REFERENCES TO ARCHITECTURE AND DOMESTIC INTERIORS IN JOHN ASHBERYÕS POETRY

 

Note: The haphazardness and subjectivity of this collection of lines cannot be overstated.

                                                                                                            —Micaela Morrissette

 

Some Trees (1956)

 

"The Instruction Manual"

white houses with green trim

houses of pink and white

home of the little old lady

colored houses

"Sonnet"

library's loft holes

light walls collapse

"The Orioles"

Back to the homes

house guards its memories

"The Young Son"

the crowded house, two faces glued fast to the mirror

the hushed and fast darkening room

"Errors"

Beyond the bed's veils the white walls danced

We thought then of your dry portals, / Bright cornices of eavesdropping palaces

"The Painter"

[End word: "buildings"; i.e., "Sitting between the sea and the building," "like ruined buildings," "wildfire through the buildings," "the overcrowded buildings"]

"And You Know"

live in an atmosphere of vacuum / In the old schoolhouse covered with nasturtiums. / At night, comets, shooting stars, twirling planets, / Suns, bits of illuminated pumice, and spooks hang over the old place; / The atmosphere is breathless.

A quiet feeling pervades the playroom.

Those / In my home come to me anxiously at night, asking how it goes. / My door is always open.

"He"

the spitting housetops

He looks terrible on the stairs.

"Meditations of a Parrot"

"There was a house once / Of dazzling canopies / And halls like a keyboard. // These the waves tore in pieces."

"The Pied Piper"

Misery / Starches the host's one bed

"Answering a Question in the Mountains"

Some day I am to build the wall / Of the box in which all angles are shown.

"Le livre est sur la table"

the woman gone / Into the house, from which the wailing starts?

Men appear, but they live in boxes. / The sea protects them like a wall.

The Tennis Court Oath (1962)

"The Tennis Court Oath"

the kettle you jabbered as easily in the yard

The mulatress approached in the hall

to one in yon house

"'They Dream Only of America'"

He went slowly into the bedroom.

"I would not have broken my leg if I had not fallen / Against the living room table. What is it to be back / Beside the bed? . . ."

"America"

The way the door swept out

in the apartment / the pebble we in the bed. / The roof—

All the house / Waste visits

The girl has lived in this corner / In the sunlight all year

glad the dirt around / the geraniums of last August's / dried in the yard

lips—a house

Glistening / Doesn't resemble much the out of doors

into the door the night

In the hall. The stone.

A feather not snow blew against the window. / A signal from the great outside.

"Two Sonnets"

The iodine bottle sat in the hall

And our blood flowed down the grating

Those rocks, those homes / Know not the touch of my flesh

"Night"

Taken out behind the stairs and stood them / In the kitchen . . . the flowers blowing in the window / Felt funny just the same . . . on account of the stove / We moved to another place. Funny how eighteen years can make all that difference . . . the marble / We never wanted to go away / But the porch forced its way on / Acting kind of contented in the silvery wind / From who knows where . . . the porcelain

The heap of detritus . . . tickets to the bed

Ordeal a home

And the bed hung with violets

Murmur halls on half-wet beauty

Fallen halfway across house / To bring the pet / Over the flowered curtains around / Water capillaries magic

Near the dress house . . . and she turned in / The fly beckon on the window

"'How Much Longer Will I Be Able to Inhabit the Divine Sepulcher . . .'"

How much longer will I be able to inhabit the divine sepulcher / Of life, my great love?

My bed of light is a furnace choking me

I'm one of the few/ To have held my breath under the house

the neat villa!

the smarting of privet // Which on hot spring nights perfumes the empty rooms / With the smell of sperm flushed down toilets

Boots / Were heard on the floor above. In the garden the sunlight was still purple

In the yard handled the belt he had made

Stars / Painted the garage roof crimson and black

For what is obedience but the air around us / To the house?

"Rain"

Light sucks up what I did / In the room two months ago

over the shuddering page of a sea / The sofa // Hay / blown in the window / The boards dark as night sea / Pot of flowers fixed in the wind // Last year . . . the gray snow falling / The building . . . pictures

A wooden cage painted green

A flower, lost in someone's back yard

I urge the deep prune of the mirror

In sofa I know / The darkness on his back

The plants on the rugs look nice

Mufti of the gray crocus silent on the wood diamond floor

"Leaving the Atocha Station"

generator   homes enjoy leered

The worn stool blazing   pigeons from the roof

suds     the painted corners

permanent house depot

"White Roses"

The white sunlight on the polished floor

And then the window closed

But a blind man's cane poking, however clumsily, into the inmost corners of the house.

"The Suspended Life"

The stair carpet plunged into blankness.

And freezing to death in a tub of ice and snow / Called a home by some

We have lived here a long time.

"A Life Drama"

Tears invade the privacy of private lives/ In the house overlooking the park / The piano is seldom mute / The plectrum on the lawn vanishes

In the house by the marshes / Where they gave up / Soldiers in blue / The merchant returns.

"Our Youth"

Of bricks . . . Who built it?

Where we are. Sometimes / The brick arches led to a room like a bubble, that broke when you entered it / And sometimes to a fallen leaf.

"The Ticket"

Her head into the yard, maples, a stump seen through a gauze of bottles, ruptures—

I was near you where you want to be / Down in the little house writing you

"Measles"

To inspire the painted wall / She limited the hall. // A mouse with crew- / Cut rang the bell, the wall / Fell into the sewer garden.

I feel well / Under the dinner table. He is playing a game / With me, about credits. / I have to check in the hall / About something.

"Faust"

The phantom / Watched them from the roof

On the green-carpeted floor no phantom / Appeared, except yellow squares of sunlight, like those in Faust

lest darkness begin / In the corridors, and through them the phantom / Glide unobstructed

At her window awoke terrible new hungers

It is cold daylight reappearing / At the window behind him, itself a phantom // Window

"The Lozenges"

Spring, outside / The window jammed almost shut, wafted its enormous bubble amidships.

You could go out of the house

"The Ascetic Sensualists"

The room in which the loom / Dispelled thunder, cracked tennis under the eaves.

"A Last World"

As it falls along the house, your treasure / Cries to the other men

"The New Realism"

The house where it took place / Pardon on the face of the tall wall / That land burned season on it scum / The fence removed and all the tile gone.

The building was to be torn down

The bars had been removed from all the windows

On your doorstep she used to explain

"The Unknown Travelers"

The white room, a table covered / With a towel, mug of ice—fear / Among the legs of a chair,

"Europe"

In a moment the house would be dark

mirrors—insane

Like a long room

—the stairs / climbing up out of dark hollyhocks

his baggy trousers the porch daylight

ghost of stone—massive / hangs halfway / polishing / whose winding / Strong, sad half-city / gardens / from the bridge of / stair / broom / recent  past  symbolized / hair  banana / does not evoke a concrete image / the splendid // nourished on the / railings of bare stone—

the clean, crisp air / aging on the villas

more than one cottage the chintzes were bright its / brass candlestick forgotten

"To the Same Degree"

In the apartment fallen / The tree began to take root.

"Idaho"

During the past few months, Biff had become quite a frequent visitor to Carol's apartment. / He never failed to marvel at the cool, corrected elegance of the place as contrasted with its warm, rippling, honey-blonde occupant. The apothecary jars, / Chippendale furniture, / and wall-to-wall / carpeting were strangely out of keeping with Carol's habitual "Hiya good lookin'"

Rivers and Mountains (1966)

 

"These Lacustrine Cities"

a tower / Controlled the sky

"Last Month"

The house seems heavier / Now that they have gone away.

The fruitless sunlight streams into domes, / The chairs piled high with books and papers

"Civilization and Its Discontents"

In the hall rushing into the small room.

true to be at the blue mark / Of the threshold

Leaves rushed the window,

"The Ecclesiast"

But listen while I tell you about the wallpaper— / There was a key to everything in that oak forest / But a sad one.

"The Thousand Islands"

The face on the door a hundred million years old / Slightly smaller than real life

Your neutral ceiling in which are capsized / Forever afternoon smells and rich zero disturbance

"A Blessing in Disguise"

For a room in which the chairs ever / Have their backs turned to the light / Inflicted on the stone and paths, the real trees // That seem to shine at me through a lattice toward you.

"Clepsydra"

In brittle, useless architecture that is nevertheless / The map of your desires, irreproachable, beyond / Madness and the toe of approaching night, if only / You desire to arrange it this way.

burning the design of / Its intentions into the house of your brain, until / You wake up alone, the certainty that it / Wasn't a dream your only clue to why the walls / Are turning on you and why the windows no longer speak / Of time but are themselves, transparent guardians you / Invented for what there was to hide. Which was now / Grown up, or moved away, as a jewel / Exists when there is no one to look at it, and this / Existence saps your own. Perhaps you are being kept here / Only so that somewhere else the peculiar light of someone's / Purpose can blaze unexpectedly in the acute / Angles of the rooms.

"The Skaters"

Some paroxysms are dinning of tambourine, others suggest piano room or organ loft

My cheeks as blank walls to your tears

How strange that the narrow perspective lines / Always seem to meet, although parallel, and that an insane ghost could do this, / Could make the house seem so much farther in the distance, as / It seemed to the horse, dragging the sledge of a perspective line.

No wind that does not penetrate a man's house, into the very bowels of the furnace,

It is best to remain indoors.

The studio light suddenly invaded the long casement—values were what / She knows now. But the floor is being slowly pulled apart / Like straw under those limpid feet. / And Helga, in the minuscule apartment in Jersey City / Is reacting violet to the same kind of dress, is drawing death / Again in blossoms against the reactionary fire . . . pulsing / And knowing nothing to superb lambent distances that intercalate / This city. Is the death of the cube repeated. Or in the musical album. // It is time now for a general understanding of / The meaning of all this. The meaning of Helga, importance of the setting, etc. / A description of the blues. Labels on bottles / And all kinds of discarded objects that ought to be described. / But how can one ever be sure of which ones? / Isn't this a death-trap, wanting to put too much in / So the floor sags, as under the weight of a piano, or a piano-legged girl / And the whole house of cards comes dinning down around one's ears!

As balloons are to the poet, so to the ground / Its varied assortment of trees. The more assorted they are, the / Vaster his experience. Sometimes / You catch sight of them on a level with the top story of a house, / Strung up there for publicity purposes.

Even the most patient scholar, now / Could hardly reconstruct the old fort exactly as it was. / That trees continue to wave over it. That there is also a small museum somewhere inside.

Still, after bananas and spoonbread in the shadow of the old walls / It is cooling to return under the eaves in the shower / that probably fell while we were inside, examining bowknots, / Old light-bulb sockets, places where the whitewash had begun to flake / With here and there an old map or illustration.

But how is it that you are always indoors, peering at too heavily canceled stamps through a greasy magnifying glass?

Yet I shall never return to the past, that attic,

This is just right for me. I am cozily ensconced in the balcony of my face // Looking out over the whole darn countryside

The old stove smoked worse than ever because rain was coming down its chimney. / Only the bleary eye of fog accosted one through the mended pane.

A broken mirror nailed up over a chipped enamel basin, whose turbid waters / Reflect the fly-specked calendar—with ecstatic Dutch girl clasping tulips— / On the far wall. Hanging from one nail, an old velvet hat with a tattered bit of veiling—last remnant of former finery. / The bed well made. The whole place scrupulously clean, but cold and damp. // All this, wedged into a pyramidal ray of light, is my own invention.

You can talk to your friend in the next room, or around corners.

I propose a general housecleaning / Of those true and valueless shapes which pester us with their raisons d'tre

Sure, but a simple shelter from this or other phenomena is easily contrived.

A hearth fire picked up in the glow of polished / Wooden furniture and picture frames, something to turn away from and move back to— / Understand? This is all a part of you and the only part of you.

To sulk contentedly, half asleep and half awake / By the arm of a chair pointed into / The painting of the hearth fire,

I had better be getting back to the tent / To make sure everything is shipshape, weight down the canvas with extra stones, / Bank the fire, and prepare myself a little hardtack and tea / For the evening's repast. Still, it is rather beautiful up here, / Watching the oncoming storm.

In reality of course the middle-class apartment I live in is nothing like a desert island. / Cozy and warm it is, with a good library and record collection. / Yet I feel cut off from the life in the streets.

"All up and down de whole creation," like magic-lantern slides projected on the wall of a cavern: castles, enchanted gardens, etc.

The screen door bangs in the wind, one of the hinges is loose. / And together we look back at the house. / It could use a coat of paint / Except that I am too poor to hire a workman.

The birch-pods come clattering down on the weed-grown marble pavement. / And a curl of smoke stands above the triangular wooden roof.

One morning you appear at breakfast / Dressed, as for a journey, in your worst suit of clothes. / And over a pot of coffee, or more accurately, rusted water / Announce your intention of leaving me alone in this cistern-like house.

So I have preferred to finish my life / In the quietude of this floral retreat."


The Double Dream of Spring (1970)

 

"Soonest Mended"

a robin flies across / The upper corner of the window,

"Summer"

the twitter / Of cold stars at the pane,

Its chamber was narrower than a seed / Yet when the doorbell rang / It reduced all that living to air / As "kyrie eleison" it sang. // Hearing that music he had once known / But now forgotten, the man, / The one who had waited casually in the dark / Turned to smile at the door's span.

"Variations, Calypso and Fugue on a Theme of Ella Wheeler Wilcox"

But of all the sights that were seen by me / In the East or West, on land or sea, / The best was the place that is spelled H-O-M-E. // Now that once again I have achieved home / I shall forbear all further urge to roam // There is a hole of truth in the green earth's rug / Once you find it you are snug as a bug

Three-fourths of the houses in this city are on narrow stilts, finer than a girl's wrists: it is largely a question of keeping one's feet dry, and of privacy.

He stared wildly about him, peering fearfully into the shadowy corners of the room.

"Song"

The day / Puts toward a nothingness of sky // Its face of rusticated brick.

Backing into the old affair of not wanting to grow / Into the night, which becomes a house, a parting of the ways / Taking us far into sleep. A dumb love.

"Evening in the Country"

has the motion started / That is to quiver your head, send anxious beams / Into the dusty corners of the rooms / Eventually shoot out over the landscape / In stars and bursts? For other than this we know nothing / And space is a coffin, and the sky will put out the light.

"Years of Indiscretion"

This is a house in which you may wish to live.

"Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape"

From that shoebox of an apartment, / From livid curtain's hue, a tangram emerges: a country." / Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: "How pleasant to spend one's vacation en la casa de Popeye,"

The apartment / Seemed to grow smaller.

"Henceforth shall Popeye's apartment / Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or scratched."

jealous of the apartment / And all that it contains

Now the apartment succumbed to a strange new hush.

Minute at first, the thunder / Soon filled the apartment.

"Definition of Blue"

Far from the permanent tug that used to be its notion of "home."

Formerly there would have been architectural screens at the point where the action became most difficult

"Parergon"

Is it the present of flesh, that each of you / At your jagged casement window should handle,

As one who moves forward from a dream / The stranger left that house on hastening feet

Are those floorboards, to be stared at / In moments of guilt, as wallpaper can stream away and yet // You cannot declare it?

