Where are the days of Tobias,
when one of you, veiling his radiance, stood at the front door,
slightly disguised for the journey, no longer appalling.
— Rainer Maria Rilke, tr. by Stephen Mitchell
The fresco cracks cooperatively over time. Not to give a secret away
but gradually to break off keeping it. In the sky you make birds
like this, one wing longer than the other, an asymmetrical v
wedged against wind, one stroke longer than another,
never the bodies turned the same direction, each finding
its own angle, and one, in the distance,
a dot. These are the Deadly Birds of the Soul
Rilke was forced to call terrifying.
Migratory, weighing no more than a pencil.
Because every flying thing is passionate, and every flight
a posture torn from stone.
There was a time it was a theme
parents would pay an artist to realize — the face of a beloved son,
a Luca or Piero, painted onto the shoulders of Tobias,
painted into the company of Raphael. You tell yourselves
and your quiet house
no harm will come to the boy
as he goes out. A guardian, though, is not a guard. To keep safe
is subtly different from confining. Radiance can strategically
direct itself to seem like us, ready, as it were, to walk.
As a mirror goes through the appearance of requiring
subsistence, goes through the motions of a meal
whose food appears to be food.
Radiance, we know, is never quite as warm as light.
Who has not tasted the silver in sea mist?
Whosever they are, angels are the first to surface there.
You know a guardian by the silver of a river-crossing,
of a father’s filmy eyes, in gall, heart, fire,
and mostly smoke. In smoke and mostly mirror.
As, wedged between forward and backward being,
rehashing and planning ahead, presence will be specked again
with being erased, a reusable writing surface
calling down to the life without rest, the self-propelled
surveillances of sharks.