Issue 128, Fall 1993
Summer afternoon, Henry James said,
the most beautiful words in the language.
I wonder if he saw those summer afternoons
in California when the fog
sneaks in like a man with something
to hide. Sometimes he stays the night, sometimes
he’s gone by dusk, the guilty lover who takes
his hands from a woman’s face just in time
to get home for supper, though he’s forgotten
the telltale signs, that he’s left behind
a scarf, a glove, wisps of himself
for her to remember. Climbing a foggy hill
I thought the lover must be Japanese
he’d left such elegant drawings—a bridge,
the long hair of willows, a garden of black ink
traced on a lavender sky. He might have been
a lover I had once, a continent away. Each day
he’d face the red persimmon of the rising sun and dream
of home, though he went on making music
in his head. Each night he played a Chopin nocturne.
the passage where the music wavers like a face
mirrored in water and the composer sees,
just for a moment, his own death.
Think of Henry James in the Orient! That’s how wrong
it felt to be apart from everything
he loved. It’s what I feel sometimes when I think
of hills, who grew up in flat country.
I’ve been told, and believe, that we carry within us
a past we’ve never seen. I’ve never been
to Ireland, but sometimes, summer afternoons,
a girl stands on a hill above the harbor at Galway,
the emerald grass kissing the dewy hem of her skirt.
It is the nineteenth century and far away