"An Outing"

"And when it is over, do you insist, / Do you insist that the visitor leave the room?"

I would just take a pratfall if I stepped outside that door.

"Young Man with Letter"

Is it we who are being transformed? / The light in the hallway seems to indicate it

"The Bungalows"

They are the same aren't they / The presumed landscape and the dream of home / Because the people are all homesick today or desperately sleeping, / Trying to remember how those rectangular shapes / Became so extraneous and so near / To create a foreground of quiet knowledge / In which youth had grown old,

But you have gone into your houses and shut the doors,

For it all builds up into something, meaningless or meaningful / As architecture, because planned and then abandoned when completed, / To live afterwards, in sunlight and shadow, a certain amount of years.

"Fragment"

Equaling possession and possessiveness / Instantaneously extending your hesitation to an // Empire, back lands whose sparsely populated look is / Supreme dominion. It will be divided into tracks / And these be lived in the way now the lowered / Angles of this room. Waxed moustache against the impiety / Of so much air of change, but always and nowhere / A cave.

Shadows of yawning magnetic poles, in which the castle / Had been inserted like an afterthought—bare walls / With somewhere a center and even further, a widening

With the door to the next room partly open / To the borrowed density,

Flat / Walls only surrounding only abating memory.

whoever lay dying / In a small room watched only by the progression / Of hours in the tight new agreement.

The words sung in the next room are unavoidable

Three Poems (1972)

 

"The New Spirit"

But meanwhile I am to include everything: the furniture of this room, everyday expressions, as well as my rarest thoughts and dreams,

And now these attitudes which were merely sketched on the air of the room have hardened into the official likeness of what we were doing there,

free to come and go within a limited area, a sort of house-arrest of the free agent intentionally cut off from the forces of renewal, obliged to spend a certain penitential time of drawing in and not utilizing those intuitions that gave wings, inspirations to fly abruptly out of the windows of the house to the stars.

You can feel the wind in the room, the curtains are moving in the draft and a door slowly closes. Think of what it must be outside.

nothing resembling that magnificent but empty structure we had started to build incorrectly and had even begun to get used to despite its having remained largely at the blueprint stage.

Certainly the whiff of nostalgia in the air is more than a hint, a glaring proof that the old irregular way of doing is not only some piece of furniture of the memory but is ours, if we had the initiative to use it.

in others, getting used to inhabiting the ruins and artfully adapting them to present needs; in still others, standing up in the space certain that it is the right one, and feeling the sense of its proportions leave your mind like rays, striking out to the antipodes and polishing them, perfecting them through use. One can then go about one's business unencumbered by nostalgia but still feeling the habit of this place where one has accomplished things before; it will change and you will go on thinking about it to your mutual satisfaction and joy. The fact that you did all this—cleared away all the debris so that the created vacuum would expel you forward into an exact set of conditions replying to exact demands—fertilizes each instant

It wants to surround, because this way you will accept yourself as being here, in a place, any place, content to make the rounds you know so well, the philosopher's daily walk that the neighbors set their watches by.

Yet it was almost enough to be growing up in that city. / The taste of it, rationed through a medicine dropper, / Filled up the day. / In the evening the newspaper was delivered, ready to be read. / Darkness glossed over the imbalances / And the last irregularities dissolved in sleep. / That metropolis was like the kitchen of the world

He exists, but he is as a stranger for you in your own home.

And these took on special meanings, / Rigid, but beautiful, like a stained-glass window / As the light begins to improve and sharpen it / Until finally we had grown up in that region without ever having left it. / Still, it was possible to imagine everything that existed elsewhere.

All this happened in April as the sun was entering the house of Aries

"The System"

that building will be the size of today, the rooms habitable and leading into one another in a lasting sequence, eternal and of the greatest timeliness.

Inside there was like a bare room, or an alphabet, an alphabet of clemency.

all kinds of messes that could have been avoided if only, as Pascal says, we had the sense to stay in our room

A "house by the side of the road" in which one could stay indefinitely, arranging new opportunities and fixing up old ones so that they mingled in a harmonious mass that could be called living with a sense of purpose?

those beautiful mosaic ceilings representing heaven which we crane up at from below, knowing that we cannot get near enough for it to be legible but liking all the same the vastness and aura of the conception, glad to have seen it and to know it's there but nevertheless firmly passing outward into the sunlight after two or three turns around the majestic dim interior.

all this overheard chatter and speculation and the noises of the day as it wears on into the calm of night, joyful or abysmal as it may be: this doesn't matter once we have accepted it and taken it inside us to be the interior walls of our chamber, the place where we live. And so all these conflicting meaningless details are transformed into something peaceful that surrounds, like wallpaper that could be decorated with scenes of shipwrecks or military attributes or yawning crevasses in the earth and which doesn't matter, which indeed can paradoxically heighten the feeling of a peaceful domestic interior.

We are to read this in outward things: the spoons and greasy tables in this room, the wooden shelves, the flyspecked ceiling merging into gloom—good and happy things, nevertheless, that tell us little of themselves and more about ourselves than we had ever imagined it was possible to know. They have become the fabric of life.

"The Recital"

As I thought about these things dusk began to invade my room. Soon the outlines of things began to grow blurred and I continued to think along well-rehearsed lines like something out of the past.

those ephemera that had once seemed the very structure, the beams and girders defining the limits of the ambiguous situation one had come to know and even to tolerate, if not to love

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975)

 

"As One Put Drunk into the Packet-Boat"

Come in. And I thought a shadow fell across the door / But it was only her come to ask once more / If I was coming in, and not to hurry in case I wasn't.

And a sigh heaves from all the small things on earth, / The books, the papers, the old garters and union-suit buttons/ Kept in a white cardboard box somewhere,

"Forties Flick"

The shadow of the Venetian blind on the painted wall, / Shadows of the snake-plant and cacti, the plaster animals, / Focus the tragic melancholy of the bright stare / Into nowhere, a hole like the black holes in space. / In bra and panties she sidles to the window: / Zip! Up with the blind. A fragile street scene offers itself, / With wafer-thin pedestrians who know where they are going. / The blind comes down slowly, the slats are slowly tilted up.

Silence of the library, of the telephone with its pad,

The indoors with the outside become part of you

"As You Came from the Holy Land"

and your house is built in tomorrow

"Scheherazade"

The light in the old home, the secret way / The rooms fed into each other

"Grand Galop"


Some item that is now little more than a feature / Of some obsolete style—cornice or spandrel / Out of the dimly remembered whole / Which probably lacks true distinction.

People parading with their pets / Past lawns and vacant lots, as though these too were somehow imponderables / Before going home to the decency of one's private life / Shut up behind doors, which is nobody's business.

Still, that poetry does sometimes occur / If only in creases in forgotten letters / Packed away in trunks in the attic—things you forgot you had

"Poem in Three Parts"

A blah morning / Not too far from home (home / Is a modest one-bedroom apartment, / City-owned and operated),

the houses need repairs, / The cars in the yard are too new. / The enclosing slopes dream and are forgetful.

"Voyage in the Blue"

But what of / Houses, standing ruined, desolate just now:

"The One Thing That Can Save America"

in cool yards, / In quiet small houses in the country, / Our country, in fenced areas, in cool shady streets.

"Tenth Symphony"

Tremendous amounts of spare time, / A boon to some, to others more of a problem / That only points a way around it. / Sitting in the living room this afternoon I saw / How to use it. My vision remained etched in the / Buff wall a long time, an elective / Cheshire cat.

"Fear of Death"

The window is open today // And the air pours in with piano notes

"Robin Hood's Barn"

its outline / Creeps up on you, and then it has fallen over you / Like bedclothes of fog. / From some serene, high table / Set near the top of a flight of stairs / Come once and for all into our / Consideration

"Oleum Misericordiae"

But after a series of interludes / In furnished rooms (describe wallpaper) / Transient hotels (mention sink and cockroaches) / And spending the night with a beautiful married woman / Whose husband was away in Centerville on business / (Mention this wallpaper: the purest roses / Though the creamiest

"Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror"

A few leaded panes, old beams,

The soul has to stay where it is, / Even though restless, hearing raindrops at the pane, / The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind, / Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay / Posing in this place.

that the soul is not a soul, / Has no secret, is small, and it fits, / Its hollow perfectly: its room, our moment of attention.

There are no recesses in the room, only alcoves, / And the window doesn't matter much, or that / Sliver of window or mirror on the right, even / As a gauge of the weather,

I feel the carousel starting slowly / And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books, / Photographs of friends, the window and the trees / Merging in one neutral band that surrounds / Me on all sides, everywhere I look.

So the room contains this flow like an hourglass

And we must get out of it even as the public / Is pushing through the museum now so as to / Be out by closing time. You can't live there.

those assholes / Who would confuse everything with their mirror games / Which seem to multiply stakes and possibilities, or / At least confuse issues by means of an investing / Aura that would confuse the architecture

Houseboat Days (1977)

 

"Wooden Buildings"

 

On whatever day we came / To a small house built just above the water, / You had to stoop over to see inside the attic window. / Someone had judged the height to be just right / The way the light came in, and they are / Giving that party, to turn on that dishwasher

 

"Pyrography"

 

The houses doze and seem to wonder why through the / Pacific haze, and the dreams alternately glow and grow dull.

 

The land wasn't immediately appealing, we built it / Partly over with fake ruins, in the image of ourselves: / An arch that terminates in mid-keystone, a crumbling stone pier / For laundresses, an open-air theater, never completed / And only partially designed. How are we to inhabit / This space from which the fourth wall is invariably missing, / As in a stage-set or dollhouse, except by staying as we are, / In lost profile, facing the stars, with dozens of as yet / Unrealized projects, and a strict sense / Of time running out, of evening presenting / The tactfully folded-over bill? / And we fit / Rather too easily into it, become transparent, / Almost ghosts.

 

The climate was still floral and all the wallpaper / In a million homes all over the land conspired to hide it. / One day we thought of painted furniture, of how / It just slightly changes everything in the room / And in the yard outside

 

the whole incredible / Mass of everything happening simultaneously and pairing off, / Channeling itself into history, will unroll / As carefully and as casually as a conversation in the next room,

 

The parade is turning into our street. / My stars, the burnished uniforms and prismatic / Features of this instant belong here. The land / Is pulling away from the magic, glittering coastal towns / To an aforementioned rendezvous with August and December.

 

"The Couple in the Next Room"

 

She liked the blue drapes. They made a star / At the angle.

 

"The Explanation"

 

The tone-row of a dripping faucet is batted back and forth / Among the kitchen

 

"Loving Mad Tom"

 

But like / A farmhouse in the city, on some busy, deserted metropolitan avenue, / It was all too much in the way it fell silent, / Forewarned, as though an invisible face looked out / From hooded windows

 

This station in the woods, / How was it built? This place / Of communicating back along the way, all the way back?

 

"Business Personals"

 

Meanwhile this tent is silence / Itself. Its walls are opaque, so as not to see / The road; a pleasant, half-heard melody climbs to its ceiling—

 

And that's how, one day, I got home. / Don't be shocked that the old walls / Hang in rags now, that the rainbow has hardened / Into a permanent late afternoon that elicits too-long/ Shadows and indiscretions from the bottom / Of the soul.

 

"On the Towpath"

 

At the sign "Fred Muffin's Antiques" they turned off the road into a narrow lane lined with shabby houses.

 

The insipid chiming of the seconds / Has given way to an arc of silence / So old it had never ceased to exist / On the roofs of buildings, in the sky.

 

Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, the Sleeping Beauty, / Are silhouetted against the stained-glass windows. / A white figure runs to the edge of some rampart / In a hurry only to observe the distance, / And having done so, drops back into the mass / Of clock-faces, spires, stalactite machicolations.

 

"Melodic Trains"

 

the last / Stop is the most anxious one of all, though it means / Getting home at last, to the pleasures and dissatisfactions of home?

 

"Wet Casements"

 

to see, as though reflected / In streaming windowpanes, the look of others through / Their own eyes.

 

"Saying It to Keep It From Happening"

 

we live / In the interstices, between a vacant stare and the ceiling,

"Daffy Duck in Hollywood"

 

Just now a magnetic storm hung in the swatch of sky / Over the Fudds' garage, reducing it—drastically— / To the aura of a plumbago-blue log cabin

 

the little / White cardboard castle over the mill run.

 

As when / Low skyscrapers from lower-hanging clouds reveal / A turret there, an art-deco escarpment here, and last perhaps / The pattern that may carry the sense, but / Stays hidden in the mysteries of pagination.

 

"All Kinds of Caresses"

 

compensations / Float in and around us through the window.

 

a trace of lamp black / In a room full of gray furniture.

 

"Lost and Found and Lost Again"

 

the figures / Of this evening seeping from a far and fatal corridor

 

"Two Deaths"

 

The lace / Of spoken breathing fades quite quickly, becomes/ Something it has no part in, the chairs and / The mugs used by the new young tenants, whose glance/ Is elsewhere.

 

The empty parlor is as big as a hill.

 

"Houseboat Days"

 

To flash light / Into the house within, its many chambers, / Its memories and associations, upon its inscribed / And pictured walls, argues enough that life is various.

 

It would be deplorable if the rain also washed away / This profile at the window that moves, and moves on, / Knowing that it moves, and knows nothing else. It is the light / At the end of the tunnel as it might be seen / By him looking out somberly at the shower,

 

As the rain gathers and protects / Its own darkness, the place in the slipcover is noticed / For the first and last time, fading like the spine / Of an adventure novel behind glass, behind the teacups.

 

"Drame Bourgeois"

 

the starched / Moment of outline recedes down a corridor

 

"And Others, Vaguer Presences"

 

a meeting / By torchlight under the twisted end of the stairs.

 

"Friends"

 

I saw a cottage in the sky.

 

One day the neighbors complain about an unpleasant odor / Coming from his room.

 

I / Turn and see the new moon through glass.

 

"Valentine"

 

The name of the castle is you, El Rey.

 

This is another one of my houses, the one in Hampstead, the brick one in the middle of the block that you never saw though you passed along that street many times, sometimes in spring with a light drizzle blowing that made you avert your gaze, sometimes at the height of summer where the grandeur of the ideas of the trees swamped your ideas about everything, so you never saw my house.

 

Listen, I never meant for you not to be in my house. But you couldn't because you were it.

 

Seen through an oval frame, one of the walls of a parlor. The wallpaper is a conventionalized pattern, the sliced okra and star-anise one, held together with crudely gummed links of different colored paper, among which purple predominates, stamped over a flocked background of grisaille shepherdesses and dogs urinating against fire hydrants. To reflect on the consummate skill with which the artist has rendered the drops as they bounce off the hydrant and collect in a gleaming sun-yellow pool below the curb is a sobering experience. Only the shelf of the mantelpiece shows. At each end, seated on pedestals turned slightly away from one another, two aristocratic bisque figures, a boy in delicate cerise and a girl in cornflower blue. Their shadows join us in a grotesque silhouette. In the center, an ancient clock whose tick acts as the metronome for the sound of their high voices.

