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Read an Excerpt
The little girl stands
inside her element
forever on tiptoe
mailing her present
to someone somewhere
past a clear wall
for snow to fall
in flakes that settle
like an afterthought
inside a world shaken
where she stands caught
in the urge for release
wound up in a bow
the little girl sends
through drifting snow.
I was the fire
in a summer's afternoon.
I heard the small birds speak:
re-peat, re-peat, they said
from under brushwood, beyond
the curtain's muggy wind
that worked the bed sheets,
broke over my skin
with wave on spilling wave
of furnace heat.
Then woke to darkness,
black and big and wet
with the sweet salt rush,
the sudden sweat
and the knowledge won
each time I felt the pulse
that beat and beat
the little bloody drum
inside my chest.
Somehow it became "my thirtieth year to heaven"
that day in school I first read Dylan Thomas.
The assignment: memorize a famous poem,
recite it, don't giggle, somehow try to ignore
your best friend's screwed-up face, his broken promise.
Eyes fixed onthe back wall, feet surveying the floor
for a crevice or canyon where I could disappear,
I stammered on through it, toppling each line's hurdle
till suddenly I was theretransformed and able:
the room, the class, their silent punitive laughter
erased and forgotten; my best friend's smirking face
turned serious, and everything I knew
seeming small and curious in that altered air.
I remember the store clerk, glasses pinching her nose,
my embarrassed shuffle in grass-stained tennis shoes
while handing her the bookthe first I chose
out of hunger: Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls,
the Scribner edition that boasted a flashy cover
of a war scene, soldiers, hills, the exploding rose
a bomb made deep in night ...
and how I froze
as if before the jury or my first imagined lover,
when, finishing the book, I scratched a reddish blotch
I thought a bomb-burst, then found that it was blood:
and me sixteen, the summer long and hot
with revelation, this burning I understood
to be at the core of all the books I read,
the strange, mercurial things they left unsaid.
Chatter and small talk peppered the diamond.
At night our voices cheered the home team on
beneath the arc lamps, a rounded platinum moon
floating high above the crowd that gathered
and leaped to a roar the moment they hit one out
or nailed the tag, the runner charging from third
spikes up into the plate and that dusty shout
of "Outta hee-ah!" we loved to shower down.
Then later, much later, the echoed crack and pop
of consonant and vowel slapped out by the keys,
me down in the cellar trying to write it up,
crouched low and dug in, squinting to see
noun slide into verb, the perfect strike,
a sentence sent sailing across the page at night.
for Peter Carpenter
In the morning the wall
we'd built from various stones
stood somehow changed
by sunlight in the garden,
the morning dew, and the air
cool from the valley and clear.
For what was clear
was that our wall,
as if out of thin air,
had become more than its stones,
more than just a shape in the garden
to organize the weeds. It had changed
because how we saw it had changed,
standing there in the patch we'd cleared.
What had simply been a neglected garden
now contained our wall,
larger, more wobbly, than any stone.
Way off in the valley the air
lay open as air,
grassy, wild, unchanged.
There the fields were scattered with stones.
But was our field a field more clear
because divided, set off by our wall?
Or was it simply our garden?
Answers grow poorly in gardens.
It has something to do with the air.
Yet for all its bulk, the idea of our wall
had brought us a delicate change.
The flowers less wild, more clear
in their reds and greens on the stone,
somehow something strange, not of stone,
had crept out in the midst of our garden.
How sad, how clear
it felt there in the early air.
Everything around us was changed.
For what had been our wall
was clearly now a part of the garden,
destined to change in the air
from garden to wall to stone.
An Old New England Graveyard
At the field's far end, down by
the dredged and roaring stream,
past alleys of long light reaching
through windbreak maple and beech
to scrape an old barn ruddy
despite its sagging loft,
he finds them:
their heavings, those we label
"forgotten and ignored,"
as if we could forget them,
the dead, and all their trappings.
Listless, historical, bored
no doubt they do not mind
the gate's low groan when opened
by the odd man out in spring,
who, there among the weeds,
the names, the graven phrase
or two, might find himself
reduced to those low whispers
of "Gardner, Doty, Nash ...,"
Or, considering the past,
hears in his own heart's knocking
the windy present beat,
takes measure of the stones,
makes note of their mossy touch,
straddles the tufted grass,
closes the gate, and goes home.