Saturday afternoon in the two-hearted woods. Clouded brow of the upper midwest, sepia season stalled again at February. Out my window, scrim of hardwoods, a dark choke of pine. I'm in a lamplit corner, reading a book on Courbet.
Then a memory like opening to a random pagea café back east, early, a window table. I saw myself looking out at the courtyard, sprinklers fanning the green lawn, and closer, the loose stacks of white patio chairs, cabled and locked together under the half-awning. Sparrows would fly into the spaces between the metal lattice seats. They'd stay there for minutes, as if they were safe, invisible.
There's nothing of Courbet, no grottoes, no half-canvas sky. Here the sky hovers close, its gray blanket flying just over our heads as if it's been fastened down a few miles to the north. It pulls away along the horizon at sunset, the light there flaring riotous or else blind mute yellow. A raised window, a breathing space. Some mornings a low roof of fog traps the cattle, their dark bulks folded beneath its drift.
Though I recall one wide autumn dawn. I had driven down a deep-rutted road to see the horses. It had stormed the night before, water standing in the fields, the last of the low bruise-black clouds were dragging eastward. And through them, beneath them, in their wake, the clearest wet light. Every blade of grass caught it. The horses stood close together, a dark S-band against the gold, held still by the stillness, their heads bowed.
Like Burial at Ornans. The dense curve, the tight frame, every face a page torn loose. The mourners pressed between the firmaments.
No Tutor but the North
After the fifth storm the ridges of plowed snow
rose so high on either side of the narrow street
those who lived there had to sculpt their parking places,
carve them out like little caves, arced alcoves.
Each morning when people left for work they'd save
their spaces with old dinette chairs, rusted chrome
and vinyl relics pulled from basements and attics.
Those desultory chairs made the daytime street
look like it had given up waiting for a parade.
Or sometimes I thought they looked like unnamed
gravestones, blank and unkempt sentries, but
solemn, dignified in their simple duty.
Jim Dine's photographs of crows and owls are sheened
shadows on the heart, presentiment,
oraclesometimes posed indoors with old toys
and torn chairs, or in an outdoors that's dream-lit,
uncanny. My birds were my friends, they were me,
he writes. They were my library.
Ice-skinned footprints flinting under my step.
Blink of snowflakes on my sleeve.
Bare trees exposed like forked tongues,
or pokers stirring the clouded ashes of a cold fire.
then the dark caul of December
the sudden, awful splay of wings on my windshield,
not once but twice, the forced print
of that omen, the flayed flight,
then nothing. Tu Fu's
fluttering, flutteringwhere is my likeness?
the blood's yes, then no
Dine writes, Winter is the time I learn most things, I'm indoors
and within myself. But then: I mainly rode my bicycle.
Skidding all over the ice I rode my bicycle continuously.
In some of the crow photos is Dine's own hand, open
or cupped. This is the dream part, he says, this is the me part.
He names the crow Jimmy, calls the dream North.
This is the me part: a hand opened,
then closed. I was with child, then without.
What persists but has no body:
the slant-rhyme of our lives. Engraved,
this flown memory, a gull between heaven
How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare
Galerie Schmela; Dusseldorf, 1965
The woman walks a bramble
of quiet fright, her tenses
frayed. Any pencil touch
not light enough.
No Leda. Only fierce
ur-flight, a thrum, a wish of wings
Only dashed speech, then
upsweep, the god's ascent.
How the hand knows
its own name and writes it
blind. Then something washes
over the word.
Golgotha. Or else Kleve,
after the war. A dream I had once
ochre shouts, a braunkreuz
thrown through the thick breath of shadows.
True is this event during the war:
When the Tartars found me after the planecrash
they wrapped me in felt and fur,
they salved my wounds with lard.
Sometimes these things are looked at
in a false way, these accidents, damages
to my body, these wounds. They are not secret
affinities. They are not only mine.
Gold leaf pressed into
his face's noble gaunt.
Soft slack of the hare
in his arms, his stroke piano
This is a map of the ruined city,
a shaft of lightning in the pine.
Blood sky, foxed twilight,
the trees sound like waiting.
(Fissure of millennium, all the years stacked like bricks, but there
is an order to their falling)
This is a word thought
but not spoken. This is how
it listens to itselfits slow whorl
of force, the sure press of its thumbprint.