 

Your castle is a house of cards, / The old-fashioned kind of playing cards, towering farther / Than the eye can see into the clouds, and it is also built on / Shifting sands, its base slurps out of sight too. I am the inhabitable one.

 

"Fantasia on 'The Nut-Brown Maid'"

 

Except the solution only comes about much later, and then / Won't entirely fit all the clues of the atmosphere / (Books, dishes and bathrooms), but is / Empty and vigilant, but too late to make the train, / And at night stands like tall buildings, disembodied, Vaporous, rhapsodic, going on and on about something / That happened in the past, at the point where the recent / Past ends and the darker one begins.

 

all the missing parts must be tracked down / By coal-light or igloo-light because / In so doing we navigate these our passages, / And take sides on certain issues, are / Emphatically pro or con about what concerns us, / Such as the strangeness of our architecture, / The diffuse quality of our literature.

 

In the forest / Are no clean sheets, no other house / But leaves and boughs.

 

Slightly deeper tree-shadows that anticipate this PACING THE FLOOR / That takes in the walls, the window and the woods.

 

ribbons of time fluttering / From the four corners of a square masonry tower.

 

Having draped ourselves in villas, across verandas / For so many years, having sampled / Rose petals and newspapers, we know that the eye of the storm, / As it moves majestically to engulf us, is alive / With the spirit of confusion,

 

No, but I dug these out of bureau drawers for you, / Told you which ones meant a lot to me

 

winding / Paths of despair and memory, reproach in / The stairwell, and new confidence

 

And after all this, finding / Someone at home, as though memory / Had placed chairs around

 

You'll be left with a trowel and a lot of empty flowerpots, imagining that the sun as it enters this window is somehow a blessing that will make up for everything else—those very years in the cold. That the running faucet is a sacred stream. That the glint of light from a silver ball on that far-off flagpole is the equivalent of a career devoted to life,

 

But the real "world" / Stretches its pretending into the side yard / Where I was waiting, at peace with my feelings, though now / I see, resentful from the beginning for the change to happen / Like lilacs. We were walking / All along toward a door that seemed to recede / In the distance and now is somehow behind us, shut, / Though apparently it didn't lock automatically. How / Wonderful the fields are. They are / Like love poetry, all the automatic breathing going on / All around, and there are enchanted, many-colored / Things like houses to explore, if there were time, / But the house is built under a waterfall. The slanting / Roof and the walls are made of opaque glass, and / The emerald-green wall-to-wall carpeting is sopping moss.

 

And last, perhaps, as darkness / Begins to infuse the lawns and silent streets / And the remote estuary, and thickens here, you mention / The slamming of a door I wasn't supposed to know about, / That took years.

She looked all around the room with a satisfied air. / Everything was in order, even unto bareness, waiting to receive / Whatever stamp or seal.

 

the inevitable uninvited and only guest who writes on the wall

 

I have chosen this environment and it is handsome: a festive ruching of bare twigs against the sky, masks under the balconies

 
As We Know (1979)

 

"Litany"

Today the wisteria is in league / With the Spanish minstrels. // Who come to your house / To serenade it / All or in part. // The windows are open again / The dust blows through / A diagram of a room. / This is where it all / Had to take place, / Around a drum of living, / The motion by which a life / May be known and recognized, / A shipwreck seen from the shore, / A puzzling column of figures.

To sopping prayer-strips / Hanging like dejected plumage from that / Rafter over the porch swing.

The dust on the jamb is warning / And intrigue enough.

And at night people would take leave of each other / And go into their houses, singing.

Presently / Out of this near-chaos an unearthly / Radiance stood like a person in the room, / The memory of the host, perhaps.

Faded markings on / The floor where I walk could have / Been produced by me, or at best / Some outside agency.

I wear my weather / With a good-natured air of secrecy, / And have no trouble finding my way home / Once the fun is done. I can sleep.


never / The road leading over the hill / To yet another home.

marking an unknown hour / From a remote, dismal room

The house stays much the same. / One day a little bit of rust / At the eaves, a bit of tape removed / And its story will have been elsewhere, / Soon removed, like a porch,

The view of the sea will move in slowly / And become the walls of this room.


I wander through each dirty street / Knowing how painted rooms are bonny, / Remembering feather beds are soft

A garden plunged in sun seen through a fixed lattice / Of regrets and doubts,

Now it's too late to stay home / Or go anywhere except to that film

We feel we have more in common with a / Landscape, however shifty and ill-conceived, / Than with a still-life

Better / The coffee pot and sewing basket of a still-life— / It's more human

But like a hollow tower / Let in some sun and keep the wind / Far hence

there are a few clouds / Down near the baseboard of the room that prevent / Us from ever continuing our conversation

The storms don't matter; even when the wind / Is about to demolish the roof, and the sea / Is banging on the front door

Never change when love has found its home.

The tower was more a tower inside a house. / Even its outside (tendril-clogged crannies) / Was shaded from the view of most. / It grew chaste, and slim, like a prism / In a protected, secular environment / That overlooked the torment, fogs and crevasses / Of orderly religion. That house / Grew all alone in a desolate avenue / (Avenue so shady) / That people began to forget coming to / Long before its present state / Of patched-up oblivion, and even / In those days were those who remembered back / To what seemed a state of true freedom: / Bopping down the valleys wild, beaks / Tearing the invisible ear to shreds / But was actually a rudimentary stage / Of serfdom dating from the Silver Age. / Now, however, that house was as it was / Never going to be: a modest yet firmly / Rooted pure excrescence, a spiritual / Rubber plant: / A grave no one wanted to visit / Which remained popular and holy down to the present afternoon, / Something which nobody in particular / Was interested in, yet which mattered more / To the earth's population in general / Than practically anything they could think of. / It was history just as it disappears in the / Twilight of yesterday and before it / Materializes today as everything that is / Fresh, young, and strange, and almost / Out of the house and halfway down the street—

That way, we can go out of our house / To see what is there,

When that day comes I'll go gladly / Into whatever situation or room you want me in / To take care of.

Isn't it strange / That this was home all along, and one of us / Knew it?

But I wouldn't want you to think I / Care for anything rather than go home

More is in store for the hyenas coupling / In the wallpaper

In whose house are we? Must we not sit / Quietly, for we would not do this at home?


"Sleeping in the Corners of Our Lives"

Afternoon leaves blew against the stale brick / Surface. Just an old castle.

And settles back into a tepid, modest / Chamber with its mouse-gray furniture, its redundant pictures.

"Silhouette"

It was inside the house, and always getting narrower.

The catastrophe / Buried in the stair carpet stayed there / And never corrupted anybody. / And one day he grew up, and the horizon / Stammered politely. The sky was like muslin. / And still in the old house no one ever answered the bell.

"As We Know"

All that we see is penetrated by it— / The distant treetops with their steeple (so / Innocent), the stair, the windows' fixed flashing— / Pierced full of holes by the evil that is not evil, / The romance that is not mysterious, the life that is not life, / A present that is elsewhere.

"Five Pedantic Pieces"

The yellow-brick and masonry / Wall, deeper, duller all afternoon

"Haunted Landscape"

How could that picture come crashing off the wall when no one was in the room? // At least the glass isn't broken. I like the way the stars / Are painted in this one, and those which are painted out. / The door is opening. A man you have never seen enters the room. / He tells you that it is time to go, but that you may stay, // If you wish. You reply that it is one and the same to you. / It was only later, after the house had materialized elsewhere, / That you remembered you forgot to ask him what form the change would take.

"My Erotic Double"

Here in the shade / Behind the house, protected from street noises,

"I Might Have Seen It"

In his ear there are no people in the room listening // As the curtain bells out majestically in front of the starlight / To whisper the words This has already happened / And the footfalls on the stair turn out to be real / Those of your neighbor I mean the one who moved away

"Knocking Around"


Each day as the sun wends its way / Into your small living room and stays / You remember the accident of night as though it were a friend.

It doesn't matter that the peonies are tipped in soot / Or that a man will come to station himself each night / Outside your house, and leave shortly before dawn,

Space will be like a jar with no lid, and you can live / Any way you like out on those vague terraces, / Verandas, walkways—the forms of space combined with time

"And I'd Love You to Be in It"

Playing alone, I found the wall. / One side was gray, the other an indelible gray. / The two sides were separated by a third, / Or spirit wall, a coarser gray. The wall / Was chipped and tarnished in places, / Polished in places.

In what skyscraper or hut / I'll finish? Today there are tendrils / Coming through the slats, and milky, yellowy grapes, / A mild game to divert the doorperson / And we are swiftly inside, the resurrection finished.

"Histoire Universelle"


The walls of Bill's villa resonate with the intermittent, / Migraine-drone of motorized gondolas and the distant / Murmur of cats.

The house was for living in, / So much was sure.

"Variations on an Original Theme"

Lake to the right, and the house, a Manichean / Presence between the two widely spaced trees / On the backed-up, rusted gold of the grass.

"Homesickness"

It no longer mattered that I didn't want you to go away, / That I wanted you to return as quickly as possible / To my house, not yours this time, except / This house is yours when we sleep in it. / And you will be chastised and purified / Once we are both inside the world's lean-to.

"Their Day"

They are constructing pleasure simultaneously / In an adjacent chamber / That occupies the same cube of space as the critic's study.

From these boxed perimeters / We issue forth irregularly.

As long as we don't know that / We can live at the square corners of the streets.

"The Other Cindy"

And the haunted houses in those valleys wanted to congratulate / You on your immobility.

have faith in the slow / Blossoming of haystacks, stairways, walls of convolvulus,

"The Sun"

we are linked up / Anyway in the sun's equation, the house from which / It steals forth on occasion

Shadow Train (1981)

 

"Paradoxes and Oxymorons"

 

You look out a window / Or pretend to fidget.

 

"The Ivory Tower"

 

A porch built on pilings, far out over the sand.

 

"The Freedom of the House"

 

why being alone / Is the condition of happiness, the substance / Of the golden hints, articulation in the hall outside,

 

"At the Inn"

 

I shall return in the dark and be seen, // Be led to my own room by well-intentioned hands, / Placed in a box with a lid whose underside is dark / So as to grow

 

So, laying his cheek against the dresser's wooden one, // He died making up stories

 

"Breezy Stories"

 

relax standards, bring light and chaos / Into the order of the house. A slatternly welcome

 

"Joe Leviathan"

 

In his house they speak of rope. They skate past the window.

 

Where hope is the door it is stained with the strong stench of brine. / Inside too. The window frames have been removed.

 

"A Prison All the Same"

 

Spoken over a yellow kitchen table (just the ticket / For these recycling-minded times)

 

The fragrant bulbs // In the cellar are no use either.

 

"Drunken Americans"

 

Until one day you rip the canvas from its frame // And take it home with you.

 

"Something Similar"

 

I said it from a dim upstairs porch into the veiled / Shapely masses of this country you are the geography of

 

"Untilted"

 

How tall the buildings were as I began / To live, and how high the rain that battered them!

 

"At Lotus Lodge"

 

There is something in every room // Of the house, and in the powder room one truly inconceivable thing / That doesn't matter and is your name.

 

"Written in the Dark"

 

We stayed home. / We drank table wine, yellow then violet, wormwood color.

 

"Tide Music"

 

the welcoming host in you had // For some reason left the door to the street open and all / Kinds of amiable boors had taken advantage of it, though the mat / Isn't out. All the sky, each ragged leaf, have been thoroughly gone over / And every inch is accounted for in the tune, the wallpaper of dreams.

 

"Flow Blue"

 

It may sound like a lot of odds and cloud-filled / Ends—at best, a thinking man's charmed fragment, perhaps // A house.

 

There were differences when / Only you knew them, and the grass was gray, escaping the houses, / The septic tank and the fields. Lost, I found the small stand // In the wood. It was funny and quiet there. And I know now / This is not a place where I could stay.

 

"We Hesitate"

 

Concern and embarrassment / Grow rank. Once they have come home there is no cursing. / Fires disturb the evening.

 

"School of Velocity"

 

The houses, the puddles / Even the cars are pegs.

 

"Everyman's Library"

 

[Epigraph: ... the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself ... (Psalm 84)]

 

In the outlying districts where we know something / The sparrows don't, and each house / Is noticeably a little nicer than the rest, the "package" / Is ready to be performed now. It comes // As a sheaf of papyruslike, idle imaginings / And identifyings, and stays put like that. / It's beginning to get darker. You send someone / Down the flight of stairs to ask after // The true course of events and the answer always / Comes back evasive yet polite: you have only to step down. . . / Oops, the light went out.


A Wave (1984)

 

"Rain Moving In"

 

The blackboard is erased in the attic

 

all your graciousness in living / Conspires with it, now that this is our home: A place to be from, and have people ask about.

 

"The Songs We Know Best"

 

Just like a shadow in an empty room

 

It carries in this room against the painted wall / And hangs in folds of curtains when it's not there at all / It's woven in the flowers of the patterned spread / And lies and knows not what it thinks upon the bed

 

"When the Sun Went Down"

 

a white indifferent prism, a roofless love standing open / To the elements?

 

"Landscape (after Baudelaire)"

 

I want a bedroom near the sky, an astrologer's cave / Where I can fashion eclogues that are chaste and grave. / Dreaming, I'll hear the wind in the steeples close by / Sweep the solemn hymns away. I'll spy / On factories from my attic window, resting my chin / In both hands, drinking in the songs, the din. / I'll see chimneys and steeples, those masts of the city, / And the huge sky that makes us dream of eternity. // How sweet to watch the birth of the star in the still-blue / Sky, through mist; the lamp burning anew / At the window; rivers of coal climbing the firmament / And the moon pouring out its pale enchantment. / I'll see the spring, the summer and the fall / And when winter casts its monotonous pall / Of snow, I'll draw the blinds and curtains tight / And build my magic palaces in the night; / Then dream of gardens, of bluish horizons, / Of jets of water weeping in alabaster basins, / Of kisses, of birds singing at dawn and at nightfall, / Of all that's most childish in our pastoral. / When the storm rattles my windowpane / I'll stay hunched at my desk, it will roar in vain / For I'll have plunged deep inside the thrill / Of conjuring spring with the force of my will, / Coaxing the sun from my heart, and building here / Out of my fiery thoughts, a tepid atmosphere.

 

"A Fly"

 

The thing is that this is places in the world, / Freedom from rent, / Sundries, food, a dictionary to keep you company

 

"Down by the Station, Early in the Morning"

 

As the wrecking ball bursts through the wall with the bookshelves / Scattering the works of famous authors as well as those / Of more obscure ones, and books with no author, letting in / Space, and an extraneous babble from the street / Confirming the new value the hollow core has again, the light / From the lighthouse that protects as it pushes us away.

 

"Purists Will Object"

 

On the day someone sells an old house / And someone else begins to add on to his: all / In the interests of this pornographic masterpiece, / Variegated, polluted skyscraper to which all gazes are drawn, / Pleasure we cannot and will not escape. // It seems we were going home. The smell of blossoming privet blanketed the narrow avenue. / The traffic lights were green and aqueous. / So this is the subterranean life.

