Elegy with a Thimbleful of Water in the Cage
It's a list of what I cannot touch:
Some dandelions & black eyed susans growing
back, like innocence
Over an abandoned labor camp south of Piedra;
And the oldest trees, in that part of Paris with a name I forget,
And beneath such quiet, a woman with a cane,
And knowing, if I came back, I could not find them again;
And a cat I remember who slept on the burnished mahogany
The iron grillwork, the way you had to pass your letter over him
In New Hampshire, the gray fur stirring a little as he inhaled;
The small rural post office growing smaller, then lost, tucked
Country music from a lone radio in an orchard there.
And those who slipped out of their names, as if called
To be called:
Stavros lecturing from his bequeathed chair at the Cafe Midi,
Above the traffic on Olive, asking if we knew what happened
After Petronius had swept the grains of sand from it, how,
Granted eternal life, she had forgotten to
ask for youth, & so,
And the centuries passed, she finally
Became so tiny they had to put her into a jar, at which point
And at which point she began to suffocate
In the jar, suffocate without being able to die, until, finally,
Its hue like an overcast sky & revealing even less—
Into his pocket, & sold it on the docks
at Piraeus to a shop owner
On a side street just off Onmonios Square, not to possess her,
But to protect her from pedestrians, & the
boys of Athens rattled
"Sibyl, Sibyl, what do you want?"—each
generation having to
The faintest whispered rasp from the small bitter seed
Remark passing through time, "I want to die!" As time passed & she
Their ears against the cage to hear her,
And then one day the voice became too faint, no one could hear it,
The story. And then it wasn't a story, it was only an empty cage
Noise of traffic, &, from the Square itself,
blaring from loudspeakers,
That went on half the night, & the intermittent
music of strip shows
And then, Stavros said, the sun shone straight through the cage.
You could see there was nothing inside it, he said, unless you noticed
Imperceptibly there, though the street was hot, windless; or unless
The small mirror above the thimbleful of water, which of course
Like the voice that went on whispering ceaselessly its dry rage
Without listeners. He said that even if anyone heard it,
As anything human.
He would lie awake, the only boy in Athens who
Still heard it repeating its wish to die, & he
was not surprised
Began to fill with German officers, or when the loudspeakers
Shattered into a thousand pieces.
As the years passed, as even the sunlight began to seem
Of the Midi, he began to lose interest in stories, & to
Never of things.
Then he began to come in less frequently, & when
Along the boulevards in winter the bare limbs of the trees
Only the bare limbs of trees, no girl stepped into them
Rumors of Stavros following the gypsy pentacostalists into
Glossalalia, he once said, which was all speech, & none.
In a way, it didn't matter anymore. Something
in time was fading—
Or buy drugs from the two ancient boys expressionless as lizards
By summer the city parks had grown dangerous.
No one went there anymore to drink wine, dance, & listen
Seemed once, the bitter, cleansing angel released at last from what
Wasn't any angel after all. The times had changed. It became
There was a law against it now, a law against gathering at night
Said was forbidden for us to do, but it came to the same thing.
Or to decide for yourself,
Whether there was an angel inside you, or whether there wasn't.
Poverty is what happens at the end of any story, including this one,
When you can believe in all of them, & so
believe in none;
The swirl of wood grain in the desk, is it the face of an angel, or
After she has decided to turn herself
Into a tree? (It was a rainy afternoon, & her
van skidded at sixty;
So solemn as it did then, widening before her.)
Or is it Misfortune itself, or the little grimace the woman
There, then not there, then there again?
Or is the place where all the comparisons, the little comforts
What do you do when nothing calls you anymore?
When the angel fasting inside you has grown so thin it flies
Knowing it, & the water dries up in its thimble, & the
Almost endless, swaying?
I'm going to stare at the whorled grain of wood in this desk
I'm going to make it talk, I'm going to make it
I was about to ask you if you were cold, if you wanted a sweater, Because
. . .
Before he began one of those
Stories that seemed endless, the sun pressing against
Just beyond them, this could take a while;
the iron grillwork, into the irretrievable.