Two Poems
Richard Deming

Shall I Read from the History of the Battle of Thermopylae?

Now that there is nothing left, for instance,
the taste of fear dries the upper lip.
            Wood-doves rustle coppery wings along city
gates. What I want is to not want,
            not you, not the scent of mango, not the livid
faces of fashion models, their necks
            arching perversely upward.
                        Not a single moment.

            The cigarette smoke’s shapes auger thirty
                                     mornings of fraught
                        silences, cold tea, that flickering anger
            of morning
talk shows and an empty table set for three: for you,
                        for me, for the polite ghost of intensest
            A quince no one will eat rolls
                                     behind a stove cold
                                                 to the touch.
When things go bad, it gets like this.

                        Where’s the gift of sudden continuity?
            Dare say no
                        into an open well or we’ll all drown of
            such falling.

The field of middle distance is dry.
                                                 cornstalks strewn
                        all around, pointing a given direction.

                        Sing out the measure

of a narrow pass. I’ve been lost here

before. With thumb and forefinger, blot out
                        the sun,
                                     Pilgrim. So as not
to turn my back, trembling, shine towards
            the unspeakably insistent.
            With the lights
out, it’s not so far. In the movies, it’s called
day for night and I will open
my eyes to a shadow cut in the shape of your mouth.
            In the pattern of ten stars and three thousand
times three thousand
                        pearly eyes of gutted mackerel,
the map home is a logic of longitude and shame.

What if you were a Persian king, ashes covering
your forehead, your eyelashes, your scarred
                        right cheek, how would you arrive
            across a trail of broken
            leaves, mercury poisonings, the ocean’s
systemic threat and verdict? Would you
            take the shore
born aloft on a dozen strong backs?

And when articles of faith fashion
                                                 a loosened garment
            the disheveled will not return.
In the days before now, before this one stretched
                                     so wide round us,
I wanted a direct address,
                        in something else I wanted to say and
            I do not know how to ask for fresh water,
                                     for a ripened date, for three
                        pomegranate seeds.

                        On the last night of the sordid republic,
a soldier’s wife
            waves goodbye as
                                     the right nipple thickens in the
                        cold, pressing
                                     itself against her blue t-shirt.
A bright proximity is a wrong kind of silence.

            In this garden of unregenerate narrative,
see words but think:
            arrows darkening the sky

for the unseen
                        read: loss;
            for every comma reckon the ways
hope can pierce the sternum
                        in half. A rose leans near
            the open window and thrushes play
                        at voices.
The world thus put under
                        by verb and noun.

A husband runs headlong towards the river while
over his shoulder the cottage window
brackets the wife’s face in an attic room. Drapes
            stir, then she’s gone as each promise
            he does not keep
            drifts down
                        past the walls,
                                                 along the paths
            to the sea, there where
                                     children and old widows
            heap up driftwood and dried seaweed
            and this is, so please it, where I am loved.
            There are such Spartas.

After Kurosawa

for Patricia Willis

In Rashomon the rain
                                     does not sleep, sounds
            like ink-darkened pages, turning, then
                                     unwriting themselves.

In the unrecognizably literal forest
            likeness is like falling,
                                     like catching,
                                     like falling.
                                                 It is human nature to fall
                                     into the middle of things.

What matters is that in this tale someone’s dead,
                                     tied to a post and things unsaid.
Some arctic continent of unspeakable
                                     names opens wide round.

Mifune conjures close a relentless ghost, deeper than you think,
            and who’ll speak for it?—That’s where you come in.

Remember me remember
                                     what is here
                                     what is white what is true
                                     what is heat.

                                                 As you turn to go,
the weave of threadbare scrolls goes slack—
            the day becomes a draft of distances
                                     no one can bear.
                   Still, it moves:
                        Look/tell, look/tell, look/tell.

In the coming dark, everyone left until the room spun
                                     against its own
                        unblinking. Not even the story
            owns its own

            And, later, who would not wish

in the want-nothing light
                                     to wear a face
                                                              just like
                                     the rain in Rashomon.