 

"Description of a Masque"

 

At the lower left was a grotto, the cave of Mania, goddess of confusion. Larches, alders and Douglas fir were planted so thickly around the entrance that one could scarcely make it out. In the dooryard a hyena chained to a pole slunk back and forth, back and forth, continually measuring the length of its chain, emitting the well-known laughing sound all the while, except at intervals when what appeared to be fragments of speech would issue from its maw.

 

STRANGER: Come with me, and I will take you into the presence of one at whose court beauty and irrationality reign alternately, and never tread on each other's toes as do your unsightly followers [more whispering and gesturing among the hobos], where your own pronounced contours may flourish and be judged for what they are worth, while the anomalies of the room you happen to be in or the disturbing letters and phone calls that hamper your free unorthodox development will melt away like crystal rivulets leaving a glacier, and you may dwell in the accident of your character forever.

 

   "That's what I thought," Mania pouted, stamping one of her feet in its platform shoe so loudly that several of the extras turned to look. "Atmosphere—that's what it was all along, wasn't it? A question of ambience, poetry, something like that. I might as well have stayed in my cave for all the good it's going to do me. After all, I'm used to not blending in with the environment—it's my business not to. But I thought you were going to take me away from all that, to some place where scenery made no difference any more, where I could be what everybody accuses me of being and what I suppose I must be—my tired, tyrannical self, as separate from local color as geometry is from the hideous verticals of these avenues and buildings and the festoons that extend them into the shrinking consciousness. Have you forgotten the words of St. Augustine: 'Multiply in your imagination the light of the sun, make it greater and brighter as you will, a thousand times or out of number. God will not be there'?"

   Then we all realized what should have been obvious from the start: that the setting would go on evolving eternally, rolling its waves across our vision like an ocean, each one new yet recognizably a part of the same series, which was creation itself. Scenes from movies, plays, operas, television; decisive or little-known episodes from history; prenatal and other early memories from our own solitary, separate pasts; events yet to come from life or art; calamities or moments of relaxation; universal or personal tragedies; or little vignettes from daily life that you just had to stop and laugh at, they were so funny, like the dog chasing its tail on the living-room rug. [ . . . ] There were murky scenes from television with a preponderance of excerpts from Jacques Cousteau documentaries with snorkeling figures disappearing down aqueous perspectives, past arrangements of coral still-lifes and white, fan-like creatures made of snowy tripe whose trailing vinelike tentacles could paralyze a man for life, and a seeming excess of silver bubbles constantly being emitted from here and there to sweep upward to the top of the screen, where they vanished. There were old clips from Lucy, Lassie and The Waltons; there was Walter Cronkite bidding us an urgent good evening years ago. Mostly there were just moments: a street corner viewed from above, bare branches flailing the sky, a child in a doorway, a painted Pennsylvania Dutch chest, a full moon disappearing behind a dark cloud to the accompaniment of a Japanese flute, a ballerina in a frosted white dress lifted up into the light.

 

"The Path to the White Moon"

 

There were little farmhouses there they / Looked like farmhouses yes without very much land / And trees, too many trees and a mistake / Built into each thing rather charmingly

 

"Ditto, Kiddo"

 

But now, like biting devalued currency, they become possessions / As the stars come out. And the ridiculous machine / Still trickles mottoes: "Plastered again . . ." "from our house / To your house . . ." We wore these for a while, and they became us.

 

"Introduction"

 

This is / No one's story! At least they think that / For a time and the story is architecture / Now, and then history of a diversified kind. / A vacant episode during which the bricks got / Repointed and browner.

 

"I See, Said the Blind Man, as He Put Down His Hammer and Saw"

 

Pleasant to be away; the stones fall back; / The hill of bloom in place over the roar / Of the kitchens but with remembrance like a bright patch / Of red in a bunch of laundry.

 

So that the curtains contribute what charm they can / To the spectacle: an overflowing cesspool / Among the memoirs of court life, the candy, cigarettes, / And what else.

 

"Edition Peters, Leipzig"

 

The clash erupting to the very door, but the / Door is secure. There is room here still / For thoughts like ferns being integrated / Into another system, something to scare the night away,

 

But for afternoon busy with blinds open, restless with / Search-and-destroy missions,

 

"37 Haiku"

 

You have original artworks hanging on the walls oh I said edit

 

Come to the edge of the barn the property really begins there // In a smaller tower shuttered and put away there

 

A vest—there is so much to tell about even in the side rooms // Hesitantly, it built up and passed quickly without unlocking // There are some places kept from the others and are separate, they never exist

 

The boy must have known the particles fell through the house after him

 

"Haibun"

 

you surely have your separate, private being in some place I will never walk through. And then of the dismal space between us, filled though it may be with interesting objects, standing around like trees waiting to be discovered.

 

"Haibun 2"

 

Shadows are thrown out at the base of things at right angles to the regular shadows that are already there, pointing in the correct direction. They are faint but not invisible, and it seems appropriate to start intoning the litany of dimensions there, at the base of a sapling spreading its lines in two directions. The temperature hardens, and things like the smell and the mood of water are suddenly more acute, and may help us. We will never know whether they did. // Water, a bossa nova, a cello is centered, the light behind the library

 

"Variation on a Noel"

 

As crossword puzzles done in this room, this after-effect

 

The bent towers of the playroom advanced to something like openness

 

To be kind, and to forget, passing through the next doors

 

"Never Seek to Tell Thy Love"

 

Many colors will take you to themselves / But now I want someone to tell me how to get home. / The way back there is streaked and stippled, / A shaded place. It belongs where it is going // Not where it is.

 

Returning to the point was always the main thing, then. / Did we ever leave it? I don't think so. It was our North Pole.

 

"Darlene's Hospital"

 

once she perched light / In the reading space of my room,

 

"Whatever It Is, Wherever You Are"

 

has left us wondering, once more, what there is about this plush solitude that makes us think we will ever get out, or even want to. The ebony hands of the clock always seem to mark the same hour. That is why it always seems the same, though it is of course changing constantly, subtly, as though fed by an underground stream. If only we could go out in back, as when we were kids, and smoke and fool around and just stay out of the way, for a little while. But that's just it—don't you see? We are "out in back." No one has ever used the front door. We have always lived in this place, without a name, without shame, a place for grownups to talk and laugh, having a good time.

 

Then it is that a kind of purring occurs, like the wind sneaking around the baseboards of a room:

 

"Trefoil"

 

Imagine some tinkling curiosity from the years back—/ The fashions aren't old enough yet to look out of fashion. / It is a picture of patient windows, with trees / Of two minds half-caught in their buzz and luster, / The froth of everyone's ideas as personal and skimpy as ever. // The windows taught us one thing: a great, square grief / Not alleviated or distracted by anything, since the pattern / Must establish itself before it can grow old, cannot weather nicely

 

"A Wave"

 

And our landscape came to be as it is today: / Partially out of focus, some of it too near, the middle distance / A haven of serenity and unreachable, with all kinds of nice / People and plants waking and stretching, calling / Attention to themselves with every artifice of which the human / Genre is capable. And they called it our home.

 

In the haunted house no quarter is given: in that respect / It's very much business as usual.

 

Shrank and promoted a surreal intimacy, like jazz music / Moving over furniture,

 

Our story is no longer alone. / There is a rumbling there / And now it ends, and in a luxurious hermitage

 

The sofa that was once a seat / Puzzles no longer, while the sweet conversation that occurs / At regular intervals throughout the years is like a collie / One never outgrows. And it happens to you / In this room, it is here, and we can never / Eat of the experience.

 

The covenant we entered / Bears down on us, some are ensnared, and the right way, / It turns out, is the one that goes straight through the house / And out the back.

 

Or on a large table in a house deep in the country with messages / Pinned to the walls and a sense of plainness quite unlike / Any other waiting.

 

so this would be / Our box and we would stay in it for as long / As we found it comfortable, for the broken desires / Inside were as nothing to the steeply shelving terrain outside, / And morning would arrange everything.

 

And so because it is impossible to believe / That anyone lives there, it is we who shall be homeless, outdoors / At the end.

 

the same myopic stars we have known / Since childhood, when, looking out a window, we saw them / And immediately liked them.

 

And meanwhile rain abrades the window?

 

Quietude / To get out and do things in, and a rush back to the house / When evening turns up, and not a moment too soon. Headhunters and jackals mingle with the viburnum / And hollyhocks outside, and it all adds up, pointedly, / To something one didn't quite admit feeling uneasy about, but now / That it's all out in the open, like a successful fire / Burning in a fireplace, really there's no cause for alarm. / For even when hours and days go by in silence and the phone / Never rings, and widely spaced drops of water / Fall from the eaves, nothing is any longer a secret / And one can live alone rejoicing in this: / That the years of war are far off in the past or the future, / That memory contains everything. And you see slipping down a hallway / The past self you decided not to have to do with any more / And it is a more comfortable you, dishonest perhaps, / But alive.

 

the poem, growing up through the floor, / Standing tall in tubers, invading and smashing the ritual / Parlor,

 

And then to sigh, to faint back / Into all our imaginings, dark / And viewless as they are, / Windows painted over with black paint

 

images reflected off / Some mirrored surface we cannot see, and they seem both solid / As a suburban home and graceful phantasms

 

stone tenements are still hoarding / The shadow that is mine;

 

"I was lost, but seemed to be coming home, / Through quincunxes of apple trees, but ever / As I drew closer, as in Zeno's paradox, the mirage / Of home withdrew and regrouped a little farther off. / I could see white curtains fluttering at the windows / And in the garden under a big brass-tinted apple tree / The old man had removed his hat and was gazing at the grass / As though in sorrow, sorrow for what I had done. / Realizing it was now or never, I lurched / With one supreme last effort out of the dream / Onto the couch-grass behind the little red-painted palings: / I was here! But it all seemed so lonesome. I was welcomed / Without enthusiasm. My room had been kept as it was / But the windows were closed, there was a smell of a closed room.

 

Enough to know that I shall have answered for myself soon, / Be led away for further questioning and later returned / To the amazingly quiet room in which all my life has been spent. / It comes and goes; the walls, like veils, are never the same,


April Galleons (1987)

 

"Vetiver"

The staircase swept upward / Through fragmented garlands

And in some room someone examines his youth,

"Forgotten Sex"

Unless children one day dig up the past, in the attic / Or under brush in the back yard

And when we come back / From an outing expect to find the furniture magically / Rearranged to accommodate revised, smaller projects / No one bothers to question, except polite Puss-in-Boots with what / Is in effect a new premise: "Try this one, the dust / Shows less on these rather sad colors;

"Insane Decisions"

So everything is OK, / Houses markedly more modest, / On and on and on. / A view of the parking lot.

"No I Don't"


Sometimes staying in the house can be bad. But then, returning, / To find some vine that has licked over an eave / Like an unruly eyebrow, something that wasn't there / Moments ago, can stop you in your tracks.

Housework, or something called that. Changing the needle / Of the clock, putting the dust away in twos and threes / As icons merge with the old gold of twilight

"Alone in the Lumber Business"

we live / In our large, square, open landscape.

"Vaucanson"


In the gray room he felt relaxed and singular,

"Unreleased Movie"

Doors will forever bang in that wind, night moths assault the screens

"Disguised Zenith"

Light fills a corner / Of the room, not paying attention / To the racing wind outside,

"October at the Window"

A moth is caught in my lamp

That there are flowers in shacks, broken / Mirrors among fallen doorposts

"No Two Alike"

Polluting remembrance, the house where I was born. / And in that moment of curious rage an attic / Is pitched, a place to come after long love,

"Amid Mounting Evidence"

fragile / As summersweet or the light on a windowsill,

there are always windows / With flower boxes and dreamy young girls just behind them.

"Letters I Did or Did Not Get"

And in the end it seemed the same old cellar hole / Was where one was vainly taking refuge / Again and not telling others about it lest / It become too popular and be flooded / With emotions before the original shack was torn down.

Surely, then, someone will come to ask / Of us, knocking at the door, pulling the latch chain / To open into fire and breathing our very own / Unedited tale of how it happened, / Of each step that led away from childhood / To the bounteous past before us know, / Wild towers springing up in the white gloom—

"Frost"

The secret / Chamber is one, where only the king / Could come,

"The Mouse"

And the houses that are no more savor vividly / The lace that straps it to time,

"Sighs and Inhibitions"


The carpet never stretches quite far enough, / There is always a
footfall on the stair.

"Someone You Have Seen Before"


The tables had been set with beautiful white cloths / And bouquets of flowers. Outside the big glass windows / The rain drilled mercilessly into the rock garden,

It was an example of how much one can grow lustily / Without fracturing the shell of coziness that surrounds us,

We're the characters in its novel, / And anybody who doubts that need only look out of the window / Past his or her own reflection,

"Ostensibly"


One might like to rest or read, / Take walks, celebrate the kitchen table,

Gardeners cannot make the world / Nor witches undo it, yet / The mad doctor is secure / In his thick-walled laboratory, / Behind evergreen borders black now / Against the snow, precise as stocking seams / Pulled straight again

You must try getting up from the table / And sitting down relaxed in another country / Wearing red suspenders / Toward one's own space and time.

"The Big Cloud"

And an announcement made against the lukewarm atmosphere of the room / To all that did or did not belong in it.

Letters were strewn across the floor, / Singing the joyful song of how no one was ever going to read them.

"Polite Distortions"

The steps, slanted to be sure, / Lead to a warmer place where there is nothing to notice / Or everything to escape notice.

"Fourth Prize"

get out of the house in case / Of a delay, no matter how fortunate

And as I lie shut in this long coffin / Of an apartment, thinking of the damp, / And some squib of light tries to protect me

"Some Money"


the fishing pole leans against the steps. / Why have all the windows darkened? / The laurel burned its image into the sky like smoke? // All was gold and shiny in the queen's parlor. / In the pigsty outside it was winter however

"Winter Weather Advisory"


the complex, / Much too complex, someone would say, aviary-as-environment / That results is the piece of real estate one inherited long ago, / That partially submerged orange grove in Florida.

"Never to Get It Really Right"


A tan light stalks the rooms now / (With their neoclassic moldings,

the gold of winter is clanging already / In dusty hallways

Looks like the face powder / On things is the next stage, step / In the staircase that plummets us from there / To here

"The Romantic Entanglement"

Ah, you don't know what fun it is / Arriving in the rain just as night has changed the subject / To a downhill story of professors, pigs and pianos, / To the sermon of the moment. / How the lamplight crackled then!

Cold as ashes in a grate after we're home?

"Wet Are the Boards"

the spirited bulk, / The work of a local architect, knows how to detach itself / From the little puffs issuing from the mouths of the four winds, / Yet not too much, and be honest / While still remaining noble and sedate. / The tepees on the front lawn / Of the governor's palace became a fixture there / And were cast in stone after the originals rotted away. / Fish tanks glinted from within the varnished / Halls of jurisprudence and it was possible to save / The friezes, of Merovingian thrust, / And so much else made to please the senses:

"Fall Pageant"

The sun rushes in, / Washes the baseboard, and is gone, briefly.

The monument / Didn't work out as planned, but we have been taken in / And as it were anointed by a band of robbers / Who even let us visit home sometimes / Provided we swear on our honor to return / And not tell anyone about it.

