from "On the Way to the Island", 1960

On the Way to the Island

After we fled away from the shuddering dock,
The sea upheald us, would not let us go

Nor down us, and we danced all night in the dark,
Til we woke to discover the deck was made of glass,

All glass, and, leaning together, we lovers looked down,
Say a hundred miles, say a million years, and there

Were the fish, huge, gaping, motionless, flashing
Their innocent frightening scales in the dark!


Alone, I looked down through the afternoon:
A long lawn, a great tree, a field, and a fountain.
The whole day was full of its colors that moved
About, above, within, and of each other,
Bodies in the blindnesses of love.
The whole day was alive with its own creating.
Nothing was still, would stay, and for a while
I looked at all this as if it were all I wanted,
Colors and shapes, fluid as one another,
So that the tree, which seemed at one moment a tree,
Seemed at another an inexhaustible fountain
Cascading about itself in a green fall
Of water that never feel, and the green lawn
Was the water that never fell, running away.

from "Strangers", 1983 A Charm I have a twin who bears my name; Bears it about with him in shame; Who goes a way I would not go; Has knowledge of things I would not know; When I was brave he was afraid; He told the truth, I lied; What's sweet to me tastes bitter to him; My friends, my friends, he doesn't love them; I walk the daylight in his dream; He breathes the air of my nightmare. Photographs from a Book: Six Poems i A poem again, of several parts, each having to do With a photograph. The first, by Eakins, is of his student, Samuel C. Murray, about twenty-five years old, Naked, a life study, in the cold light and hungry Shadow of Eakin's studio in Philadelphia. The picture was taken in eighteen ninety-two. The young man's face is unsmiling, shy, or appears to be so Because of the shadow. One knows from other Images in the book that Murray's unshadowed gaze Can look out clear, untroubled, without mystery or guile. His body is easy in its selfhood, in its self and strength; The virtue of its perfection is only of its moment In the light and shadow. In the stillness of the photograph I cannot see the light and shadow moving As light and shadow move in the moving of a river. ii He stands against what looks like the other side Of a free-standing bookcase, with a black cloth Draped over it, and a shelf as the top of it, And on the shelf, sad, some bits and pieces Of old "fine" culture and bric-a-brac: An urn; a child's head; a carved animal Of some sort, a dog or a wolf, it's hard to tell; A bust of a goddess staring out at nothing; Something floral made of wood or plaster. "The Arcadians inhabited the earth Before the birth of Jupiter; their tribe Was older than the moon. Not as yet Enhanced by discipline or manners, their life Resembled that of beasts; they were an uncouth People, who were still ignorant of art." iii There is a strange, solemn, silent, graceless Gaiety in their dancing, the dancing of the young Ladies of Philadelphia in the anxious Saffron light of Eakin's photograph; There in the nineteenth century, dressed in their "Grecian" Long white dresses, so many years ago, They are dancing or standing still before the camera, Selfhood altered to an alien poetry, The flowers in their hair already fading; Persephone, Dryope, Lotis, or maybe only Some general Philadelphia notion of Grecian Nymph or maiden, posing, there by the river. "If those who suffer are to be believed, I swear by the gods my fate is undeserved." The light of Eakin's photograph is ancient. iv Plate 134. By Eakins. "A cowboy in the West. An unidentified man at the Badger Company Ranch." His hat, his gun, his gloves, his chair, his place In the sun. He sits with his feet in a dried-up pool Of sunlight. His face is the face of a hero Who has read nothing at all about heroes. He is without splendor, utterly without The amazement of self that glorifies Achilles The sunlike, the killer. He is without mercy As he is without the imagination that he is Without mercy. There is nothing to the East of him Except the camera, which is almost entirely without Understanding of what it sees in him, His hat, his gun, his gloves, his homely and Heartbreaking canteen, empty on the ground. v The Anasazi drink from underground rivers. The petroglyph cries out in the silence of the rock The tourist looks at. The past is beautiful. How few the implements and how carefuly made The dwelling place, against the wind and heat. Looking at a photograph, as at a petroglyph, How little there is to go on. "The darkest objects Reflect almost no light, or none at all, Causing no changes in the salt in the emulsion." In the brilliant light and heart-stifling heat, The scratchings on the surface of the rock, Utterings, scriptions, bafflings of the spirit, The bewildered eye reads nonsense in the dazzle; In the black depth of the rock the river says nothing, Reflectionless, swift, intent, purposeless, flowing. vi A picture of Eakins and a couple other people, One of them Murray, bathing in a river, The Cohansey, near Fairton, New Jersey; Eakins An old man, Murray not young; the other man, Elderly, smiling, "probably Charlie Boyers". They are patiently waiting for the picture to be taken. It is a summer evening. The photograph is overexposed, so the light and the water are almost Impossible to distinguish one from the other, In their mutual weakness; an oarless rowboat waits In the water, just clear of the rivergrass and weeds; The opposite bank of the river is hard to see In the washy blankness of the light; the sallow Flat South Jersey landscape, treeless almost, Almost featureless, stretches vaguely beyond. The Guest Ellen at the Supper for Street People The unclean spirits cry out in the body Or mind of the guest Ellen in a loud voice Torment me not, and in the fury of her unclean Hands beating the air in some kind of unendng torment- Nobody witnessing could possibly know the event That cast upon her the spell of this enchantment. Almost all the guests are under some kind of enchantment: Of being poor day after day in the same body; Of being witness still to some obscene event; Of listening all the time to somebody's voice Whispering in the ear things divine or unclean, In the quotidian of unending torment. One has to keep thinking there was some source of torment, Something that happened someplace else, unclean. One has to keep talking in a reasonable voice About things done, say, by a father's body To or upon the body of Ellen, in the enchantment Helpless, still by the unforgotten event Enchanted, still in the old forgotten event A prisoner of love, filthy Ellen in her torment, Guest Ellen in the dining hall in her body, Hands beating the air in her enchantment, Sitting alone, gabbling in her garbled voice The narrative of the spirits of the unclean. She is wholly the possessed one of the unclean. Maybe the spirits came from the river. The enchantment Entered her, maybe, in the Northeast Kingdom. The torment, A thing of the waters, gratuitous event, Came up out of the waters and entered her body And lived in her in torment and cried out in her voice. It speaks itself over and over again in her voice, Cursing maybe or not a familiar obscene event Or only the pure event of original enchantment From the birth of the river waters, the pure unclean Rising from the source of things, in a figure of torment Seeking out Ellen, finding its home in her poor body. Her body witness is, so also in her voice, Of torment comign from unknown event; Unclean is the nature and name of the enchantment.