19 December 2006

Michael White

[from Michael White’s Island, 1992]

The Solving Memory of Things

Regardless how nonchalantly you walk
Through the flickering delicate interlock of shade,
You can never quite approach whatever it is
That disappears at the peripheries of leaves
And light — a memory like a bird slipped free
And flitting ahead as it might have done in life —
Across the concave of a phantom riverbed
Sunk in the trees, where the deep diluvial chill
Of March is strongest. And something tells you
You won’t catch sight of it again by looking
Directly for it. . . .
                            The branches on all sides
Grow eerily, impenetrably thick here,
So already you wonder what the idea was,
What inland-tidal pull, from long back, rose
Against the nature of your present self,
And plunked you down in a whorl of ravaged limbs?

(Stuck in an unnoticed corner of sky, forgotten,
Blotted by clouds, hangs the gray, flat disc of the sun.)

And where is the path you would follow (nervously jangling
The keys and change in your pocket) if the woods
It wove through are half washed away in flood
Each spring? And how will you ever find your way out,
With all sense of direction vanished; the passing of time
So strangely numbed; and the images you remembered
Turning to air as you grope through bloodroot and cobweb? —
Down the wrong roads of insomnia, into
The sycamores, the nightmare trees:
                                                       and beyond
Their caverned silence lies a heartbreaking vastness
Of wind-muscled fields; and then open marshes,
Looms of sumac where mosquitos rise
Like heat through the swampy and heron-haunted air:

For there is the empire of nostalgia, a smokefall
Of dusk lain over the riffling pewter skin
Of the river. And there is the lace-iron bridge,
The banks of driftwood and tires and rusted cans
Of adolescence, that echoing broken land.

So you find yourself looking up, far above, at the lapis
Gaps in the canopy, watching the clouds pass over
And over again in the northward current of sky;
And you think: they are not of us, those dramas of mansions
Falling in, catastrophes of towers
And terraces. . . .
                            And they are not written words,
Nor the drift of seraphic dreams, but water from over
The mountains, evolving its instants of dissolution. . . .

Until finally, even down here, there is something alive
Far back in the cotton woods, trapped in the densest meshes,
Straining its great clawed limbs down the long aisles
Of pillared shade:
                           and this, too, is the sun.

And the rounded, primordial outlines of limestone cliffs
Invent themselves, in a new hard brightness of air;
And the ivy’s dark green river of hands splashes over
The foot of them; as the sound of water faintly
Unlocks, in the mossy springs that drip down the cliffsides,
Commencing their implausibly intricate cursive
Through the dark distillations of woods. . . .
                                     And, in the motion of a moment,
Against an almost unconscious backcloth of grapevines
Let down out of the treetops;
                                           and in the slow burn
Of the muted and ghostly violets washing surflike
Around your ankles, covering what softly breaks
Beneath your weight,
                               you take another step.

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