Wrong, by Shepherd, Reginald
- ISBN: 9780822957119 | 0822957116
- Cover: Paperback
- Copyright: 11/1/1999
Geology of Water
FOR MAUREEN SEATON
The sea grows old in it.
Striated tides draw their lines
in the sand, leave them behind
in retreat. Warm layers on the colder
to blind indigo, strata of temperature
and color down to bedrock
settling, plates shifting in their cobalt sleep
to nudge the continents apart.
The sea grew old in me, the blood
as salt and turbulent, as unpacific.
There's someone who foundered there
and lost his way: he's in above his head,
out of his depth, he's been concealed
beneath his representability or gulf
stream. If I bend closer I can hear him
drown, a man made out of water
whose words arise like bubbles
to the surface: something survives
in every carbonaceous molecule, every
intermittent spindrift's punctuation.
Fossils compacted in the bluff's rush hour
say things change, but never for the better:
they've stairstepped four geologic eras just to stay
in place. Their smashed catastrophe theory confirms
some things aren't worth surviving. Evolution
croons its single song, come out of the sea,
my love, to me,and never adds, and drown
knee-deep in air.
The trilobites are tired of epochs
of being pushed around, steadily
heaped-up resentments: they're writing home
I don't love you, don't come back . Their deaths
are sedimented in long memories
like scars, the rings a fallen tree keeps to
itself, erosion's clear cut through the palisades:
sun and steel, moon and slate, nothing
worth lasting for. What the end says
is wait , but they've been waiting
long enough. Water is a memento
they've thrown back. From the Cambrian
to the Silurian, the Carboniferous
to shale oil exploration on the continental
shelf (whichever million years distilled
to burnoff from offshore drilling rigs), crinoids
nurse their sessile grudge against dry land
and those who came too late to be remains.
It's true: the sea grew old here, and here
it left its will to live, a testament
to what it couldn't take back, couldn't help
but keep. It drank itself and sank for good.
Wash that sea in me and wring it clean,
ocean to ocean till there's no water left.
Fluencies of light dally
with olive groves, pensive
green and silver leaves reflect on
noon lies. Unlovely Nemesis loves Narcissus
forced into fruitless bloom, and visits on him
the sins of bees. Strange boy
adoring water's nothing, shadows
water captivates: this stream
shatters glass for every stone. Mirrors
are evil, held overhead as sky.
Persephone's heralds string their gold
and black through pollen-addled air, singing
without respite, stinging light
into food for dead gods.
He doesn't recognize his body
has no rights, no luck with bees.
At the End of Outside
Summer opens its caesura
in the year, a pause between winter
and winter. He is more of a waiting, outline
where something almost happens
yesterday, late wind's insomnia.
The glare outside the body is cut through
by rain when there is no rain for weeks.
Meaning happens in him every afternoon,
turning like difference or the names
of things, the hours' long attentive
syllables brought to light, a white
mistaken for horizon. He doesn't move,
but along the way there are birds
narrating his future as he remembers it.
He's forgotten the word for swallow,
nightingale or any singing in the trees.
An earth utters its green everywhere,
punctuated by wildflowers and other
complementary colors, as though leaves
were too much. Things diminish
day to day, the days diminishing
toward December, the trees also ...
I've heard that blood will always tell:
tell me then, antigen, declining white cell count
answer, who wouldn't die for beauty
if he could? Microbe of mine, you don't have me
in mind. (The man fan-dancing from 1978
hit me with a feather's edge across the face, ghost
of a kiss. It burned.) Men who have paid
their brilliant bodies for soul's desire, a night
or hour, fifteen minutes of skin brushed against
bright skin, burn down to smoke and cinders
shaken over backyard gardens, charred
bone bits sieved out over water. The flat earth
loves them even contaminated, turned over
for no one's spring. Iris and gentian
spring up like blue flames, discard those parts
more perishable: lips, penises, testicles,
a lick of semen on the tongue, and other things
in the vicinity of sex. Up and down the sidewalk
stroll local gods (see also: saunter, promenade,
parade of possibilities, virtues at play: Sunday
afternoons before tea dance, off-white
evenings kneeling at public urinals, consumed
by what confuses, consuming it
too). Time in its burn is any
life, those hours, afternoons, buildings
smudged with soot and city residues. Later
they take your blood, that tells secrets
it doesn't know, bodies can refuse
their being such, rushing into someone's
wish not to be. My babbling blood.
What's left of burning
burns as well: me down to blackened
glass, an offering in anthracite,
the darkest glitter smoldering underground
until it consumes the earth
which loves me anyway, I'm sure.
Another Unclassical Eclogue
Where were you when I was for sail,
broken love spilled on a sprawl of winter
rocks?Pollen stamps damp gold on fevered
afternoons, summer hands its haze of petals
over. My body was never my property.