"One Coat of Paint"

even simple stuff like bringing / Water home from wells, coals to hearths,

"Savage Menace"

The castle was infested with rats; / For weeks no one had unpacked the laundry / Or dusted the rungs of the chairs. / "Your voice sounds
near. Try to find / A door that will lead to us."

No one wants to stay in the house though outside / It's not exactly what one had in mind either:

the gleaners / Return home empty-handed as night invests the fields.

Now, most windows are opaque / And though the sun breathes there is little / Cause for rejoicing except in the locked, / Silent chamber of midnight

"By the Flooded Canal"

And I shift, arranging the pieces / In a cardboard drawer. No two are alike, and I like that. // The kitten on the stairs heard it / Once, in disbelief, and I go / To sales, and buy only what we need.

"April Galleons"

Something was burning. And besides, / At the far end of the room a discredited waltz / Was alive and reciting tales of the conquerors / And their lilies—is all of life thus / A tepid housewarming?

Flow Chart (1991)

 

I

 

One cultivates certain smells, is afraid to leave the charmed circle / of the anxious room lest uncommitted atmosphere befall / and the oaks / are seen to be girdled with ivy.

 

that was a / time to come, and all happy crying in memory placed the stone / in the magic box and covered it with wallpaper.

 

decorating the maelstrom with / someone's (I wish I knew whose) notion of what is right, or cute. / Soon the dark chairs and tables stand out sharply in front of strange / green-striped walls, gulls circle in the sky, smoke / from piles of old tires set alight at strategic points throughout the city / sifts through the crack where the pane doesn't quite join the sill—

 

the rich man's house become a kettle, the wreath / in the sink turned to something else,

 

and now the evening star was combing her hair at the attic window

 

the legal filigrane that penetrates every / page of the mouldering sheaf down to the last one, like a spike / through a door. Somebody dust these ashes off, open / the curtains, get a little light on the subject: the subject / going off on its own again. Yes but if home were only light / sliding down darkened windows in rivulets, inhabiting their / concavities and generally adapting itself to the contours of what is already there, / one could understand that,

 

There's no reason to return home, to / our roots, of course, yet neither can it be construed as an invitation.

 

Home becomes more than a place, more even than / a concept for this elite minority,

 

one can still live in the same house with one's ambitions / and drives and still have the luxury of feeling alone:

 

I suppose if one / were born and grew up on a desert island, knowing of nothing better or even different, one might coincide / with the four walls that contain one and see no anomaly, no / grotesquerie, in the result.

 

I am / short of the mark despite my bluster and my swaggering, / have no real home and no one to inhabit it except you

 

Besides it's quite quiet and confusing at home, thank you / very much.

 

I'm / sure it's all coincidence, but it / does have a way of rattling things, like a constant draft through the house, rustling / papers, riveting one's eye on the clock.

 

II

 

it's, well, / so easy not to understand, to take full possession of one's unawareness and / then refuse to leave, a squatter in one's own house.

 

oh you showed 'em how to fit into the barrel of an ignored idiosyncrasy and / still have room left over for passages of devastating wit that nightly / bring the house down. And if sleep is narrower after that, it's also more pointed, / slanted like the harrow's tooth, to bring up what may be coming along / any second now) and it is, in feathers all over the floor, only now it's the maid's turn / and we may never see what stays groping in her eyes. The floor is lovely, though, passionate

 

the old people in the house, a long day away; the carbons of pets and other mooted toys,

 

these days I count little / but the linens folded in my scented cedar closets, folded up against time, in case / I ever have a use for them;

 

Once in the booby hatch the setting sun / drilling its powerful horizontal rays, as strong as any you'd ever want to see at noon, through my / window just above the sill, striking this sheet of paper with the shadows of a flower pots / and an old faucet, that were lying there, with so much force that they seemed / about to be embedded in it, / like a sentiment above a door.

 

all one's / bad reactions will confront at every one of the house's apertures:

 

Your father and I were away much of the time; / it was like not having a home, string, and wads of serge to stuff in the cracks, / yet there were so many of them!

 

there is not very much to mark / of that past, no stones to leave on the trail, which isn't the same / as having an alderman in your living room and cats where you look,

 

soon stars will be out / and you can walk home peering into the distance, hoping / someone will pick us up. Easy now, the stair treads / have come along again, and soon, soon / the bed will drench us with sleep

 

Now the dangers were tiny ones, but everywhere; it would have been a good time to stay home, but alas that was a concept / foreign to these steep, peripheral times,

 

III

 

One can, one does exist like this / but what a thin home it makes. No place to put my despair. Never mind, we'll unpack it later.

 

rested on your elbows at the windowsill looking out over everything that was going to be night,

 

And then I noticed every window in every / single-story house was like an eye with a trembling eyelid, and knew that the hour / had come to deliver my speech, and did, the gist of it being: where, assuming / it can be located at all, when you came from the well, gingerly / making your way along the low masonry wall in the side of the bluff, did you expect the others / to be, if not in the roofless enclosure they called a house and were planning to enlarge / someday?

 

Shit, let's go home. I mean, I forgot my key.

 

IV

 

It could have been wildflowers in the wallpaper / or stray ashes in the grate, no more. Then the bird came back and shat / on the stone, and that proved it was there for a while, but somehow / that got forgotten and we were thrust out of doors to play in the rain / and sleet, and somebody got hold of the key, we entered, and presto, no one / was there, it was a different room, another empty one too, and had / obviously been vacated pretty recently. A smell of kippers / hung in the front hall. OK, I said, we must press on to the last house / they were seen in in the next block. The green cement one. But my / companions whispered why, let's ditch him at the first opportunity, no / let's not even wait that long, which is why I came across the lawn bruised / and moist, and trembling with pity to be let in, and you came / and let me in.

 

what / does any of it matter now, now that I have found my home in a narrow cleft / stained with Indian paintbrush and boar's blood, from which an avenue eventually leads / to the flatter, more civilized places I have no quarrel with either.

 

It was the cutest darn haunted house you ever saw. It had blue / shutters with squirrel cutouts in them. Inside everything was clean and neat. / But haunted houses are like whores—there's no such thing as a nice one, no matter / how prim they act, or how the spotted sun greets them as the warm morning is painted. / And then such a one, some other one, would want to know why in the name of thunder / these repairs were necessary. After all, the place looked all right. Even the bailiff / who lived next door said so. In the event of a storm or flood, the door / could be shut, and there was an end to it. But it never occurs to anyone that when the / light of the sun does reach the deep pools which are almost always bathed in shadow, / why then a short plop is heard and two people are unable to occupy the same space. / It sounds simply enough in my book. Someone on lead feet looked out / the upstairs window, astonished at the loud knocking below, and then withdrew. / Whether or not this person was actually coming downstairs to answer the door was unclear,

 

I could hear the hissing of soda water in the seltzer bottle and the roar / of the wind in the trees, the cat scratching at the back door, the mice rotating / in place like dust mice, the jangle / of keys the size of fenceposts and the thunk of cylinders as the lock—what was / all the fuss about?—goes through the motions and the clipclopping door falls silent / again. Inside the place reeked of mildew and decay though it looked pretty tidy / considering no one had set foot in there for twenty years. A newspaper, still dangling / precariously from the rim of the mail slot, hadn't aged. There was a coffeepot, / still warm, / on the stove.

 

There were framed silhouettes hanging on the walls / of the hall, depicting different forms of mild corporal punishment. A large vase / of pussy willows dominated the sitting room—it was here that the occupants / came to cry, out of vexation or frustration, and whence, having experienced some relief, / they departed to seek out others and compare notes / on the battle of time being waged in spiral notebooks and the dour feeling of / banging them shut. There was never any apparent politeness, / but the children sometimes talked with each other for a long time, and, though / conclusions were not ordinarily reached, it shook down some of the stuffing in the mattress / of each one's ego, for a time at least. A kettle boiled happily / on the hob. But it was too dark and, above all, too damp to read by. Tall / figures like the shadows of men had been blended into the viscosity of the plastered / walls; in short it was a jungle in there, and though for some reason one sometimes felt / tempted to stay, it was obvious that no discussion of the circumstances would ever / be possible.

 

as I live in a house, / am so bound to its principles, in the corners, that coming and going / are very much the same thing to me,

 

It was a kind of lumber / room, full of boxes filled with papers ("John's report cards") and branches / of artificial holly from Christmases past. It seemed the ghosts / had taken a particular dislike to this room; it felt colder than the others, / though the cold was the result of natural causes. Sunlight, however, warmed the sill.

 

So it is always a relief to come back / to the beloved home with its misted windows, its teakettle, its worn places on the ceiling,

 

Just as one longs for a solitary hole to call one's own, / so one is horrified at the prospect of being immured in it:

 

My fear is like a small house: you can come visit me / but it will not go away,

 

I was / in my dressing room and didn't hear it. It must have gone through the house like a bird's swoop

 

So, drunk, we come back to the dollhouse open to the elements, / its scuffed paper furniture,

 

after the gentleman had gone, leaving me his card, I stood in the hall / for a long time, unable to go back to the kitchen or up the stairs / I know so well.

 

I could lean out / into the bowl of eternity, like a poster / plastered to the wall of a house, advertising a brand of cigars,

 

We all returned home anxious / to get the night over with.

 

The house is built, / the beds made, and see how it comes undone, but then an enormous ray of sunlight, / like a minor flood, imbues the room, and once again we are saved from ourselves / as something rings down the curtain on us gloriously

 

The fullness in the house at night / is only a diagram (but cling to it, anyway) of where things were,

 

it would be too confusing / and painful to our house,

 

But the house had no sense at all, and having / become a limited partner in my own disestablishment, I watched in terror / as it moved on us, dull plumage of another kind, condensed around doors and windows,

 

As I see it the main difficulty is getting used / to the gradual increase in light increments, walking home in the early evening / after a day at the office, and being back / in the apartment again, if only for the night.

 

Yes, the harvest home had no walls at all.

 

And they all went back into their houses / and that was all for that day.

 

You're supposed to find some / kind of message in it, when the weather takes you away for a day / and delivers you back home,

 

I just want to be left at home—

 

the stain / sang in the wall, and the wall buckled

 

The stone house man had built upon the shore, with the station-master / in it.

 

Nobody asked me whether I wanted to be born here, / whether I liked it here, but that's hardly an excuse for cobbling a palace of mendacious rves / into something like existence. The entry is inconspicuous, more like a sentry's box, / but the grand regularity of the insides, spoilt by a profusion of ornament, is / (however) my main contribution to the history of sitting and licking.

 

V

 

the plan of the porch is quite an obvious one, and you know / what sliding doors mean and wherefore gutters conduct rain / to the abject earth,

 

It's cooler / over here; the light forms a film at the windows / I first took for a curtain, a rash that won't wear off.

 

we can go home now, each to his own bed, for each of us has one:

 

One sat at a kind of grillwork that used to be the kitchen table,

 

VI

 

in short it is my home, and you are welcome in it / for as long as you wish to stay and abide by the rules.

 

in this place of wood and sunlight, this stable or retiring room or whatever you want to call it.

 

Then we'll have come home and there will be an end to it,

 

we can no longer / aim at that destination on the wall, that hill outside the window, that seemed to promise / indefinite relief, but at least, being boxed in, can thwart the unknown at home,

 

Trying to drum up business one begins explaining recklessly / one's family and the dates in one's house, the little / plum tree visible in the enclosure.

 

the way a moth sings in the house.

 

And meanwhile / there are rooms to be put back in order.

 

in a home, of lasting walls / or winds,

 

Fact: people leave their doors open and don't even flush the toilet.


Hotel LautrŽamont (1992)

 

"Light Turnouts"


your adventures are like safe houses

"Autumn Telegraph"

the scansions of tree to tree, of house to house,

"Notes from the Air"

But tell us, sages of the solarium, why is that light / still hidden back there, among house-plants and rubber sponges?

And now everything is being redeemed, / even the square of barren grass that adjoins your doorstep, / too near for you to see.

"Hotel LautrŽamont"

Small wonder that those at home sit, nervous, by the unlit grate.

Now, silently as one mounts a stair we emerge into the open / but it is shrouded, veiled

"From Estuaries, from Casinos"

That was before you could have it all / by just turning on the tap, letting it run / in a fiery stream from house to garage—

I / don't care he said, going down all those stairs / makes a boy of you.

"Cop and Sweater"

A man could smash through this, drain the Slough of Despond, / build individual habitats for bird and person, / suitable, and folly too.

"Musica Reservata"

Poems are such odd little jiggers. / This one scratches himself, gets up, then goes off to pee / in a corner of the room.

The walls of this room are like Mykonos, and sure enough, / green plumes toss in the breeze outside / that underscores the stillness of
this place

"The King"

our tears / cleanse the past, stiff architecture / too tired to mope,

"The Whole Is Admirably Composed"

I say I am here on this / last floor, room of sobs and of grieving. / It's better you know to actually live it / since always some unexpected detail intervenes: / how he came to your house long ago / on a forgotten afternoon filled with birds' wings

"Autumn on the Thruway"

How many figures had I rehearsed / In the garret where you could see your breath, whomping / My sides from the cold.

Stupid spruces tremble at / Stucco corners

set against the plainness of American lives it melts like a wall and / Rivulets, runnels drain off it as though from a roof, rushing to join
you // In the gutter,

"The Little Black Dress"

O not in the empty house.

"Part of the Superstition"

Our rooms darken / with every new place of experience.

there are other houses on this road to peace / we can actually live in, as a snail its shell, / or bird pants.

it was / a necessary corner in your apartment that couldn't be filled / by anything but its own besottedness.

"American Bar"

Perhaps life is better / near the Arctic Circle, where the buildings are plain / and no trees sing. One can feel totally indoors. / The wireless plays a lanky tune; / there are spots on the wall from the moisture you either keep out or keep in.

Off of what do we climb / to the lower level, what compact fleet of stairs / is nestled here?

"From Palookaville"


and iodine in the little house

The accents are distant as bells in that other hometown

a dim musicale in some small room / folded under netting as though the crows stood by / to watch / under the felt cushion something impolite zoomed

"Another Example"

What's wanted is faces in windows

"Avant de Quitter ces Lieux"

And in a summer house somewhere in Russia / a clematis soaks up the heat.

time itself is revealed / not as a series of rooms but a single corridor / stretching into the truth:

"Baked Alaska"

It's rather that the apartment comes to an end / in a small, pinched frown of shadow.

that house / we can hardly remember, with the plangent / rose-patterned curtains.

the day / of bereavement stands open and naked like a woman / on a front porch,

that all see with our own eyes just / as the door is shutting

"Private Syntax"

Rain washes in the chimney;

"Withered Compliments"

It is not enough, / finally, to turn and walk back to the house / where disappointed parents wait,

"The Wind Talking"

the time / to roll out of bed, / run out the white door, into the sickness/ of the apt.

stay out of harm's way, waiting, in a doorway— / I like you here, and by the woodpile, and think / it's after something, but no one came. And the door was slightly ajar, / too, it could be considered closed. Some welcome!

