1. There is empty, where a mountain used to be
and there is only the sound, as up from a well,
of people, a hole in the passive ground,
in the massive earth: a hole in the impassive
earth--they are echoing forth, in the light
like a plastered wall, they are thick like branching
cracks, as a house: it settles over time,
in seasons of chill and slackening heat,
and we their spiraling leaves.
They shake in the light, and we--with a mind
to speak like a child will sparkle its voice
through the vanes of a fan, such an enervating hum,
because he feels that all is not as
it is said to seem to sound, as if
electricity will never give out--
he touched a coin to a socket, and the burn
flat black, a spark and scorched new kitchen
veneer--as if the body will never
give out in the mind, lie down in the light
that is clear and is like no fire.
And there is empty, where people used to be,
and trees that were never blown down or away:
there is only the shadow, and only the things
As a mountain must one day go, and in
the hollow, the moss, its ply and drunken
sapling green, its strong and watery being.
All this a memory of seeing.
And the loss, sky-black, below.
2. In the mountains, there you feel free
if your living is elsewhere, but your living is there
and not for so long that the height has flattened out,
but later, for any earlier insight
is a terrible perversion, monstrous, prodigious,
like a stillness resolved--it is the aversion
of the fixated eye, looking at and looking out--
into a choice, and the product of a choice:
a child who is surely alive, although
his heart is stillborn, a rouged and brazen
body box, skin fresh, for the ash made gummy
and molded like modeling putty.
The bodies are plump and soft; his heart
is made to pump blood, and when he breathes,
there is a sound like leaves that, dead, still rattle
over the asphalt like tin.
But in the mountains, you may wish for him to die
and, laying him out for animals, on the moss,
sky-black, to find, you may prefer to say why.
3. Not quite all around the mountain, the road,
and on it leaves, a rattle like tin
that is not elemental but machined of the earth,
filled once with a fluid of vegetables, salted,
machined of the clear-cut mountaintop, ziggurat-
truncated flat, or meat for the man
or woman who is tired all day to reheat--
as well as all night--and eat until 'deeply' and,
however impossibly, 'filled':
The impossibility being that oceanic
feeling when one, whether man or woman,
is the shore and the other--or child--becalmed:
when the land has locked the people under and in.
And something warmed over.
There is empty, where a glacier used to be,
its great indifference to the living--in passing
tones they hiss like steam, their swift
and inaudible being, their groans--and its glide
like window-glass over time to the bottom
of the frame.
How many more hammerings flat or
thin? How many more leaves that sound
like tin, and are heard--so rarely are they gold--
in the stillness that holds, on the surface, between
two sky-black waves of the sea?
two sky-black waves of the sea?
(Edited 28 August 2011, begun 18 August 2011. These three together draw for their central image on Wang Wei's "Lu Zhai", a poem that does wonderfully much more than it says, and for their central theme, if there is one, on Plato's suggestion--more haunting when removed from the context of his elaborated metaphysics--that we may remember more than we have experienced. With thanks to students and colleagues in the Language & Thinking program at Bard College.)