The advantage of poetry over life is that poetry, if it is sharp enough, may last.
Look, a butterfly. Did you make a wish?
You don't wish on butterflies.
You do so. Did you make one?
It doesn't count.
Long ago, I was wounded. I lived
to revenge myself
against my father, not
for what he was--
for what I was: from the beginning of time,
in childhood, I thought
that pain meant
I was not loved.
It meant I loved.
To say I'm without fear--
It wouldn't be true.
I'm afraid of sickness, humiliation.
Like anyone, I have my dreams.
But I've learned to hide them,
To protect myself
From fulfillment: all happiness
Attracts the Fates' anger.
They are sisters, savages--
In the end they have
No emotion but envy.
The garden admires you.
For your sake it smears itself with green pigment,
The ecstatic reds of the roses,
So that you will come to it with your lovers.
And the willows--
See how it has shaped these green
Tents of silence. Yet
There is still something you need,
Your body so soft, so alive, among the stone animals.
Admit that it is terrible to be like them,
Late December: my father and I
are going to New York, to the circus.
He holds me
on his shoulders in the bitter wind:
scraps of white paper
blow over the railroad ties.
My father liked
to stand like this, to hold me
so he couldn't see me.
staring straight ahead
into the world my father saw;
I was learning
to absorb its emptiness,
the heavy snow
not falling, whirling around us.
There is always something to be made of pain.
Your mother knits.
She turns out scarves in every shade of red.
They were for Christmas, and they kept you warm
while she married over and over, taking you
along. How could it work,
when all those years she stored her widowed heart
as though the dead come back.
No wonder you are the way you are,
afraid of blood, your women
like one brick wall after another.
Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.
I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn't expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring--
afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy
in the raw wind of the new world.
The Gold Lily
As I perceive
I am dying now and know
I will not speak again, will not
survive the earth, be summoned
out of it again, not
a flower yet, a spine only, raw dirt
catching my ribs, I call you,
father and master: all around,
my companions are failing, thinking
you do not see. How
can they know you see
unless you save us?
In the summer twilight, are you
close enough to hear
your child's terror? Or
are you not my father,
you who raised me?
In the end, I made myself
Known to your wife as
A god would, in her own house, in
Ithaca, a voice
Without a body: she
Paused in her weaving, her head turning
First to the right, then left
Though it was hopeless of course
To trace that sound to any
Objective source: I doubt
She will return to her loom
With what she knows now. When
You see her again, tell her
This is how a god says goodbye:
If I am in her head forever
I am in your life forever.