"Irresolutions on a Theme of La Rochefoucauld"


still they / wanted to go home, not to a forest / or savannah, but to the place of captivity / they had always known, a cage somewhere inside a school.

"Wild Boys of the Road"


the tin / posy in the doorjamb

"Korean Soap Opera"

She always has to have everything new in her house. Cherished ideals / don't suit her teal, rust and eggshell color scheme.

What kind of a mentality / causes men to commit suicide in their air-conditioned glass boxes?

One snorts in the laundry, another / is broken beside the bed.

"A Driftwood Altar"

In the bathroom there was considerable embarrassment.

familiar as a banging shutter

it is / bedtime and the nursery animals strike expectant, sympathetic poses.

the rightful heir stands in the doorway.

all windows / give on destruction,

"Central Air"

There are so many floors / in this building I feel we shall never get down,

Everyone out of the house!

Just as Jack had made sure that his friend Cordelia was out / and was preparing to ring the front doorbell

"Of Dreams and Dreaming"

Meanwhile we live in the paperweight of swirling blizzards / and little toy buses painted vermilion like the sky

"Elephant Visitors"

There's a lot in envelopes, / and in a hole behind the house,

"Erebus"

Waving from a window: that's nice.

Surely there are worse things // than reading, late at night, in bed.

They can can you for that // or for drawing smoke in puffs the way / it does come out of chimneys

wake up with a shadow, // something less meaningful on the wall.

In the mean- / time your door is white as snow.

"The Old Complex"

As structures go, it wasn't such a bad one, / and it filled the space before the eye / with loving, sinister patches. A modest eyesore. It reduced them to a sort of paste / wherein each finds his account, goes off / to live among the shore's bashed-in hulks.

Spending much time upstairs / now, I can regulate the solitude,

"Where We Went for Lunch"

he keeps repeating that phrase / as though it were an escutcheon on a portcullis.

I am at your doorstep after all, / sliding down the door, I pick up the knocker and replace it softly.

"As Oft It Chanceth"

Pick up your room. / Your visitor is coming up the walk, / the door-chime sounds.

The house on the hill, / the bramble bush, the neighbor, disappearing / along that appropriate perspective.

But in the room the guardians of same will have it / their way. And though this will never cause the temperature to change, / there are still others filling up the anteroom / with the breath of fog,

"Livelong Days"

I sat at my desk; the storm was brewing / on an April morning.

Those were the days for living in a sack, / a loose one for answering the door in.

And the doormat wiggled like a ghost / in the draft under the door but there was quite a lot to be said / and none willing to go down, slog down if need be, the painted stair / whose ends were invisible / in this tide of sick summer light

"Oeuvres Complets"

Back in my shack at low tide

you should not have raised your eyes to the sea that blinded us / through the open doors,

"In My Way / On My Way"

one is better off out of the house, sleeping in the open

selfish buildings enclosed by walls

the little house more sensible than ever before

"Film Noir"

Just the washing of the floors / under him was cause for hope.

there are little smiles of recognition / everywhere, in the curdled clouds, on the reluctant shore, / to tell us it's safe to go home // I hope they can come. / They can sleep under my bed.

"In Vain, Therefore"

the jetsam sighs, / flooding the front hall

"The Beer Drinkers"

Your house comes clattering down around you / like beads from a string.

"That You Tell"

one may live / in these little homes, with their gardens, and all / be complete for a few more years.

"And Socializing"

Gosh, / and I was getting up to answer the door, and by the time // I got there no one was there.

"The Woman the Lion Was Supposed to Defend"

Yet all of this was waiting for me, / to hug me into accepting what I thought / I was losing, barrel of light down the stairs. // You know when we leave home for a short time / we can never be sure what that place will be / when we get back—some yellow tenant gibbering // in place, or, more likely the furniture / will be a shade blacker.

"It Must Be Sophisticated"

There are attics in old houses / where doubt lingers as to the corrosive / effect of night-blindness:

What was said around / the house had undue influence on one of several / shapely witnesses.

and if I've a piece of advice for you, it's / check out the rafters, the mouldings.

I was / supposed to be somewhere else, but no one knew it. / In the confusion I returned home.

Back when they'd send for you / once they got a house built, it was clever // to hedge your bets and produce a fraternal twin / made of bedclothes with a mop for a wig / while you scaled the wall on a rope ladder

"How to Continue"

and a gale came and said / it is time to take all of you away / from the tops of the trees to the little houses / on little paths so startled

And the Stars Were Shining (1994)

 

"The Mandrill on the Turnpike"

Now it's no longer so important / about getting home

"I came here from Clapham, / searching for a whitewashed cottage in which things were dear to me / many a summer.

"About to Move"

And the bellybuttons all danced around / and the ironing board ambled back to the starting gate / and meaningless violence flew helplessly overhead / which was too much for the stair / Better to get in bed they cry

several gazed from their windows / to observe the chaos harvesting itself

"Ghost Riders of the Moon"

That the stair treads / conspired in it.

We collected / them after all for their unique indifference to each other and to the circus / that houses us all, and for their collectibility— / that, and their tendency to fall apart.

"Title Search"

The Day / the Coast Came to Our House.

The House on 42nd Street.

"Free Nail Polish"

We know not / what they're for, nor why we snore / at a bug's trajectory / over the wallpaper's lilac lozenges.

"Till the Bus Starts"

And greened copper things / like things out of the thirties. / I must have one—no, / make that a dozen, all wrapped / fresh, at my address.

"The Ridiculous Translator's Hopes"

Gracious exterior, but the rooms are small and mean / and so papered over with secrets that even their shape / is uncertain, but it is the shape of the past: no love, no extra credit, not even civility / from those shades.

"A Hundred Albums"

the door is leaking embers from that last, crucial light

"The Improvement"


Is that where it happens? / Only yesterday when I came back, I had this / diaphanous disaffection for this room, for spaces,

"'The Favor of a Reply"

There's some reality, too, some entertainment / here. Did you see where the couch rests / after dinner, the clearing up, the / white skirts around the house?

"My Gold Chain"

Wind enters the slim curtains.

"Footfalls"

Something fell / on the floor.

Above the architecture were / tinseled outcroppings, a space in between.

"William Byrd"

in a barrel-vaulted, hallowed space . . .

Art-deco priestesses summon from distinct alcoves brains made for discerning timekeeping ordeals. The little pennants that flutter ominously from the rigging of ships cannot help but evoke a charred red entity, staircase landing for some.

Suddenly, shambling / she comes up to me, a thing partly of architecture,

"The Desperate Hours"

The tower leans / O more desperately than it has done / these twenty centuries past. / Why is it my dungheap, my rosary?

But it is your watch fob, / your crenellated bow window, bent / indeed like a bow, that's why they call them that, / your small town, your farm of about forty acres

"The Decline of the West"


My attic, my children / ignore me for the violet-banded sky. / There are no clean platters in the cupboard / and the milkman's horse tiptoes by, as though / afraid to wake us.

snug in the tree house

"Gummed Reinforcements"

And all along, a / stork was creeping up the stair / to its bower, injured by the furniture

"Spotlight on America"

Venetian blinds are for keeping close watch on— / there goes another one!

"What Do You Call It When"

that from savannas / the kitchen landscape may begin: / amazed quinces / the drink on the corner

"On First Listening to Schreker's Der SchatzgrŠber"

we should be thankful for it / and pick up our rooms, for tonight the night will be bright,

What remains to be quizzed will be spelled out for us / in the epilogue, in the unheated crawl space under the eaves.

"Dinosaur Country"

"For the last time! My dwelling place is no longer your oven / no matter how much you fancy its delicately frosted petits fours."

"In the Meantime, Darling"

It's better this way, / just inside this window / as night approaches.

"Bromeliads"

It's as if the people / who brought you up were to abandon you in your best interests / so as to bring on a crisis of enlightenment— / and then jump up from behind furniture and out of closets / screaming, "Surprise! Surprise!"

"Sicilian Bird" [reprinted in Can You Hear, Bird under the title "Andante Misterioso"]

And that summer cottage we rented once—remember / how the bugs came in through the screens, and / all was not as it was supposed to be?

And an ancient photograph / and an ancient phonograph, that carols // in mist. Pardon. The landlord locked us out.

"Mutt and Jeff"


The mouse eyes me admiringly / from behind his chair; the one or two cats / pass gravely over or under my leg from time to time. // The point is there's no bitterness, / not here, nor behind the scenes.

"Coventry"

There was one who was put out of his house / and another that played by a pond / of a lateness growing, // one that scalded his hand. // And now, he said, please deny there was ever a house. / But there was one and you were my mirror in it. / These lines almost convey the comfort of it, / how all things fitted together in their way. / But it was funny and we left it— / her address, her red dress. // Just stay out in the country a lot. / You have no house. The trees stand tentless, / the marmoreal floors sweating . . . / A delusion too.

"And the Stars Were Shining"

The stairs knew / it was under them, but by the same token couldn't acknowledge / the enormous debt lifted from the mountain's brow.

A silly place to have landed, / I think, but we are here. / The door to the dressing room is ajar. / A tremendous fight is going on in there. / Later, they'll ask and you'll say you heard nothing out of the ordinary, now, not that day. / Madame had gone out . . .

Yet I think a clue is back here / behind the sofa, where lost bunnies whimper / and press together.

And time will be as precise / as a small table with a cordless telephone on it, next to a television.

My shanty / looks okay to me now, I can live with it / if not in it,

Next swamp we'll do better, / tidy up things, the davenport / that got thrown out, the kerosene lamp / you wanted for your henhouse. The stoves, / so many of them. The refrigerator: / Eskimos really do need them / to keep their food from freezing

And whether it was smoke on a balcony / or idle laurels that seem to creep / out of his books in the library / we were chastened—"by the
experience" / and so went to bed and never read again.

"The kitchen's not such a bad place, / if it's sinks you're after. Sure, Caruso was singing / somewhere behind the padlocked velvet door, / but if we stay—no, linger—here, the problem / will reverse itself.

We sure live in a bizarre and furious / galaxy, but now it's up to us to make it / into an environment for maps to sidle up to, / as trustingly as leeches.

As if the doll herself knew / what you weren't supposed to know, and survived the fall / from the attic window to incriminate you, / just before the draft swept her into the furnace.

a feigning of disinterest / in a corner of the room, and the fuse ignites / the furniture with blue.

Oh, you've often found / clues in the garden where the hornets / and the robins make their nests; / clues on the stairway, in the vestry / and the garage with its enormous drums.

Home's a cold delivery destination.

Can You Hear, Bird (1995)

 

"A New Octagon"

Angry little houses litigate; // the roof leaks.

"Allotted Spree"

On to the starboard / list of the apartment, to the gemstone-crusted tankard.

"Atonal Music"


They are lowering hoops / from houses, the whole thing's very much up in the air. / I twiddle my thumbs in a doorway, look / out from time to time. It's fine to reminisce / but no one really cares about your childhood, / not even you. It's not even that, or a past, / but an aesthetic remoteness blossoming profusely / but vaguely around what does / stand out here and there: a window square, a bone / left by an intrepid dog. You own / them but may not appreciate them—they're / too mortal for that, for you. // I woke in the night to hear a runnel / coursing down my mansard—damn! / I'd left the trapdoor racheted. It all / smears me, like scenery. I can / only be ambient.

"Awful Effects of Two Comets"

Then there will not always be a stair / to punish the unborn and the boy who said he'd rather // do it on another day. There is a chair, its arms rubbed almost bare from excess living. There is a fan I think over there.

". . . by an Earthquake"

A, an intruder in a strange house, is discovered; he flees through the nearest door into a windowless closet and is trapped by a spring lock.

A solves an important mystery when falling plaster reveals the place where some old love letters are concealed.

A-4, missing food from his larder, half believes it was taken by a "ghost."

Elvira, seeking to unravel the mystery of a strange house in the hills, is caught in an electrical storm. During the storm the house vanishes and the site on which it stood becomes a lake.

Jenny, homeward bound, drives and drives, and is still driving, no nearer to her home than she was when she first started.

Thirteen guests, unknown to one another, gather in a spooky house to hear Toe reading Buster's will.

"Chapter II, Book 35"

And the stranger shifted shape / again (he was now wearing a Zouave's culottes), and asked us / would we want to live in Djibouti, or Providence, or Lyon, now that / we'd seen them, and we chorused (like frogs), Oh no, we / want to live in New York, not that the other places aren't as splendid / and interesting as you say. It's just that New York / feels more like home to us. It's ugly, it's dirty, the people are rude / (kind and rude), and every surface has a fine film of filth / on it that behooves slobs like us, and will in time turn to diamonds, / just like the mother-of-pearl shacks in Timbuktu.

"Dangerous Moonlight"

the odor of fried brains contends / with the damp of vacant ancestral halls, to their mutual / betterment, actually.

"Debit Night"


There was not a window of the house where it wasn't around a corner so naturally it is seen less and thus gets worn into the mind like a crease in a road map that has been folded up the wrong way too many times.

So after we had done the chores and brought back living to the house there was something on its mind like a ball of yarn.

"Eternity Sings the Blues"

I had too much / to do, too much fun getting out of there / into another house of which I remember little. / Oh the places I've lived.

And so we dream some of the same dreams, / him and me together—of kitchens, and bushes outside 'em.

Tell you what— / you continue on the road to House Beautiful

"Fascicle"


"And painted rooms are bonny."

"Five O'Clock Shadow"

In the house they looked out: / Yet another hour had come; / the alcoves were deep with remembrance, / remembered piety.

"From the Observatory"

The basement / was a dirigible.

"Fuckin' Sarcophagi"

All those suds on the porch and the front walk / only meant that baby likes to blow soap bubbles

"Hegel"

Like a coffee table, the chair slides / across the polished floor—its aides have brushed its sides / again. How it shines! Hugs are interspersed with kisses; / the scrofulous interfaces with the electric clock.

"Love in Boots"

Our first assignment was to make a square, / a place for living and carping in, / where the Sphinx could panhandle and maids desist, / if they cared to. // It seems my plan was too perfect! / People ended up hating it and the lives they lived in. / Back to the bogs! But the way was cut off, or no one quite remembered it.

"Love's Stratagem"

Only say, if we are categorically united, / how many rooms does that make? Does one count the bathroom/ or the patio, if it's enclosed?

Come to think of it, / why did we settle here? Did God ordain it? Why couldn't we have / gone on just hanging around the window seat, head out the window, / eyes drooping, tongue lolling?

"Many Are Dissatisfied"

mouthing the old pulchritude a house has?

"My Name Is Dimitri"

I am going to be your host tonight. / Do you wish the fiddle or the fish? / The hen with ivory sauce is very fine, very light. / An experience unlike any other pushes you // toward what holy extremities? To a margin of uncertainty / where not just drinks are muddled and an old frump / of a past straddles you. Uncertainty polishes the china / to a mirrorlike daze.

vast as a throne room in an old castle by the sea

"My Philosophy of Life"

as a stranger / accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back, / revealing a winding staircase with greenish light / somewhere down below, and he automatically steps inside / and the bookcase slides shut, as is customary on such occasions.

