I stop, winded, the air sifting down.
Here is the peculiar light I hoped for.
The branches of the pines are lobed with snow,
each shape intact, and brightened from within.
I walked among these flickering trunks in fall,
the grass grown stiff and noisy underfoot,
and found a mystery, a tree, a flowering quince,
all pale and fragrant, out of season.
It gave off this light.
What is holy is earth's unearthliness.
Love, could we describe it,
would break apart, lucency and force.
A starling rasps from his white precinct.
Far back in the woods, the snow is falling again,
perhaps into your life. The wind returns
to chisel its drifts and ribbing.
Forgive the rounded burdens of the branches.
They do not suffer, suffused in this light.
They are not sorrows,
though that is the meaning we give them.
The ruckled lips gaped slightly, but when
I slipped the knife in next to the hinge,
they closed to a stone.
The violence it took to unlock them!
Each wounded thing lay in opalescent milk
like an albino heart,
muscle sliced from the roof-shell.
I took each one pale and harmless
into my mouth and held it there,
tasting the difference between
the ligament and the pure, faintly
coffee-colored flesh that was unflinching
even in the acid of lemon juice,
so that I felt I was eating
not the body but the life in the body.
Afterward my mouth stayed greedy
though it carried the sea rankness
away with it, a taste usually transient,
held for a moment beyond its time
on mustache or fingertip.
The shells looked abruptly old,
crudely fluted, gray-green, flecked
with the undersea equivalent of lichens,
and pearly, slick, bereft of all their meat.
The creatures themselves were gone,
the succulent indecent briny ghosts
that caused this arousal, this feeding,
and now a sudden loneliness.