Silver Roses

A year ago yesterday, one of the loveliest men (and best fathers) I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing passed away. I’m posting this poem, a favorite of mine, with love for him and for his family, whom I’m so lucky to think of as part of my family (did I do the grammar right there?). Much Love, Bill. Go Sox!

Silver Roses

The strings, as if they knew
the lovers are about to meet, begin
to soar, and when he marches in the door
they soar some more—half ecstasy, half pain,
the musical equivalent of rain—
while children who have grown up with one stare
steal further looks across a crowded room,
as goners tend to do.

My father loved it too,
warned me at dinner that he’d be a wreck
long before the final trio came
(Ja, ja, she sighed, and gave him up forever);
he found his Sophie better late than never
and took the fifth about his silent tears
but like him I’m a softie, with a massive
gift for feeling blue.

I went with others, threw
bouquets and caution to the whirling wind,
believing that the rhapsody on stage
would waft its wonders up to our cheap seats;
but mirrors can be beautiful fierce cheats,
delusions of an over-smitten mind;
I relished trouser roles until I had
no petals left to strew.

Up, down the avenue
I wandered like a ghost, I wondered why
a miracle is always a mirage,
then plodded home and set back all the clocks,
spent hard-won funds installing strong new locks,
telling myself if violence like this
could never sound like violins, I would
to art, not life, be true.

And I am trying to
fathom the way I got from there to here,
the joy that snuck up when I’d sworn off joy:
we’ve made a sterling start, we’ve got a plan
to watch it on your satin couch downtown
and I’ll be there upon the stroke of eight,
bearing in my trembling ungloved hand
a silver rose for you.

~ Rachel Wetzsteon 

E is for Exile


Each of us waking to the window’s light
Has found the curtains changed, our pictures gone;
Our furniture has vanished in the night
And left us to an unfamiliar dawn;
Even the contours of the room are strange
And everything is change.
Waking, our minds construct of memory
What figure stretched beside us, or what voice
Shouted to pull us from our luxury–
And all the mornings leaning to our choice.

To put away – both child and murderer –
The toys we played with just a month ago,
That wisdom come, and make our progress sure,
Began our exile with our lust to grow.
(Remembering the train I tore apart
Because it knew my heart.)
We move to move, and this perversity
Betrays us into loving only loss.
We seek betrayal. When we cross the sea,
It is the distance from our past we cross.

Not only from the intellectual child
Time has removed us, but unyieldingly
Cuts down the groves in which our Indians filed
And where the black of pines was mystery.
(I walked the streets of where I lived and grew,
And all the streets were new.)
The room of love is always rearranged.
Someone has torn the corner of a chair
So that the past we call upon has changed,
The scene deprived by an intruding tear.

Exiled by death from people we have known,
We are reduced again by years, and try
To call them back and clothe the barren bone,
Not to admit that people ever die.
(A boy who talked and read and grew with me
Fell from a maple tree.)
But we are still alone, who love the dead,
And always miss their action’s character,
Caught in the cage of living, visited
By no faint ghosts, by no gray men that were.

In years, and in the numbering of space,
Moving away from what we grew to know,
We stray like paper blown from place to place,
Impelled by every element to go.
(I think of haying on an August day,
Forking the stacks of hay.)
We can remember trees and attitudes
That foreign landscapes do not imitate;
They grow distinct within the interludes
Of memory beneath a stranger state.

The favorite toy was banished, and our act
Was banishment of the self; then growing, we
Betrayed the girls we loved, for our love lacked
Self-knowledge of its real perversity.
(I loved her, but I told her I did not,
And grew, and then forgot.)
It was mechanical, and in our age,
that cruelty should be our way of speech;
Our movement is a single pilgrimage,
Never returning; action does not teach.

In isolation from our present love
We make her up, consulting memory,
Imagining to watch her image move
On daily avenues across a sea.
(All day I saw her daydreamed figure stand
Out of the reach of hand.)
Each door and window is a spectral frame
In which her shape is for the moment found;
Each lucky scrap of paper bears her name,
And half-heard phrases imitate its sound.

Imagining, by exile kept from fact,
We build of distance mental rock and tree,
And make of memory a creative act,
Persons and worlds no waking eye can see.
(From lacking her, I built her new again,
And loved the image then.)
The manufactured country is so green
The eyes of sleep are blinded by its shine;
We spend our lust in that imagined scene
But never wake to cross its borderline.

No man can knock his human fist upon
The door built by his mind, or hear the voice
He meditated come again if gone;
We live outside the country of our choice.
(I wanted X. When X moved in with me,
I could not wait to flee.)
Our humanness betrays us to the cage
Within whose limits each is free to walk,
But where no one can hear our prayers or rage
And none of us can break the walls to talk.

Exiled by years, by death no dream conceals,
By worlds that must remain unvisited,
And by the wounds that growing never heals,
We are as solitary as the dead,
Wanting to king it in that perfect land
We make and understand.
And in this world whose pattern is unmade,
Phases of splintered light and shapeless sand,
We shatter through our motions and evade
Whatever hand might reach and touch our hand.

~ Donald Hall



Nothing is going to become of anyone
except death:
  therefore: it’s okay
to yearn
too high:
the grave accommodates
swell rambunctiousness &

ruin’s not
compromised by magnificence:

that cut-off point
liberates us to the
common disaster: so
   pick a perch—
apple branch for example in
tune up

drill imagination right through
it’s all right:
it’s been taken care of:

is allowed, considering 

~ A.R. Ammons

Note: I received this poem with a college acceptance letter my senior year of high school – I didn’t wind up attending that school, but I’ve kept this poem in a notebook of mine ever since, thought of it often, reread it many times, misquoted it even more than that and misattributed it too, though I am fairly certain it’s A.R. Ammons (who, incidentally, wrote the poem that gave the title to my favorite collection of short stories from last year, Maile Meloy’s excellent Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It). This poem has come to mean a lot to me and I hope you like it too. 
This time, it’s for Devin. 

Variation on the Word “Sleep”

Variation on the Word “Sleep”

 I would like to watch you sleeping,
 which may not happen.
 I would like to watch you,
 sleeping. I would like to sleep
 with you, to enter
 your sleep as its smooth dark wave
 slides over my head

 and walk with you through that lucent
 wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
 with its watery sun & three moons
 towards the cave where you must descend,
 towards your worst fear

 I would like to give you the silver
 branch, the small white flower, the one
 word that will protect you
 from the grief at the center
 of your dream, from the grief
 at the center. I would like to follow
 you up the long stairway
 again & become
 the boat that would row you back
 carefully, a flame
 in two cupped hands
 to where your body lies
 beside me, and you enter
 it as easily as breathing in

 I would like to be the air
 that inhabits you for a moment
 only. I would like to be that unnoticed
 & that necessary.

— Margaret Atwood