Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Reginald Sheperd

Tantalus in May

When I look down, I see the season’s blinding flowers,
the usual mesmerizing and repellent artifacts:
a frat boy who turns too sharply from my stare,
a cardinal capturing vision in a lilac bush
on my walk home. I’m left to long
even for simple dangers. From the waist up
it’s still winter, I left the world behind
a long time ago; waist down it’s catching
up, a woodpecker out my window is mining grubs
from some nameless tree squirrels scramble over.
When I turn back it’s gone, I hadn’t realized
this had gone so far. (Everywhere I look
it’s suddenly spring. No one asked
if I would like to open drastically. Look up.)
It’s gone. Everywhere fruits dangle
I can’t taste, their branches insurmountable,
my tongue burnt by frost. White boys, white flowers,
and foul-mouthed jays, days made of sky-blue boredoms
and everything seen much too clearly:
the utterance itself is adoration, kissing
stolid air. I hate every lovely thing about them.

What Cannot Be Kept

He was dreaming of the factories across the water’s fog
and pillared smoke, a man listing toward him in a paper boat
whose outstretched palm read Wait. He was laid out
on a lawn chair in the park: and that night
boys were dancing in the branches of the trees
at the party, floating in the crotch of two limbs,
their motion the blur between nature and sex.
The color of them prints across the eye
as plums, in verging autumn, print heavily
on the open palm. They fall from such
trees, the trees are barren: held up at the cusp of two
seasons, both falling, one so-called. He dreamt he was
starving, so slim he could slip between
the horn and ivory gates; their flesh wears away to a winter’s
witness, the history of fleeting ripeness packed
in salted lines and photographs unfolded
while it snows. The originals
are ruined, worn to a mirror’s whiteness by the river
trucks drive over, cemented with progressive sediments,
the waste of fruitfulness sanded down
to almost-morning mist.

* From Some Are Drowning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994)

For My Mother in Lieu of Mourning

It takes a thing so long to be true. I don’t want
my dead back, not any more, dreaming they’re just
in hiding. The body stiffens into I’m awake, chilled
by a window left open all night. Dust grays
the screen, truncates the run-down view
of strip mall loading dock and idling delivery
truck fumes: unseasonable cold, no birds, everything
gets dirty fast. Then memory becomes rain
after days of overcast, wet panes blur into blind
clouds learning to let go. Too accurate a memory
is the cure for dreams. Your body of brackish water,
black, opaque, impossible to see through
to the bottom, swim across to shore:
I’ve been drowning in my sleep
too long, when will I stop comparing you? Today
my hands discover distance, the heart I imagined
I had: this lying signifier settled from time to time
by ghosts. The words return in single file, repeat
themselves: cold and uninhabited, my heart’s
healed over under ice. Would you have frozen
in these lines? You were their possibility:
now love must find another shape. You left me here
with what you saved me from, and I am equal
to that: absence, wind tangled in a winter tree,
defeat dangling from stripped branches,
or perhaps it’s just a plastic grocery bag.

Snowdrops and Summer Snowflakes, Drooping

The river is silted with sentiments, Ophelia
sings flowers in hell to all the goodnight
ladies martyred to plot, rosemary, pansies, fennel
and rue, columbine, wormwood and oxeye daisies:
wilting litanies of no consequence. She scatters
handfuls of snow in no tense, returning
to the same spot she brings her spotless
suffering, called Candor, or Covert.
I’d give her trillium and yarrow, wild
carrot or white sweet clover,
some roadside blossoms less
historical: invasive wood sorrel, dame’s
rocket, handfuls of designations,
names of names; stems broken, weeping
sap to sting her fingers, draw the flies,
make her drop her bottle of virginity.
I’d give her brambly honeysuckle
and dogwood bushes to shred her
wedding dress in passing to a proper
shroud, a weed or three to stain her white
with theirs, goodnight sweet lady,
wake up. What I wouldn’t give
to hear her shut up that infernal singing,
walk out of sullen water open-eyed.

Hesitation Theory

I drift into the sound of wind,
how small my life must be
to fit into his palm like that, holly
leaf, bluejay feather, milkweed fluff,
pine straw or sycamore pod, resembling
scraps of light. The world
slips through these fingers
so easily, there’s so much
to miss: the sociable bones
linked up in supple rows, mineral
seams just under the skin. I hold
my palm against the sun and don’t see
palm or sun, don’t hold anything
in either hand. I look up, look
away (what’s that?), I trip
and stumble (fall
again), find myself face down
in duff, a foam of fallen live oak
leaves, with only
this life, mine at times.

*From Fata Morgana (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007)

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