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Thick and Thin
the malleable gunk of family
memories, resemblances, resentments,
anecdotes thumped and punched
by a succession of urgent hands
hardens and cools, but early lumps remain,
fingerprints, palmprints, even marks of teeth.
You spend a lifetime trying to smooth these out.
To the original mix nothing is added
but a steady trickle wrung from years,
a faintly salty broth, not tears, not sweat.
The solution weakens until only
a feeble fingerprint of this first scent
trembles half-imagined on the air.
That earliest essence—what was it again?
You spend a lifetime trying to get it back.
Samian Morning, 1971
The gypsy loomed in the open door of morning,
bulky, unsmiling, her head wrapped in a scarf.
Her hand was out. She wanted something from me.
I don't remember whether I faced her fully.
Had I looked her straight in the eye and then beyond her,
I would have seen the Aegean like a frame.
If I had looked far enough over her right shoulder,
I would have seen Patmos lifting in a strip of light
from the horizon's lip. Over her left
shoulder I could have craned and seen Ionia.
But both these radiant regions were blocked off
not only by the figurein the doorway.
Where had she come from? Behind the house was a field.
Beyond this square green field—it was a wheatfield-
were a bent fig tree and a low stone wall
and a whitewashed hut like a gatehouse. Behind the wall
a road wound north away from the coast to the village.
She could have just walked up Poseidon Street
to ours, the last house in the row. But I think
she came around from the side, the back, the North.
I used to think the wind blew straight from Russia.
Turkey was left, the East,
and right and West was the great granite mountain.
My stinginess and resentment balanced by shame,
I gave the gypsy something I remember
probably only because she scowled and reproached me.
Whether she came back a second time
to try again, another woman with her,
is wavering conjecture. But I see all right
the thing I gave her: bright yellow, cashmere,
still with its Saks Fifth Avenue label,
a sweater someone had given me, no doubt,
for the same reason I tried to palm it off
on the gypsy, who rejected it with scorn.
The sweater was marred. A stain like a port wine birthmark
splotched the front. Who would wear such a thing?
Not I. Not she. I recall the botched transaction
but have to supply the shining of the sea,
brilliant backdrop to the piebald life
I must have turned back to after the gypsy, grumbling,
took herself away from the open door,
though I do not know if I turned to it with relief.
or reddish black, all clinging tightly still.
And if the picker tugs impatiently,
the seeds feel woody, sour, dry,
no crushing in the mouth,
purpling of fingers, black perfume of fall.
But even if they ripened all at once
and early, and I had
a hundred hands and hours to spare, I know
that I would hear a low
call from behind the hill:
not loud but palpable, not shrill
without whose urgent summons no
berries could muster this seductive glow;
without whose pull, strong and invisible,
from somewhere behind
the cold and golden, wet and tangled hill
I'd never lose myself in search of fruit.
Without the waiting world—
I do not see it yet, do not evoke,
only acknowledge it-
how could the berries keep
the mystery of their promise, sweet and black?
Once again this year I won't find out.
I hear the call
and I am going back.
A flap in time, a hinge in space, a secret drawer, a panel,
an unexpectedly discovered island in the river,
an instant confidence that is immediately forgotten
until, unless some utter stranger comes upon it later,
years later, less by rumor, instinct, chance, blind luck, or vision,
than memory. These discoveries are the future recollected,
a bump of time scooped from hereafter and transferred to now,
stolid durations understudy, flashback of the future.
No wonder children (have I read this, heard, remembered,
experience these interludes, these hidden flaps more strongly,
more urgently, as more uncanny, ghostly, and amazing
than those of us bowed down so blindly by the weight of days,
beyond astonishment, made numb by dint of repetition.
Children, with more they must experience, less they can
itch to accumulate, take hold of even what is not
exactly now, precisely then, but somehow in between—
ghostly, prophetic, a quotidian-gilding vision
wrung from the flux, the might have been, the maybe, the
the oh I wish I hope I dream, arcs of transcendent longing,
familiarity with lives unlived and yet available,
the haze not yet completely clear, all structures wreathed in mist
less blinding than what daily life is dully swaddled in,
each castle, tower, and labyrinth particular and gleaming,
each episode, each conversation burnished, fiercely clear.
Copyright © 2001 Rae Armantrout. All rights reserved.
|Thick and Thin||3|
|Samian Morning, 1971||4|
|The Last Time||9|
|Around Lake Erie and Across the Hudson||13|
|The Glass of Milk||15|
|The Week After Easter: Heaven's Gate||17|
|Humble Herb Is Rival to Prozac||26|
|The Lost House||32|
|In the Grove||33|
|Change Is the Stranger||55|
|The Genre Clerk||61|
|Four Short Stories||62|
|The Costume Chest||64|
|Homage to Winslow Homer||67|
|My Mother's Closet||72|
|The Light Bulb||78|
|Fathers and Daughters, Mothers and Sons||80|
|Rough Winds Do Shake||85|
|My Father's O.S.S. File||86|
|Last Afternoon in Athens||88|
|Love and War||89|
|The End of Summer||95|
|The Crust House||97|
|The Seamy Side||100|