Wet Bread and Roasted Pearls



Through a filmstrip of train windows,
I watch the river coast by, mist
climb the Palisades to open sky.

Hudson line.  Gravel trackbed
dusted with snow, bank rock and piling
blackened with oil, barges
half-rotted on granite slabs
where a deer dips her head in bent reeds

and then steps out onto shore ice:
One long wave of white ice
nightwinds caught at its farthest reach
between arrival and return
and held gleaming above the tide.

The ideogram for "recognition,"
you know, was formed from the figure
of a deer:  to leap from a standstill.
And when the thin ice
suddenly collapses
and I see the doe slide, stagger,

but somehow remain on a wobbling piece
that carries her
out into the mist--there's
the ideogram for "amazement":
to be standing in that splendor.

Blue cliffs lean against bluer sky,
blue as the wreaths
around smokers' heads,
sleepers' heads, readers' heads;

blue as the blurred tattoo on his arm,
the old man in the next seat:
the tall ship faded into his skin.

Once across the city line
riverbank turns to rubble.
Row after row of mounds,
a ransacked graveyard
of mistakes buried under broken images,
brick, busted block, scrap metal,
crumpled sheet-rock, tires,
charred planks, sand piles
dumped on lots
glittering with crushed glass.

Of the numerous ideograms
for "To fill in the blanks"
one is based on a recognizable figure
heaving gigantic hourglasses
off a train just before it bursts
under a roaring city
and stalls.

Another contains
a figure, someone who abhors
crossword puzzles, someone
like me, newspaper
in hand, stultified
by a maze of blanks.

Eighty-nine down:  More lavish clues.

One across:  To be reasonably
suspicious of zeros and words
that contain too many o's.

Two across:  Prosopopoeia.

Fifty-five down:  Monotonous.

Three across:  Puzzle is to Mystery
as Grapefruit is to ...

Five across:  Rhymes with orange.

Eight across:  Of Aquitane, as in:

Thirteen across:  Of summertime, as in:

I think I'll throw away a poem, take
a nap and then go stand in the sun.
Or lie beside you on the dock awhile
and write another one.

Or wait for you to open your eyes
and figure out
what this little kid on the beach
is all about.

He's pulverized pearls with a rock
after he popped them
like corn in a fire,
a handful of fake pearls
he cast on the water
along with some bread for
Thirty-four down:  Type of fish,
a.k.a. "pumpkin seeds."

Crumbs and pearl dust--sunnies
rise out of the murk
like stupidity approaching speech,
then veer off
without a nibble, without a blink.

And, like Twenty-one across:
A magician
who somehow tricks himself,
makes his own charms
disappear and finds himself
empty-handed in the unyielding air,

the kid just stands there
staring at a puddle of oil
that floats between dock and raft,
its slack colors slipping away
like The Lost Planet, turning
with every move this one ever made.
And whatever made it move:

Gases change to moiling seas,
squashed continent to coastline.
Greenery fades to saltflat
and back again.
Empire and ignorance,
each with its course, its color
--a different color for every age,
every eon, migration and flood,
dust and flood, famine
and soaked plunder, flight
and pursuit, white and yellow
and blue, the aerial swirl of snow
and disease, peace
and convulsion, belief and denial.
And there it goes, sight out of mind,
leaving me

to watch you finally wake
and wonder what dreamt you into being;
to almost know it, but to lose
that, too, in shadow and water,
and then watch reappear
another circling fly, another
horsefly and gnat, dragonflies
and, Twenty-one down:
The "wizardry in daylight"
that allows them to stay,
in the ever-expanding sky
that sweeps back
to Thirteen down:  Bombay,

where one afternoon, leaving
that city on a slow, quiet train,
trackbed raised
above flooded fields,
no land in sight,
I could see nothing
but sky mirrored in water
and the tremendous sun drawing
its hourlong reflection
across horizonless blue.

Two perfect circles, swirling,
slid into one, hung there,
where an early world
that greeted the advent of yellow
with flutes and bells
and pure geometry,
intersects Thirty-four across:

The Grapefruit,
the one you thought I'd aimed at you
just because it punctured the wall
next to your ear.
The glaring, almost magical fact of it,
a grapefruit stuck in sheetrock.

One warm afternoon, hillside
yellow with fallen leaves, starlings
began to flock, as plentiful
as the leaves still left in the maples.
All that clatter, so many,
thrown every which way
in the shrapnel wind,
people stepped warily out their door
and wondered what was going on.

Even we, who had seen it before,
could only raise our arms
and laugh at what was as much
a feeling as a sight,
a sound, the sky-blown praise,
the mayhem, the soft yellow ground

now as blank as Eight down,
the winter you decided
to freeze me out, kept
the house as cold as a morgue.

Days I didn't hear
you speak except in your sleep,
so that one morning I woke
to the sound of your voice
and a cold draft

and the noisy sparrows
at the window.
I lay there cold and tired
listening to Five down:  The first sign
of spring, cheap-talk
in the dismal, breaking light.

And when the smoke alarm,
its battery worn down,
began to beep, the signal
at first indistinguishable
from the birdcalls
but then growing louder,
triumphantly monotonous
in their absence, I remained
Three down:
A man of my word.
And that word is
Fifty-five across:  Disingenuous.

For the rest of that week
above Peekskill Hollow Road
the ridge loomed, fledged with treetops
rising row behind row.
By the next, the colors
had flown, and for days
in that gray intricacy
of italics and twigs,
the slightest sound reached
a distant, whispered edge:  pencil

scraping paper, dry leaves
blown over pavement; a vine
rubbing stone; a piece
of cellophane flying out of nowhere
on that remote lake, skidding
after me as I skated.
And suddenly, as if I were
the figure on the cover
of Two down:  A novel
of grim pursuit, regret
and Gothic dread,

there was, inexplicably,
more cellophane,
scraps of clarity, a swarm
of blanks and withered smiles
whirling around me
before I simply turned
and headed back into the wind,
scraping a few more edge songs
out of what stays, what goes ...
what happens when we
find ourselves in Eighty-nine across:
An Important Event
in the History of Punctuation:

We lie in the dark and listen.
The window open
you wait for me to guess
what you already know:
that voice so lovely and strange
you can't believe
I don't remember what it is.
And then I do:

Miles of lake ice shift and thaw,
singing the changes
that move as lightly as years
and the lifelong questioning
that keeps turning me toward you
and One down:  The origin
of the question mark

in darkness and the curve and line
of your spine, your neck
your chin, your ears, your
legs and breasts and my open hands
--Hands, rough, calloused,
sliding over your taut silk
they sound like breath.