What if we let you sing first?
What if we look for you with Mallarme’s
blank stare: birds round an empty dish,
stony limbs? To tell the history of our grief
we settle for an empty doorway
and a maple leaf
or a woman with neckcurls, named Jane,
changed by her poetry teacher’s love
to a wren wound in light. Shimmering anodyne.
Elegies so resolute in wood or wings
that we forget the truer
measurements of unfinished things:
the distance between two
disappearing habits; the echo
of a promise lodged in a warbler’s throat;
the length of a dreamy boy swinging
from his favorite limb; the ragged patch
below — our ground for spotting him.
If grieving is a way of working wood,
building thresholds, wrapping birds —
then hands will keep us tending things
too near. What if this June air
should circle, not fall on, our copper chimes
with the passiveness of prayer?
What if the breeze that would carry
a bird’s perfect sorrow were to kneel
at the base of an oak, and refuse to rise?
Copyright © 2004 M. B. McLatchey. All rights reserved.
National Poetry Review
® with permission.