I didn't want to spare you
anything.You ran laughing and lavish
with sand from white combers: caught up
with spendthrift heat. I never asked
to spend the width of oceans drinking salt
from your skin.Stranger with ash
for fingertips. You burned away
the mortal parts.I forgot the heel that bruised
my forehead. Poured through midnights
dripping illegible stars, ill was happy
I hadn't a clue.Wolfsbane, monkshood,
demon lover's black corsage. December
suddenly: now I can sleep. You never asked
my name.You answered when I called you
archipelago, sandbar, volcanic reef days broke
against. Sleeping with shadows
shaped like a man, you called yourself
bride.I took myself mapless
through unfeatured weeks: I was never the man
you were. You're wrapped
in others' feelings like a shroud. I recognize
that song.The song's gone out of me.
You never heard the words. There never
was a song. White noise played
on a puzzled radio all night.I was the sky
and you were the spire, you were
the bough and I was the cradle. I
was the apple, you were the knife.
Sing me past music this time. I never
asked for anything.
long after Mallarmé
Rise up, my love. This is the unasked-for morning
you must marry, some idle sunlight humming against
white blinds. Here is your name, salt on the tongue, here is
your face, a mirror fogged with steam: anything
that can't be clearly seen, kingdoms of unrequited
clouds. You keep this absence in an amber locket,
a map of years sketched on your palm: you think
there are no borders there. I won't propose the scene again.
You'd like to write something down about noon, how white
notes of some motet light winds relay
float weightless across an immaculate sky, how he glances
and it's summer, a picnic by the polluted river with a
Appoint him shepherd of these signs.
When you wake among mirrors you'll ask more than harm.
incertitudes are buying shirts
across the street, shopping for another
guise, layer of gauze, mottle
across the mystery of no anyone
in any light. All power lacking
matter, gods (decoys of gods)
that approximate: ghost bodies
somewhat like men. Who wouldn't
own such excellence, own up to damage
done already? Flushed out
of yellowed brick and stone
by attention's blue smoke,
the visible world stumbles
into form: a grammar of wander
and spectacle sidewalks learn
from newsprint and pasted petals
that precede the leaves, flimmer
from branch to ground. To walk behind
beauty as a shadow at noon, perfected
perpendicular, is difference, sundial
gnomon's pain (the manifest
pinned to pure principle, Mediterranean
rêve): proximate loss left in the other
life, where body arrests its tasks
to break for the last instance
but one. (Bracket this, boy murdered
in old paper, asleep across the fold's
spoiled ink: chest open
for inspection, three-color separation
blood soiling the reading
fingertips. Bees build a honeycomb
to seal his halted-open mouth, his carrion
tongue, an eloquence of liquid light
seeps out of bloated lips the clumsy gods
have broken into.) The gods
go home alone, a lake's
translucent body reiterates my face
in dissolve: smudge of stigma blotting
day's remains, a surf of stuttering
stars singing I'll never fall .
While grieving I went down, I was only
breathing, trying to breathe. Set sail
across an ocean's laughter, sinking
all the way. Dead men were singing
there, no longer lonely. The wind's
gone out of me for good, my flag
these flagging clouds.
I was trying to stay in place, fountain
plunging down to meet the wishes
pennies threw, and dimes, hurrying
back up to greet the pool again, the rush
and push. Welter, gully, runnel
with the minutes, minutes flecking it
like ticking yellow leaves.
Rain tried to warn the liquid
windows, melting into brackish
clouds. They sink through the hour
after hour storm, casting off all the ballast
they can find, throwing over
any water willing to be shed. I wash
backwards, the wake I was.
Portolan, tattered port of call,
I'm searching out a sextant, compass,
any astrolabe. It thinks you're drowning,
right brain, and it's right. You think this
could be tidal waves, crestfallen
front in which air wavers. I think
I might be drowning now.
You cannot hold the island
even for an ocean, no
afternoon deep or cold enough.
Deepest of the Great Lakes, Largest Too
How is this explained? First there is nothing
then there is something. Water
falls like algid dreams, like streams
of multicolored light, streamers bundled into white
that won't separate, white light repeating white
until light leaves. The lake is not a reflection
of noon, noon is no one
thing at all, noon is here and gone. The sky
is a distraction from the lake. Blue
you could hold in your hands slipping
away, spilled onto fissured concrete
and artificial sand: soaking in, vanishing. Water
reflects blue, the refraction:
on some days, green, or the imagined
Mediterranean coast. The current
is green with algae on a humid day, the lake
is alive, deep water much cooler
than air. Help the light lift up, pour out
as dusk, or cupped hands opening
clearly. Blue midnight, blue of noon.
Copyright © 1999 Reginald Shepherd. All rights reserved.
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