Around the Final Bend
Song, take these rhymes and carry them abroad.
Lift your little wings and beat and beat
like in some Disney ﬁlm. The Greeks had gods,
the Christians, Christ. We moderns have the heat
of giants booming from the screen. Our stars
take close-up orbits, Venus kissing Mars.
Old Peter Petrarch lived like Peter Pan,
a Neverland of candlelight and robes,
of vellum manuscripts ﬁlled in by hand.
We see him by uncertain light, bright strobes
of memory make his motions not quite right.
We wonder if it’s him, or if our sight
can’t reach that far . . . And so we lift our gaze
to his horizon, his beloved Rome,
as far from him as him from us. We raise
our eyes to Virgil, his dear Cicero,
to emperors and slaves, the thousand
years gave us our language, laws. Ah, how
to render worlds so vast on one blank page?
I shrink, I shrink, I ﬁnd the cup of tea,
the bite of toast, the man of youth or age,
the woman at the window where she sees
the Seven Hills. And slowly realize
we’re looking out together, her horizon
hard as mine. Song, beat those Disney wings
and ﬂy a little higher, back to Greece,
where Homer didn’t write but—sang. Song, sing
of starry kings, of men and gods and beasts,
the heat of planets clashing in the sky.
Make my heroes dance, their women cry—
Help me see the mirror in their eyes.
And having seen—song, lead me to the cave
black bison ﬁll, raise the torch of rhyme
so I see whole herds circling, black wave
upcresting in the dark to tumble me
ashore from that—that wine-dark sea where we
began, ﬁns to ﬁngers, hands . . . Stand staring
at the stars, that—screen with no horizon
left at all. Dear song, just when I’m wearing
out, you lift me, loving, into time—
that source of endings now can never end.
Song, take these rhymes around the ﬁnal bend,
the planet’s curve. Climb and fall and wend
your way to Avignon, to vanished Rome,
to Greece, to painted caves where we alone
stand staring out at stars, dear song, our only home.
San Francisco, 1933
He can’t believe this damn blind date, she’s hot.
They head out to a favorite drinking spot,
and when they wander in, he sees heads spin.
She’s not your common woman from the Y,
already had a double shot of life.
Been working years, escaped her family here.
Damn refugee, like him. He orders juice,
she gets a cherry coke. What’s your excuse,
she asks, and leans to sip. Raised Nazarene,
haven’t quite recovered yet. I’ll bet,
she says, and laughs . . . He sees it, how the past
can lose its hold. What’s yours, he asks. First date,
she says and looks at him. Won’t hesitate
to ask for gin next time. He laughs, his mind
at ease with this old calculus he loves.
You know, she’s saying, taking off her gloves,
I love this city. My home town, it’s oyster
shucking. That, or get you to a cloister
if you can. I got me to the station,
headed south. This city’s my salvation,
my—what’s Nazarene? Ah, lovely scene,
her little double take, her tilted face
approaching his. I don’t know what it is,
except— ’Sit hymns? Oh yeah, there’s hymns, they sing.
It’s just—somehow, I never could quite bring
old Jesus up. Something always—came
up ﬁrst. He grins at her. What was your name?
Olivia, she says, and yours? Oh Henry,
like the candy bar. She reaches gently,
lays her hand on his. Hell, get me that gin ﬁzz.