I am wearing a pale silk lounging robe
the color of lake water glimpsed at dusk,
relic, it may be, of a life before this
of which no recollection, none whatever,
has survived, the sash once girdling the waist
confiscated the day I entered (laces,
ropes, belts: potential self-inflicted weapons),
wandering the corridors of The Home,
medallions of a previous campaign,
few but sterling, fastened to a lapel.
Outside, some trees bear the indignities
of the years of a long life—weather burn,
sun scald, leaf canker, trunk scars, root mold, rot—
with a degree of patience and composure
utterly moving, wholly to be envied.
Visitors, in winter, are few, if any.
The drive takes long, lies far; most of the maps,
whether by inadvertence or design,
have routes misplaced, or landscapes rearranged,
or roads which should lead somewhere leading nowhere,
turning back on themselves, ending in woods,
thwarted at that point a road should begin,
a chaos of unspeakable proportions,
a deliberate effort to mislead,
confuse, efface, distract, one more attempt,
part of a master plan, one rumor has it,
meant to discourage future expeditions,
holidays, Sundays, with their bleak reminders,
risky at best, of the past, of the human,
all one felt, suffered, who one was, may be.
Tea is brought at three-thirty, a young girl
with long red-gold hair, flushed cheeks, County Mayo
lacing the “Lemon? Sugar? Cream?” she speaks,
when she speaks, and pale gray-green eyes which seem
always needing not to encounter yours.
The custodian, particularly
those days snow falls, does his job, I must say,
to perfection, setting the thermostat
between seventy-six and seventy-seven,
keeping it there even after the dark falls,
when we dream (some still dream), walk in our sleep,
track the moon in the course of its ascension,
never tampering with it through the night,
those hours when need of warmth is most acute,
more so than I can bring myself to say.
From the west wing, where the kitchen lies wedged,
the stench of turnip overtakes the mornings,
the fumes of cabbage swamp the afternoons.
One knows, unfailingly, what lunch will offer,
what the dinner platter is bound to bring.
(The cabernet bouchet will not be poured
nor the wine of intimacy decanted;
no candles grace the disinfected tables.
Some small details still, darkly, pulse with light
We all wish we were something we are not)
Hard by that field where seven trees stand guard,
so touchingly heroic, bearing witness,
grackles and starlings search the brush for berries,
finding nothing, but nothing, to sustain them.
The undergrowth blooms fiercely, but with sorrow.
There are days, skies thick, choked, arrows of rain
glazing to sleet, the panes set in the dormer
starting to rattle, tugging against frames
bloated, warped, too loose to accommodate them,
I reach into a pocket of the robe,
stripped of its fringed cord for—their word—“safekeeping,”
withdrawing a small square of paper, folded
so many times, done, undone, done, refolded,
it has come by now to resemble lace,
its intricacies worked, reworked, dense, varied.
It is, or was, a letter, the hand your hand,
written in a language by now forgotten
(suffused, no doubt, with a music once crucial),
in which I was perhaps supremely fluent,
even (I say this difficultly) gifted,
a tongue from elsewhere, some great distance from here,
one neither heard nor spoken since, years, decades,
and for which I have no use any longer
in this life of a lost past, in the middle
of grounds flowering with one crop, one only,
and that profusely, year-round, year-round, one,
weather and season of no consequence,
skies choked, roads thwarted, a girl’s eyes averted,
a life eloquent with preoccupations,
teeming, quietly, with the emblematic,
turning on these if, in fact, it should turn,
mapless, sashless, bordered by thermostats
on one side, fumes of cabbage on the other,
haunted by trees which stand guard, bearing witness,
trunks scarred, limbs hacked, visions swarming with grackles.
(Desolation takes its seat at the table
beside us, bright-eyed, waiting to be fed,
raucous, intrusive, thrusting out its plate,
famished for turnip root and hearts of cabbage.
I subsist on another diet: lace.)
It is strangely comforting, afternoons,
the starlings leaner by the hour, the grackles,
desperation unmitigated, wasting,
the others dozing in the hall, the small panes
for the moment at rest, the kitchen quiet,
to hold your letter, merely hold it, no more
(some last, small wounds still, dimly, throb with life),
ink faded, paper yellowing, torn, streaked,
what words remain, words I once knew, now foreign,
tone, nuance, pitch, too late to be retrieved.
Understanding nothing of what it tells,
even less of what, once, it might have told,
its perfume lost, its music dissipated,
I turn it left, then right, over and over
let the lace burn, burn through and through, with light.
Unlike most of the cases here, committed
out of anger, from an excess of hate,
poisons, night to night, thickening the blood,
mine has been diagnosed as the reverse.
An immense calm settled on me. I loved you.