Issue 128, Fall 1993
I keep returning to that window
in the mountains of southern Bavaria.
I’m pushing the halves open
to the bright sun on sapphires in the shape of trees.
For the oddest most subjective reasons
the washstand — a porcelain cup — could be a chalice of polished bone
or an old Jew’s brittle spine, the body’s plumbing.
But of course such vagaries of resemblance don’t belong on paper.
Outside my room, a young Turkish chamber boy
rolls bedsheets around his frail black arms.
He’s singing to himself in the hard syllables
of my incomprehension a delicate halting song.
For all I know it could be the sound of half-tracks
churning up the gravel on the road outside his home.
For all I know it could be the song of the spider
shearing down the ivory of his father’s ribcage.
Behind the boy is a tapestried landscape
that grows up the hall & down the stairway.
In it, horses climb the first jagged cliffs,
each horse hooded, one dead diamond per forelock.
These might as well be Hannibal’s harebrained scheme
to conquer the economy of Venus & Apollo,
the perfect white curves
Carthaginians couldn’t begin to imagine till now:
the serrated snow brow of mountain, snowblind mighty forms.
One by one & slowly, loaded with provisions & weapons & food,
the elephants muscle patience along the edge of the world.
O dark homunculus, riding the sky,
is it wonder you coax into that giant ear,
the beast’s breath like a windsock in the cold blue Alpine air?
One swath of blue is hoisted above the town
where I’m called “professor” for teaching rules to soldiers.
The radar dish tracks the valley into Austria.
Somewhere, adumbrated in blips on a screen,
are the figures of animals we want or fear to see.
In the distance, skiers trace painless scars on powder.
This is the last thing.
This is the next: the commingling of twilight & fire.
I’m talking to Curt who argues for “strike capability.”
The other day, he says, a green helicopter pilot
dropped twelve men: fractured jaw, extended tibia, broken foot. . . .
Mornings when able-bodied men patrol the mountain
— small black shadows across shelves of snow —
I wonder: would all this give way beneath a thought
that’s slipped the mind, softly & a long way down.