Art is a journey into the most unknown thing of all - oneself. Nobody knows his own frontiers… I don’t think I’d ever want to take a road if I knew where it led.

Louis Kahan
    

De Ægypto

I even I, am he who knoweth the roads
Through the sky, and the wind thereof is my body.

I have beheld the Lady of Life,
I, even I, who fly with the swallows.

Green and gray is her raiment,
Trailing along the wind.

I, even I, am he who knoweth the roads
Through the sky, and the wind thereof is my body.

Manus animam pinxit,
My pen is in my hand

To write the acceptable word… .
My mouth to chant the pure singing!

Who hath the mouth to receive it,
The song of the Lotus of Kumi?

I, even I, am he who knoweth the roads
Through the sky, and the wind thereof is my body.

I am flame that riseth in the sun,
I, even I, who fly with the swallows.

The moon is upon my forehead,
The winds are under my lips.

The moon is a great pearl in the waters of sapphire,
Cool to my fingers the flowing waters.

I, even I, am he who knoweth the roads
Through the sky, and the wind thereof is my body.

    

Tenderness


Tenderness can be like a battle cry,
Like the murmur of a hidden spring
And like a funeral dirge…
*
And like a long braid of golden strands
On which a widower hangs
His ancient silver watch - - -

    

Theme and Variation


That summer there was no honey.
The queens led their swarms away,
the strawberry bed dried up in a day,
the berrypickers went home early.

All that sweetness, swept on one ray of light
off to sleep. Who slept this sleep before his time?
Honey and berries? He is a stranger to suffering,
the one with the world at his hands. In want of nothing.

In want of nothing but perhaps a bit,
enought to rest or to stand straight.
He was bent by caves-and shadows,
because no country took him in.
He wasn’t even safe in the wood-
a partisan whom the world reliquished
toher dead satellite, the moon.

He is a stranger to sufferin, the one with the world
[at his hands,
and was anything not handed him? He had the bettle’s
cohort wrapped round his finger, blazes
branded his face with scars and the wellspring
appeared as a chimera before his eyes,
where it was not.

Honey and berries?
Had he ever known the scent, he’d have followed it
long ago!

Walking a sleepwalker’s sleep,
who slept this sleep before his time?
One who was born ancient
and called to the darkness early.
All that sweetness swept on one ray of light
before him.

He spat into the undergrowth a curse
to bring drought, he screamed
and his prayers were heard:
the berrypickers went home early!
When the root rose up
and slithered after them, hissing
a snakeskin remained, the tree’s last defense.
The strawberry bed dried up in a day.

In the village below, the buckets stood empty
like drums waiting in the square.
Then the sun struck
and paradiddled death.

The windows fell shut,
the queens led their swarms away,
and no one prevented them from fleeing.
Wilderness took them in,
the hollow tree among ferns,
the first free state.
The last human being was stung
and felt no pain.

That summer there was no honey.

    

A Kind Of Loss

Used together: seasons, books, a piece of music.
The keys, teacups, bread basket, sheet and a bed.
A hope chest of words, of gestures, brought back, used, used up.
A household order maintained. Said. Done. And always a head was there.
I’ve fallen in love with winter, with a Viennese septet, wiht summer.
With Village maps, a mountain nest, a beach and a bed.
Kept a calender cult, declared promises irrevocable,
bowed before something, was pious to a nothing

(-to a folded newspaper, cold ashes, the scribbled piece of paper) ,
fearless in religion, for our bed was the church.

From my lake view arose my inexhaustible painting.
From my balcony I greeted entire peoples, my neighbors.
By the chimney fire, in safety, my hair took on its deepest hue.
The ringing at the door was the alarm for my joy.

It’s not you I’ve lost,
but the world.

    

Psalm

2

How vain it all is.
Roll into a city,
rise from the city’s dust,
take over a post
and diguise yourself
to avoid exposure

Fulfill the promises
before a tarnished mirror in the air,
before a shut door in the wind.

Untraveled are the paths on the steep slope of heaven.

    

In The Storm Of Roses


Wherever we turn in the storm of roses,
the night is lit up by thorns, and the thunder
of leaves, once so quiet within the bushes,
rumbling at our heels.

    

l’amour a son triomphe la mort a le sien

le temps ; et puis encore le temps.

Mais nous aucun.

Déclin des astres autour de nous, rien de plus. Reflet, silence. Après pourtant le chant s’élèvera par-dessus la poussière

tellement plus haut que nous.

Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes

First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer’s dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women’s undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything -
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.

Billy Collins