How to say this—
my silences were not always mine:
scrabbled hole and the dark beyond,
as if water wanted out of itself,
tip of the sycamore’s weird bare reach:
some latency in things leading not so much to speech
as to a halting, haunted art
wherein to master was to miss—
how to say this, how to say this …
My father was a boatbuilder.
Prow of a man, his world a sea to cleave.
I learned a dangerous patience,
to navigate night, live on nothing, leave.
And my mother, her furious smallness,
her way of saying her blade, the oil and onion’s hiss:
from her I learned what lies beneath.
Mystic, Istanbul, Jakarta, Dar es Salaam—
what was I meant to keep?
If the distances to which I’ve been given
suggest some wantless heaven
of the mind, what in me still traces
the creekbed creases
in the rough skin of the palm
of one so long, long asleep?
If I say I loved the seagull
tethered to its cry, the cypress’s imprisoned winds,
speak to the brink of my hands
a moss-covered rock
soft and knobby as a kitten’s skull.
If I say I loved.
Boston, Cardiff, Lisbon, Asunción:
what name is not a horizon?
Somewhere it is evening,
light grown mild and pliable,
wielded by wave and rock,
in the shore’s trees torn apart …
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 27 Number 8, on page 25
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