can be filled.

The evening empty as a gourd
that twists on an iron thread:
the rough skin of the sphere.

.            .          .            .           .     

Not that there was a spoken word
to recall the moment of seeing
the short span when the clocks
ceased to revolve and hands
met in jest or benediction
time of the vortex into which
hibiscus and almond trees strayed
and windows made of aluminum.

The stars are suddenly remote
candescent petals night throws
above the yard, the beautiful things.

.             .          .            .           .
 
The great house is a hotel
and a museum of victory

how some lived at the epoch
of planters and governors

visible in the paintings
the armchairs and gilded glass

articulate artifacts
and floors polished by daylight

in a country of green hills
and water wheels and wagons

and sun coming out after a rain
the labor is hidden that built

the house long ago, and ploughed
the land to make it bear fruit 

.             .          .            .           .

In British poetry, gentle woodland
creatures gaze at the hermit
with marble eyes lit from within.
A single bird defends the song.
Among the pines draped with snow
from the whole land only a secret
footfall teases the senses awake
like white breath on white canvas.

Ideal forms crowd the auditorium.
The sky deepens on the surface
of a lake, in a cradle of stars.
A coppice of isolated birch trees
climbs the mountainside to touch
the moon's scar, benevolent witness
washed of color and fragmentary
illuminating the village below.
 
.             .          .            .           .

In New World poetry, an invisible
river runs this way and that.
A car(t) eases on a bumpy track
over small hills and into shallows.
The world is a tangle of leaves.
Towards sundown a driver gets out
and pushes into the forest, drawn
by a noise he cannot identify:
perhaps the hiss of water below.
It's only the river on its way.

Ideal forms crowd the auditorium
things present and things past
scattered beneath the poinciana.
The car heads into higher country
then out into space where fields
suddenly lie down beneath the seer
cattle pastures and agricultural lands
that have always been there
watched over by the great house
from its hilltop, like a sentinel.

.             .          .            .           .

In British poetry, the forms
of desire darken with the change
of seasons: green leaves once
they fade and turn gold and fall
to earth, and make a carpet
in the forest, awaiting the rain.

For each season has its sonata.
Silence and sound in balance
belong to the decline of autumn.
In winter the notes are fewer.
Silence comes into its kingdom
crown of the father, who departs.

The world of white prepares
to conquer the earth with silence.
 
.             .          .            .           .

In British poetry, articulate hues
speak as they are visible to the mind
audible colors played on a piano
primary sounds in an empty forest.

And then above a lake, the moon
in motion suspended like a dancer
as the music temporarily ceases
depriving her body of its rhythm.

.             .          .            .           .

Ideal forms crowd the auditorium.
The light of day starts to fade
and a mist settles in the valleys.
The great house is lit from within.
 
.             .          .            .           .

As they were, in other windows
you want to see their ghosts
the slaves, like black posts
staggered through the fields.
You want to make a picture
that shows the strange overlords
at intervals watch the misery
of torsos laboring to plant
and harvest the seas of sugar.

.             .          .            .           .

The green beds of sugar cane
extend from here to the hills.

Bright heads grazed by the light
of paradise become its negative.
 
.             .          .            .           .

In time, would the land irritate us
as it must have irritated the masters
the tropical caress of the air unavoidable
getting up each day to see once more
the rolling green hills and cattle ponds
tranquil in the valleys, the horses
collected at the water trough, content
to stand or to walk over the grass.
 
A comely scene worthy of an oil painting
(fruit trees dappled with sunlight).

They have escaped from seasons
into the monotony of a terrible beauty.

(Who is speaking?)

.             .          .            .           .

Away from the coast
the car passes through
a shadowy green world
of tropical syntax
ragged slopes and curves.
 
.             .          .            .           .

What then was promised by the evening
lights that spangled about the hills?
 
.             .          .            .           .

Endless tall grasses, a landscape
composed of variations on a color.

The after-image of elliptical forms
transparent as the cry of a seagull.

.             .          .            .           .

A tablet of scripted exclamations:

there, a poinciana with pink blossoms
overhangs the road, there a scrawl
of fighting tendrils, an indigo grammar
of petals offering illumination
to fan-shaped pristine hieroglyphs
waving to greener punctuations
of banana trees and mango, a tangle
of writing over writing closed
to further interventions. Visible
palimpsest of a book without letters
the tangle of leaves has no secret key
and cannot be deciphered, wordless
monads travelling contours of silence.

.             .          .            .           .

Mimesis touches the world
with an imperceptible
tenderness, only hardly
like wind an Aeolian harp.

.             .          .            .           .

There is a point when the sky pivots
to face the dawn, to face the dark side
of personality, that of a sensible man
recanting the mysteries he embraced
as a youth, when the angels spoke to him
and he ran towards them with arms wide open
across a field, beneath the painted stars.

.             .          .            .           .

Say that the world is a drinking glass
containing things of the life and language
and say that a poet wakes up one morning
thinking of capturing for the future
those petals inside that glass, broken vowels.

A vase of orchids stands on a kitchen table.
Not that it is abstract, or a luminous
symbol, nonetheless it is an algebra
of forces, like the equations of space-time,
which rule outside the mental universe.

 As if an image should leave its mirror behind
(the thing of which it is but a ghost)
like bodiless speech, and yet sensuous, in the way
a dream can leave its mark on the dreamer—
Esse est percipi, so speaketh the Law.

Wind begins to touch an Aeolian harp.
The great house is a place of articulation
word calls to other words, in transit.
Compelled by the beauty of flowers
the mind creates a space for other things.

.             .          .            .           .

(By British I mean Romantic idealist.)

Warm night descends
like a cloak. The whistle
of tree frogs supplies
a melody, and crickets
invisible to the moon
begin their Parliament.

The birds sleep with their young.
The air is otherwise still.

Mark McMorris, "The Great House in Various Light" from The Book of Landings. Copyright © 2016 by Mark McMorris. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
Source: The Book of Landings (Wesleyan University Press, 2016)
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