"No Longer Very Clear"

In this house of blues the cold creeps stealthily upon us. / I do not dare to do what I fantasize doing. / With time the blue congeals into roomlike purple / that takes the shape of alcoves, landings . . .

"Of a Particular Stranger"

And I, I walk into the wrong room,

"Others Shied Away"

The halls for my oratory / haven't been built yet. They'll be nice and new, / with buff-colored dolphins dangling from the ceiling. / The world will see something of my art in this, / though I had nothing to do with the actual building, and turn away,

"Palindrome"

And it's fun to play along, / ears cocked for no special din, until the thud / of morning commences, and a child appears, / etched on the air of my room.


"Penthesilea"

But I did something before I died, / like bringing the wind into the house with the wood, / making it sit far off over there, in the thin corner. / The red furniture grew up. / Suddenly it was the rush hour, and we were on our hands and knees / trying to find the magnifying glass / that speaks in measured terms of these deliria, / and tying on one's skates, / half a century from the grouches of home.

"Poor Knights of Windsor"


Say it was any day. / A knock on the door, a neoclassic cannonball flies past. / The hall is done up in scarlet; something more powerful
/ than just plain good taste is obviously at work here.

"Quick Question"

Sometimes an old woman is coming to get you / through the boughs that were her home.

This house was always haunted / by porcupines, which is as it should be.

"Swaying, the Apt Traveler Exited My House"

Standing with one's bother, / wiping off the strictures of dark, demented doubt, / one believes what one lives in. / The air freshens the rooms. // I float from the dormer down / to the brick path darkened by the lawn sprinkler. / It seems I was inside once.

the pine tree fell over on the back porch, causing it to cave in.

it's something / just to have been in the intimacy of all the stories / down the stairway to where it ends,

"Taxi in the Glen"

How about a nice whistle, something Grandma / can use on her back porch.

"The Blot People"

I found everything in more or less the same order / when I got home. Still, it's hard to remember / what the order was after the first few things: a tie, a sofa, / a sheet of paper artfully placed so as to point to / who might have moved it in my ripe absence: / the bruised, alien thing, but familiar / as a smile on the face of anyone. // A few coat hangers jingled slightly / in the breeze from the closet. Someone was here.

"The Confronters"


A fire burns in a fireplace. / Cups are on a sill.

"The Desolate Beauty Parlor on Beach Avenue"


It was impossible to locate hell or heaven / standing in the basement, inspecting / which pipes might have led to upstairs.

"The Military Base"

The house took a direct hit / but it didn't matter; the next moment / it was intact, though transparent.

"The Penitent"

What are these apples doing here? / I thought I told you never to
bring them inside. // And that wedding cake—what does it think it is? / Promises? Was it for this I sublet the apartment,

The library is too fast tonight,

but your face looks good in the bathroom mirror.

"The Problem of Anxiety"

Fifty years have passed / since I started living in those dark towns / I was telling you about.

the glass eye that stares at me in amazement / from the bronze mantel, and will never be appeased.

"The Shocker"

Here the weather is tethered to no air. / The eyes in the head in the house / look out over a spotty landscape of bilious green chest hair. / I believe I am the Man from Nowhere. I'm expected. / The taxi karma circled the pebbled drive and departed / through the great iron gates, which clanged shut. / You see I have to stay here. I am expected.

"The Waiting Ceremony"

I would stress / the very white side of a house.

"Theme"

If I were a piano shawl / a porch on someone's house / flooding the suave timbre . . .

a castle's satin walls / folded in blood

"Three Dusks"

I think it's nice of me / to admire this coastline / of small houses: // firm outlines. / How the drainpipes sag / in the eves, // reserved for the bounciest / critter.

"Touching, the Similarities"

A little house poked up from under the vines.

"Tremendous Outpouring"

An obscure petulance fattens the rafters / overhead, bulges the curtains.

"Tuesday Evening"

Or a chair on a blanket / of a manor house in time

The veranda failed to make an impression, / ditto the lavaliere. / Potted ferns have become my obsession, / waltzing under the chandelier.

my shoes of cordovan // behind the bed.

Behind the door crockery clattered / mysteriously

I mistook embroidery / in the stair carpet for something else,

A safe-conduct from the Bolivian / chargŽ d'affaires flutters in the breeze of my room. In the windows opposite, // a massacre is reflected. Is it meant as codicil, / or mere free-form tangling? Anyway, night is serendipitous / again; swallows clutter my windowsill; / bats are executing stately arabesques.

brittle / talismans explode at dormer windows.

this civil branch of holly is nailed to your door

an eavesdropper / already knows about us, along with the clothes we wear and the brooding // interiors we inhabit.

"Twilight Park"

now carnival music / bashes in the front door.

"Where It Was Decided We Should Be Taken"

I have a friend who / wants to collect them for a certain room in a / castle. But he can't. / There aren't any.

"Woman Leaning"

they can dictate to us now / from a striped sofa that was years in the making

"Yesterday, for Instance"

I must see about clobbering / the backstairs monster on his toes,

"You Dropped Something"

She'll be coming round the house and faster too;

"You, My Academy"

I was just sitting on the toilet, dreaming a ruse / to make you factions obey, and here you ring my doorbell / and hand me a large box wrapped like a harlequin—

"You Would Have Thought"

In the other time it was rain dripping / from a tree to a house to the ground—

Wakefulness (1998)

 

"Wakefulness"

 

Everything was spotless in the little house of our desire, / the clock ticked on and on, happy about / being apprenticed to eternity.

 

"Palindrome of Evening"

 

In my second house rare footage of metempsychosis plays endlessly,

 

"From Such Commotion"

 

From nests as admirable as these, wallpaper islands, / the vivid flow reverses. That's in-house.

 

"Moderately"

 

There is a draught / in the room / and all along the room a sight that is like living / and looking out over a situation.

 

"The Burden of the Park"

 

It's like dust in an old house, / or the water thereof.

 

"Tangled Star"

 

Wind chimes grate against the door, / as though we never had one.

 

"Tropical Sex"

 

one had almost forgotten chiggers existed, / and bedpans, and dumb ugly coffers / like the one we lived in. / But that is only a sign now.

 

For this to happen / even as we were sitting all nice inside / the house, and by its hearth, and the brutal call / of the scarecrow fell like a hush over everything?

 

"Stung by Something"

 

The tree-house / curtains were drawn, laughter strangely spattered the mist, / stippled the tenement wiring. Oh it's been gone // too long, tragedy again visits the dying shires, / tells one to hang in, it's over the top / with you. Looks like / we've been invited to a party. Treason peppered / the masts of my little skiff. Help! And then / an eternity of silence. Bores / shifted on the upper floors, there are not / enough spider-crabs, spiders of the sea, / for this embroidered doormat to clinch the departure bell.

 

"The Earth-Tone Madonna"

 

We were back / home, in fact, but no one thought to look / for us there.

 

If there was a space for us / in all this fireside, it got debunked.

 

"Bogus Inspections"

 

Pilgrims / with scrip and staffs lined the stairwell and the near reaches of the street

 

You say you shied away from every event / in our small house.

 

You see, in your pharmacopeia of battered notions / just the right things prevail. A man is his house.

 

"Outside My Window the Japanese . . ."

 

Outside my window the Japanese driving range / shivers in its mesh veils, skinny bride / of soon-to-be-spring, ravenous, rapturous.

 

"In My Head"

 

And the wind rattles its scarecrow bones in the living / room, the spring came apart in disorder, / all over the rug.

 

"The Spacious Firmament"

 

and for me too the trees in this room / we bide our time in, happy as in a nursery, / till the times dictate otherwise.

 

the fullness of time / waited at the end of my hall,

 

"Proximity"

 

A rambunctious wind fills the pine / at my doorstep,

 

"New Constructions"

 

whatever came in with the weather / and dematerialized in the corners of the room,

 

"Whiteout"

 

No more having to pick up one's room, / one's socks.

 

"From Old Notebooks"

 

Worth looking up, these tepid old / things // could still jiggle / a thug's arms, thrum the upholstery's / lilacs.

 

"Autumn in the Long Avenue"

 

Some said you had gone, / but you were hiding under the porch,

 

"Within the Hour"

 

The tea is too hot. / The curtain in the window blew around. / Rind rotting on brown chairs.

 

"Gentle Reader"

 

Abruptly, unassertively, the year starts, / as freeways close and roofs collapse,


Girls on the Run (1999)

 

V

 

Little by little the house was rising / where only sky had hung before, and it seemed like good news, / a good berth.

 

On rainy days they would stay indoors / watching the chase of drops on the pane, realizing, a little half-frugally, how it would be impossible to ever go outside.

 

VII

 

we'll just all have to back down / into the gloom, and bait our hooks with peanut butter. / Which is what they did / and so they left home that day.

 

VIII

 

All the marbles have rolled inside the house.

 

IX

 

It was time to come back, back into the flower-bedecked house.

 

X

 

It was just like a kitchen with the blue gas burning / in a special flame for all to see.

 

XI

 

It was the exact replica of a house / Tim had seen in his travels.

 

everyone / was thankful, and induced into sleep, but / with a terrifying roar the house exploded again.

 

XII

 

It is too my house.

 

The goddam house is haunted,

 

XIV

 

until we are found at last behind the bathroom door, with the broom.

 

XV

 

It's because there are pairs of everything, that we miss the / chink in the stair where memory was supposed to reside.

 

XX

 

not just changing in the fire / from the attic bathroom.

 
Your Name Here (2000)

 

"This Room"

 

The room I entered was a dream of this room. / Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine. / The oval portrait / of a dog was me at an early age.

 

"If You Said You Would Come with Me"

 

I was wondering if this was a "harvest home," a phrase I had often heard but never understood. / "Welcome to my home . . . well, to our home," the woman said gaily.

 

"Not You Again"

 

The chair in the attic is up to no good.

 

"Merrily We Live"

 

Hailstones the size of medicine balls were rolling down the slope anyway / right toward our doorstep. Most of them melted before they got here, but one, / a particularly noxious one, actually got in the house and left its smell, / a smell of violets, in fact, all over the hall carpet, / which didn't cancel one's rage at breaking and entering, / of all crimes the most serious, don't you fear?

 

"Brand Loyalty"

 

"Father, you're destroying the collectibles!" / "You are mistaken. I'm enjoying them! The green magenta finish on this one reminds me of the piano shawl in our flat in Harbin—only greener, as though slits of light were coming through its slits."

 

"Rain in the Soup"

 

The darning egg is as big as a house.

 

I don't count ivy climbing a chimney, / that's reached the top and is waving around, senselessly.

 

"Memories of Imperialism"

 

The sight of a manila envelope precipitated him / into his study, where all day, with the blinds drawn, / he would press fingers against temples, muttering "What have I done?" / all the while

 

"Two for the Road"

 

Dust-colored hydrangeas fell out of the pitcher onto the patio.

 

The dust bowl slid in through the French doors.

 

"Heartache"

 

Sometimes a dangerous slice-of-life / like stepping off a board-game / into a frantic lagoon // drags the truth from the bathroom, where it has been hiding.

 

Snow lashed the windowpanes as though punishing them / for having the property of being seen through.

 

"Redeemed Area"

 

Do you know where you live? Probably.

 

That's the electrician calling now— / nobody else would call before 7 A.M. Now we'll have some / electricity in the place. I'll start by plugging in / the Christmas tree lights. They were what made the whole thing / go up in sparks the last time. Next, the light / by the dictionary stand, so I can look some words up. Then probably the toaster.

 

I have adjusted the lamp, / morning's at seven, / the tarnish has fallen from the metallic embroidery, / the walls have fallen,

 

"Variations on 'La Folia'"

 

Shut the window. It's chilly in here. / Yes, I know it's only open a crack.

 

A hurricane blasted the triple-mud sundae / into the room where I like to write sometimes in the afternoons.

 

"De Senectute"

 

The wolf took up a broom and swept the walk / up to the front door, and seemed to // want to be petted for its efforts. / The hell with that. The empty corral / is on the point of coming into being, a "perfect" // circle, brand new as you please. / Somebody, someone in authority, said it was all a joke, / so we packed up and went home that day.

 

"The Gods of Fairness"

 

in discussion groups in old houses along the harbor

 

"Who Knows What Constitutes a Life"

 

Really? Uncle Pedro is coming / with his entire entourage? They want / to take over the whole top floor? They say they'll be arriving soon? Day / after tomorrow? Not in a century, / I bet. These things are like dreams / of things that are real. And they really exist / beyond the breezeway, where no man has ever been.

 

I was just standing on the landing / and a rush of air whooshed by me / on its way to the attic.

 

I am off on my own again, / will return in an hour / to see if the house has burned down / or the calf given birth to its calflets.

 

"Sacred and Profane Dances"

 

No matter, he's driving to this special house.

 

"Avenue Mozart"

 

Some of these houses are startlingly old. / Other, newer ones seem old too.

 

And a full moon of oxymorons swings up over the ridgepoles / with their chimneys.

 

"Beverly of Graustark"

 

A few hotel ghosts wander stiffly, / wondering if catarrh / can ever be cathartic, and if there's any afterlife, and if so, / whether it's as near as the next room, or the closet even, / which might just be preferable to daytime's sloping agendas, / the roof at night, the rent, and the violet pallor flooding us now always.

 

"They Don't Just Go Away, Either"

 

In Scandinavia, where snow falls frequently / in winter, then lies around for quite some time, / lucky cousins were living in a time-vault of sorts. / No purchase on the ground floor, but through a funnel-shaped drain / one could catch glimpses, every so often, of the peach-colored / firmament.

 

Father sat in his living room / off the main parlor, working at his table. We never knew / exactly what he did. We kids would amuse ourselves / with games like Authors and Old Maid, until Mamma abruptly / withdrew the lamp, and we all sat shivering in the dark for a while. / Soon it was time to go to bed. We groped our way up / non-existent flights of stairs to the attic funnel. / Everything is so peaceful in here I can dream of more kinds / of things at once. But what if the dreams were prophetic? / Stumbling down an alley, screaming, forehead bathed in blood / or ossified like an old tree root that can barely speak, and when it can, / says things like: "Do you know your horse is on fire?"

 

"A Descent into the Maelstrom"

 

Here, walk into my living room, / put on these sandals, you must be tired. / You've come a long way since the evening news / put a half-nelson on both of us. Here, / drink this sugared tea.

 

"Sonatine MŽlancolique"

 

Meanwhile I shall try to pacify my eyeballs / with the mist leaking from the ceiling. // That proved sufficient, caressing the knocker, / a goblin's face, that drew us back a hundred years / even as it gazed at us in surprise, speechless

 

"A Suit"

 

Let's take it up to the fifth floor and see. / One can look quite far in that light, into the corners / of experiences we never knew we had, that is to say most of them. // But the city is new. The new apartment building, now vacant, / circles like a moth that as yet has no idea / it's trapped in a spider's web,

 

"Crossroads in the Past"

 

That armchair is really too lugubrious. / We've got to change all the furniture, fumigate the house, / talk our relationship back to its beginnings.

 

"The Old House in the Country"

 

The walls are whitish. Is it cold enough in here? No, / it's the statuary I came to see.

