Inaudible consonant inaudible vowel
The word continues to fall
in splendor around us
Window half shadow window half moon
back yard like a book of snow
That holds nothing and that nothing holds
not too prescient not too true
God is not offered to the senses,
St. Augustine tells us,
the artificer is not his work, but is his art:
nothing is good if it can be better.
But all these oak trees look fine to me,
this Virginia cedar
Is true to its own order
And ghosts a unity beyond its single number.
This morning’s hard frost, whose force is nowhere absent, is nowhere present.
the undulants cleanse themselves in the riverbed,
the mud-striders persevere,
the exceptions provide.
I keep coming back to the visible.
I keep coming back
To what it leads me into,
the music inside the violin,
the hymn in the hymnal,
the object, sequence and consequence.
By being exactly what it is.
It is that other, inviolate self we yearn for.
Itself and more than itself,
the word inside the word.
It is the tree and what the tree stands in for, the blank,
the far side of the last equation.
Black and brown of December,
umber and burnt orange
Under the spoked trees, front yard
Pollocked from edge-feeder to edge run.
Central Virginia beyond the ridgeline spun with a back light
charcoal and tan, damp green . . .
Entangled in the lust of the eye,
we carry this world with us wherever we go.
Even into the next one:
Abstraction, the highest form, is the highest good:
Everything’s beautiful that stays in its due order.
Every existing thing can be praised
when compared with nothingness.
The seasons roll from my tongue—
Autumn, winter, the integer vitae of all that’s in vain.
Rain falls. the utmost
Humps out to the end of nothing’s branch, crooks there like an inch-worm.
And fingers the emptiness.
December drips through my nerves,
a drumming of secondary things
That spells my name right,
Of slow, steady consonants.
Trash cans weigh up with water beside the curb.
Leaves flatten themselves against the ground
and take cover.
How are we capable of so much love
for things that must fall away?
How can we utter our mild retractions and still keep
Our wasting affection for This world?
This is what we desire,
the soul itself instinctively desires it.
He’s right, of course.
No matter how due and exacting the penance is.
the rain stops, the seasons wheel
Like stars in their bright courses:
the cogitation of the wise
Will bind you and take you where you will not want to go.
Mimic the juniper, have mercy.
The tongue cannot live up to the heart:
Raise the eyes of your affection to its affection
And let its equivalents
ripen in your body.
Love what you don’t understand yet, and bring it to you.
From somewhere we never see comes everything that we do see.
What is important devolves
from the immanence of infinitude
In whatever our hands touch—
The other world is here, just under our fingertips.
There is a heaviness behind the eyes
deep as death
And without vaccine
That sends the weight of afternoon to its earthly knees
And empties the veins of all remorse
And pity it is so strong
in its instinct and gravity.
There is a weariness in us
dark as undoing
That flakes down like a snowfall.
In April, under the apple trees
And their doilied, blanked blossoms.
It fills us beyond our knowing,
oppressive as purity.
Late February, 5 o’clock: the cantaloupe-colored light.
Light of martyrs and solitaries.
Lies like a liquid on the trees
as though ladled there.
at large in a light like this.
Cold Mountain and Paul of Thebes
Drifting like small flames back toward the sun.
Would feel at ease
In their uninterruptible avenue and dance.
The cars slide past on their golden wheels
The joggers go by and grain into radiance.
The leaves of the rhododendron
dangle like reliquaries.
Gilded and stained in their little piles
As though spurted upon
by the cleave from a saint’s head.
The surface of everything
Hovering above itself in an expiation of held breath
As the body of afternoon is borne back to the hills.
Sunday, stub-end of winter,
baroque in its seal and dazzle.
Despair like an underpainting across the landscape.
These days we define ourselves inside.
These afternoons of last light
through which we all depend.
Maybe the theorists are right:
everything comes from language.
The actual web of root and rain
Is just an afterimage
pressed on the flyleaf of a book.
This first, pale envelope of forsythia unglued
By the March heat
only a half-thought apostrophe
And not the flesh of experience:
Nothing means anything, the slip of phrase against phrase
Contains the real way our lives
Are graphed out and understood,
the transformation of adverb
To morpheme and phoneme is all we need answer to.
But I don’t think so today,
unless the landscape is language
Itself, which it isn’t.
The water beads necklaced across the bare branch of this oak tree
Have something to say now
but not about syllables.
For water they are, and to water they shall return.
Out of sight, out of earshot, along the vertical axis
the music of what’s real.
The plainsong of being, is happening all the while.
The verb that waits for us in the trees
is reconstruct, not deconstruct:
The sound of one hand clapping is the sound of one hand clapping.
Umbria mistica . . . What I remember is how
I remember it:
from Spello to Collepino across to Assisi
Over the humpback whole
Bird bone and twig dry,
dust swirls like ghosts of penitents
Working the switchbacks and hairpins down to the sanctuary.
The cowl of mid-August heat
like cloth on our bodies:
Who couldn’t hallucinate in such an ascetic landscape?
Seductive as pain, sharp-edged as guilt.
Its deprivations are palpable in the sunlight:
Nothing’s so sweet as self-denial,
nothing so bountiful . . .
What is it we never can quite put out finger on
Inside the centricity of surface
that foregrounds and drains
The abstracts we balance our lives by?
Whatever it is, the language is only its moan.
Whatever it is, the self’s trace
lingers along it
Much in the way that lies live in lines.
That air’s in the atmosphere and wine’s in this grape I pick now
From the vine beside me,
Perugia darkening out of sight,
Assisi darkening out of sight,
Raggio verde cutlassing down
as it must have done before.
To be of use, not to be used by,
the language sighs.
The landscape sighs, the wide mouth
Of March sighs at the ear of evening.
Whose eye has that look of eternity in its gaze.
To be of use,
look of eternity in its gaze.
Not to be used by . . .
This English is not the king’s English,
it doesn’t dissemble.
If anything means nothing, nothing means anything.
Full moon in the sky
Like a golden period.
It doesn’t dissemble.
Late March, spring’s loop in a deep regress.
Sunlight like polyurethane
on the concrete blocks
And the driveway’s asphalt curve . . .
I step through the alphabet
The tree limbs shadow across the grass,
a dark language
Of strokes and ideograms
That spells out a different story than we are used to,
A story with no beginning and no end,
a little one.
I leave it and cross the street.
I think it’s a happy story,
and not about us.
Out of our own mouths we are sentenced,
we who put our trust in visible things.
Soon enough we will forget the world.
And soon enough the world will forget us.
The breath of our lives, passing from this one to that one.
Is what the wind says, its single word
being the earth’s delight.
Lust of the tongue, lust of the eye,
out of our own mouths we are sentenced . . .