 

Allow me to pass in front of you / while I keep you waiting in the draft that is colder / than the room it besmirches.

 

I don't know, but something keeps getting in the way / of our orderly patrolling of these rooms.

 

"Lost Profile"

 

The lady on the next bar-stool / but one didn't seem to understand / you when you spoke of "old dark house" movies— / she thought there must be an old dark house somewhere / and you wanted to take her there.

 

"More Hocketing"

 

Let the curtains fall / where they may.

 

A shadow-person conducted me along a road / to a little house where I was fed and absconded / with the clock on the wall.

 

"Amnesia Goes to the Ball"

 

Then I'll go home, feeling better if not exactly okay, and probably lie at your side. We'll phone the neighbors and have them in.

 

"Railroaded"

 

I can picture this happening in a kitchen / below some stairs . . . // Darn, I can't help it if there was no room / for my girlfriend's shoes, her vast collection / of pocketbooks with scotties on them. / There were never enough closets, // you see, to go around. We kept things spread out / all over the house. If someone wanted something / he knew where to look for it / and it would probably be there / just as in our time the moon is probably there / where you last looked for it, in one of its phases. // The sun was glorious too / and the marigolds. / Hand me my pickaxe. I think I just overstayed my welcome. / An alarm just went off, some place deep inside. / The wallpaper of my bedroom has been destroyed.

 

"Last Legs"

 

He lives there to this day, / with all the hammocks, gramophones, / double old-fashioned glasses, / macaques / and expired magazine subscriptions that constitute / a life for some.

 

"Nobody Is Going Anywhere"

 

I live in a crawlup where the mice are rotted, / where midnight tunes absolve the bricklayers / and the ceiling abounds in God's sense. // Something more three-dimensional must be breathed / into action.

 

The porch is loaded,

 

In the courtyard a plane tree glistens.

 

"Small City"

 

Someone must have told on us, though, / for we were made to stand in the basement / as the hours oozed through the window grill.

 

"Another Aardvark"

 

past the cat's dish / and on into the living room

 

How do you like living / in your new house? Fine. I moved there twenty-five / years ago, but it all still seems new to me, the sink especially. Then you spend a lot of time / in the bathroom?

 

"A Star Belched"

 

The basement held no magic for her // nor for us anymore. It was as though we had come home / to dine on a single lamb chop, and it was gone. / The rain peered in the window / and directed its gaze succinctly at the linoleum.

 

"When Pressed"

 

The painters have whitewashed the building, / our roof looks sleepy.

 

"The Impure"

 

Mama and Papa / sitting on their porch, having doubts about the weather. / When they go inside / it will all be over.

 

"Your Name Here"

 

Day and night my home, my hearth are open to you,

 

As Umbrellas Follow Rain (2001) (see also Chinese Whispers)

 

"Three Philosophers"

 

The fabric of the curtain in my bedroom / blends into the wood of the door.


Chinese Whispers (2002)

 

"A Nice Presentation" [reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

Several mornings ago I was lying in my bed listening to a sound of
leisurely hammering coming from a nearby building.

I was slipping back into dreams when the phone rang. No one was there.

"Disclaimer"

Quiet around here.
The neighbors, / in wider arcs, getting to know each other.

Always, coming home / you pause before the little bridge, sigh, and turn ahead.

"Disagreeable Glimpses" [reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

I was carried into the gorgeous dollhouse and placed on a fainting
couch upholstered with brilliant poppies.

Until it happens you can catch your breath, looking about the walls of
the familiar nest.

In another life we were in a cottage made of thin boards, above a small lake.

The boards of the cottage grew apart and we walked out into the sand
under the sea.

"In Whatever Mode"

It was slowly she came down from the roof / to examine the withered
nest in my hand, blunt thing.

"From the Diary of a Mole" [reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

"Time to go to the thoughtful house."

"A Sweet Place"

I will live in a house in the middle of the road,

We should be home soon, / dearest, a dry hearth awaits us, and the
indulgence of sleep.

"This Deuced Cleverness"

There can't be too many soft corners to lurch into. / The rooms have
been spared the mindless tracking in / of guests. The carpets are
fresh as moonlight,

"Unpolished Segment"

I should have gotten up under the eaves, when thunders / yawned in the new day.

"The Lightning Conductor"

The general was always particular about his withers, / lived in a
newspaper tent / someone had let fall beside an easy chair.

Before retiring the general liked to play a game of all-white
dominoes, / after which he would place his nightcap distractedly on
the other man's crocheted chamber-pot lid.

"Chinese Whispers" [reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

How I longed to visit you again in that old house!

the walls were just a little too blue in mid-morning

We, too, are taller, / our ceilings higher, our walls more tinctured /
with telling frescoes, our dooryards both airier and vaguer,

"The Seventies"

Otherwise I might have turned informant, living out my days / in a
Tudor bungalow under the witness protection program.

"All That Now"

Did the elephant / walk silently past your house, one // night when
you were out?

"Ornery Fish" [reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

From the towers of the frescoed fun house / the virgins are beseeching:

"The Decals in the Hallway" [reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

Sometimes, transplanted / to the elephant's-foot umbrella stand / in
the vestibule / he'd curse children and the impossible / trail of
conundrums they leave behind.

As one protuberant pubescent I was tossed, over and over again in a
blanket. / Sometimes I think I live there still.

"Echolalia Rag" [reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

Here are blossoms for you— / you know, "habitat," / and what to put
into it / now.

"The Evening of Greuze" [reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

My brother-in-law has fixed / me a tower in the mill,

Across the road they are building a cement house. / It will seemingly
have no windows.

Try to keep / cold and empty in this bare room.

"As Umbrellas Follow Rain"
[reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

I say, the chairs have grown back. // The couple sat in the dish
drainer / pondering an uncertain future. // The kitchen had never
looked bleaker / except for two chinchillas near the stove, a beaker /
of mulled claret, shaving soap smelling / so fresh and new, like
smoke, almost.

"Under the Cellophane" [reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

what good are we to others / when we do descend the stair? / Lamplight
and this and that, caring / out of one end of the tube, with the other
hand / fastening the necklace clasp— / Oh, you had some fine times
too, morning like pasteboard reflecting the light / at the dancing
houses, and / a world wondering, opening like a bud. // You remember I
was locked in a closet / and when someone came to let me out, / said,
what is this lovely garden, / but where is the even lovelier one I was
just in? / the Joshua trees piling ever higher / their grief under the
conservatory's blank panes,

"Obsidian House"

as was proven / when they entered the house / in which the priest was
/ moping and sincere

"Intricate Fasting" [reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

a hundred yards from my home / what home you haven't got a home / I do
so have a home

getting ready to tidy up and go / leave this wooden structure that
doesn't love me

"Winter Daydreams"

I was almost home then, by subterfuge or sheer pluck. / In the
underbrush a walrus crows, / all decency shed, or shredded.
/ Little
wonder that home is a bright place to be / If living's your thing.

"Runway" [reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

Soon we were leaving home / forever, to be pitched about on storm-tossed seas,

Sleep, directions—that's all / I need at my chaste fireside,

"Random Jottings of an Old Man" [reprinted from As Umbrellas Follow Rain]

Like a fool, I let him into my house, / and he began dropping jottings
everywhere. / Where once crepe-paper flowers had been, / jottings
overflowed the basin into the water closet.

Something in me leaned into the vacant doorframe.

No more us to be with in the morning, / among the cups and shards. No
more sticky places on the railing.

"The Business of Falling Asleep"

Do you react to fine breath of the anvil / in a cold room?

In the main parlor the governor / seated around his table, smilingly
assented / to whatever assignment was raised.

Other firm magnets enticed / girls out in summer night / where a pale
loggia echoed.

"Hints and Fragments"

Values show up in the neighborhood house; / next day it's moved on.


Door is shut, / but hasn't been locked yet.

"The Blessed Way Out"

Yes, Jerry built it. / There are many of them in Old Town. // What
with one thing and another / you gave me all sorts of fur presents,
you know. / It was good to come back. Gumball machines furnish / the
library's stark living style.

"Prisoner's Base"

and the materials of a new room begin arriving.

"The Business of Falling Asleep (2)"

a load of sun coming over the house to dampen discreet despair,

"Heavenly Days"

That light is now swaying from the chandelier

the weird smell, / and the way it all tallies with the trellis up the chimney.

When they come up for air / at the same moment, a truce is called, /
and the staircase draped with shagreen.

It's triste, / the drain choked with tumbleweed, mascara on the
clouds, the wooden false fronts / of our little downtown,

The missile had locked on its prey, houses are swept / for weddings,

I knew it all / along, in the hallway of your dwelling.

Where Shall I Wander (2005)

 

"Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse"

We drove downtown to see our neighbors. None of them were home. / We nestled in yards the municipality had created, / reminisced about other, different places— / but where were they? Hadn't we known it all before?

We went down gently / to the bottom-most step.

"Days of Reckoning"

Seems we weren't welcome despite / having occupied Hollyhock House / for generations upon generations.

Growing up lively in the house, / his ears soon pierced its roof.

"Coma Berenices"

through the dangerous daydreams of housewives, their hands at rest in the dishwater of a kitchen sink, or retirees and empty-nesters wishing to refinance the mortgage on their house or move to a smaller one or rent out part of it,

The satin roof of our Colonial Revival house looked fine from the street, but when you were under it you felt crushed by the weight of the old twentieth century.

A quiet space for bathing, adorable beds that chase you into sleep, for dinner a dish of boiled puffin's eggs.

Downstairs an old servant lurks, indifferent to minute changes in the wallpaper pattern, our unique heritage.

"The New Higher"

I came to where / you were living, up a stair. There was no one there.

Go presently you said. Go from my window. / I am half in love with your window I cannot undermine / it, I said.

"In Those Days"

Music, food, sex and their accompanying / tropes like a wall of light at a door / once spattered by laughter

"A Visit to the House of Fools"

The cliff of windows, some lit up, some broken,

A wide window watches the sea. Others blow inward toward the room with its floor / like an itch that scratching redeems. / A ruler is pasted against the wall / to tell time by, but it's too late.

"Dryness of Mouth"

night whistled down the chimney

Better the long way home, than home; better an unlit fire / than the frozen mantelpiece. Better toys than a blanket / of stars waiting for you upstairs.

"Hšlderlin Marginalia"

gas gas gas gas gas / of which the room too / is furnished

An unseen servant stocks the kitchen with supplies / and our pantries are furbished by autumn / the kettle relinquishes nothing

One afternoon as golden stalks / grazed the parlor of heaven / the little shift in tone came / to tell us to get ready / to pack enough things

Whose basket yawns / at the front door, under the eaves / giving little quarter to the stranger

"And Counting"


The villa sat on a cone of volcanic rock high above a waveless sea that / stretched away to a cloudless horizon. The sky, if that is what it was, / was eggshellblue. The architecture melted into itself, so that what was / decoration came to seem the fabric of the building, a rude, / uncommunicative armature. Inside, many clocks were continually / chiming and striking different hours.

"You Spoke as a Child"


We sat together in the long hall.

They don't have bare beds.

"Wolf Ridge"

an "environment" / like a lovely shed.

"When I Saw the Invidious Flare"

When I saw the invidious flare / and houses rising up over the horizon / I called to my brother.

Just / keep turning on lights, wasting electricity, / carousing with aardvarks, smashing the stemware. / These apartments we live in are nicer / than where we lived before, near the beginning.

"Well-Lit Places"

The horse chestnut tree shelters the house of princes.

"Meaningful Love"

The blue room is over there. // He put out no feelers. / The day was all as one to him. / Some days he never leaves his room / and those are the best days, / by far.

I got rid of the book of fairy tales, / pawned my old car, bought a ticket to the funhouse, / found myself back here at six o'clock,

Leaves around the door are penciled losses.

"Lost Footage"

The curving path escorts us / to Armida's pavilion. The enchantress. / She had everything built slightly smaller / than life size, as you'll find / if you sit in the chair at that table. // And clean—everything is terribly clean, / from the crumbs casting long shadows / on the breadboard, to the gnats churning in the open window.

"The Red Easel"


Say doc, those swags are of the wrong period / though in harmony with the whole. You shouldn't take it too hard. / Everybody likes it when the casual drift / becomes more insistent, setting in order the house / while writing finis to its three-decker novel.

"The Injured Party"


This one knows; / this one went hence like a conversion / as Chopin played in their living rooms / and bats tilted through the long summer.

"The Snow-Stained Petals Aren't Pretty Any More"


He was sinking into a kind of lethargic kick the house had never seen him in.

"Composition"


That's why I don't go out much, though / staying at home never seemed much of an option. / And speaking of nutty concepts, surely "home" / is way up there on the list.

"Like Most Seas"

We could hear the gargle of the sea from a great distance. / Soon it would be lapping at the attics of the poor / and the high-flown terraces of the rich.

"Where Shall I Wander"


The interior is meant to be homey, upstairs, downstairs, all across the hall,

Skyboards, and the dark rhythms of houses, shuttered, forever, what concept is that?

I'll sit here in the blue room till it's time, cradling my wrists in my shawl.

The ensuing uproar allows us to take French leave of the other swiftly departing guests, to achieve maximum freshness once the door has closed and the great caesura of the sky, twitching with stars, fixes its noncommittal gaze on us, enabling us to stand erect and inhale huge gusts of astringent air.


A Worldly Country (2007)


"A Worldly Country"

 

There was no peace in the bathroom, none in the china closet

 

"Feverfew"

 

Plaited bark muffles the knocker, but the doorbell / penetrates deep into the brain of one who lived here.

 

"Image Problem"

 

one notices / the knocking in the walls at more frequent intervals. / One's present enemies stir in the evening wind / and atypically avoid the family room.

 

"Like a Photograph"

 

You might like to live in one of these smallish / houses that start to climb a hill, then fumble / back to the beginning as though nothing had happened.

 

"Mottled Tuesday"

 

Something was about to go laughably wrong, / whether directly at home or here,

 

"The Ecstasy"

 

We wandered in and out of the lobby / of a large house in history.

 

You thought the place was scary. / I found it relaxing, invigorating even. There was a smell of that kind of musk / that is less than a warning, more than a confirmation. / The furniture was all of a piece, / alas; the air moved nearer.

 

"The Handshake, the Cough, the Kiss"

 

Father in his little house / took a bath.

 

Perhaps it's time to / change the frequency of what is seen / around us, leave the palace and go home.

 

"Feast or Famine"

 

Light in the kitchen goes askance. / It's a stored-up nimbus / from fairly recent times when they / took architecture seriously. // Now it's only about interiors, / how they run into each other / promiscuously, or are gone.

 

"Hungry Again"

 

Another time I was at your house. / It was suddenly dark inside.

 

"It, or Something"

 

when I thought / of going upstairs it didn't occur to me / to stop at the landing. Even less / to walk back down, walk around / near the stairs, and then—oh why not— / go out, into the next room / or even outside.

 

"And Other Stories"

 

As though illustrated by Wilkie Collins, he swans / along low-ceilinged corridors lined with servants' bedrooms, / searching the one inauthentic expression: Is it a bathroom?