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Two Elegies

I remember a tree of a painting.

My whiter rings worn poor from prayer.

Saturday, a fawn wing sung of women and of woods:

“We heap the pearls, we loose the ground,

and some go godward with a rose.”

There sat a little man like a silver birth tree.

A crowd in my ear where a woman with love would mirth me.

Her voice sliding rum from a songbeaker

rang the rimed, gray, waned glass, 

and sent me into a drying river.

My young hand in clay, I cocked the swan’s neck,

and, as the old bearer brought to rest

in the tents of the trees, he spoke to me:

“O paint early with your young voice 

in the boat houses, in a raft in July

where a man after fifty cups

cool reeds to his face, and knows 

the harbor is sane. I am waiting hand 

opened to you, a drink in the other,

and my head is sand.”

And I said to him: “I remember you.

Sunday, a wife in your pupil,

white limbs in the kiln.

Why didn’t they show you to us? 

We were your children in the brush

and only on the canvas did we fold away 

from your likeness into flux.”

And said the swan:

“A mimic’s feeling somewhere sad,

he speaks groundward

mouth on urn

grape broken tongue 

and wild grow his bones.”

We feed July to the geese

in jeweled wakes diverging, holding 

the sky’s cloth like a mast

while white clovers knot us to the past. 


I. Streamside

A perfect scene: a voice unwarrantedly 
sweet exiting the shade: a man’s red mouth 
rough cheeks white skin: in wood—a gondolier
plays the scattered pieces of his fiddle-form 
in broken light and audience estranged
from living sound: but sweetly arcs his song:
with the innocent abandon of a child
sleepwalking in his father’s nightshirt
he calls us into him: the sky a crowd
of filaments: the waving anthers itch 
the tree: silver moths: a white fabric cast 
over the wall above his chest: a still
life of pears grapes lilacs other flora:
Robert is my father he sings opera

II. Children with Flashlights

So the torches fly to him
so we run the lights’ small
radii around our feet: roots
catching the arcs: breaking the
the rings and rings around us:
cloths against the phosphorus 
organs: walling the surround:
woods up bear up the liquid in the
top sky glass: soil in it turns
the upside world to shadow shows:
blue-gray lawn: damp dawn for
head lamps: and flying as with
wine into the dark glass of him

III. Under the Proscenium

Play: play speechless on the springs wild and
watered woods red hares play out in gray gags
under the mark and mask: palsy a plum in a basket
with his strung speech shuddering: how easy it is
to stray in the parts of an actor’s life:
move the angel over the child’s head like this
and in his likeness though wooden it works 
wonders without words: all is here for hiding:
he never was himself: we crowd in him:
icebulbs gathering on bluebells: woods
falling in a cicatrix of water: sugar to cake
this petal: this April snow: this winter 
reclaims his sweetened life: the buds 
recoiling in the shock of its art 
show us that pain is candy on the harp

IV. What Children Learn

Now sing in place: but low as to a sleeping
child or love or: sing in place of me
but with your mouth against a wall into
the floor or into water as the moon 
does: frozen over frozen youth with blue
tide curving over those young eyes: it’s painless
a dream of fatherland: two of us running 
down the head: stream after stream recycling all 
until it all seems suddenly so still:
an endless afternoon descends on you:
so you look up to see the trees’ bare fruit:
you are still growing on the hill:
you’ll sleep better knowing how it tastes:
there is a bitterness being awake

V. The Insect King

A clicking stone: it rests on eyes a touch
too wet but drying: opening a blink
then shutting: sticking each time to itself:
a beetle eating grapes:
he’s under the piano with a green
one buried down there: will you come and play?
everything begs for an accompaniment:
the bench is dusted but the phantom-limbed
musician won’t arrive or if he does
what strength is left for fingering the keys?
Try my clumsy music on the insect:
one low note and he pauses with a click:
lost: relishing in the echo: he grows
peaceful: and then resumes as he’s supposed

VI. Winter Carries over Summer

No melting in July now: no mourning songs
one tracing water dries: one wilting writes:
O singular jongleur sing: from noise crowded
on small yellow leaves fall elegies:
turn a season’s woods to still columns:
learn a myth perching the nightingales:
rehearse your madness so when it comes I
can still love. Is that possible?
Either madness or a heart stopped ends 
love: words fill darkly with a world and songs
empty themselves into this type: this real
strain of sickness: more characters to line 
the minds of children following their parents
to a still place where love is just resistance.

VII. Song

There was a myth of innocence:
a boy and carpenter would dance
together on an almond stage
constructed for the marriage
of the boy’s mother and a god
(or possibly a invalid
who promised money in return)
she let her modest orchard burn
to clear the hillside for a ring
surrounded by fresh garlanding
prosceniums to stand above
a painted sea and orchestra
but her betrothed disappeared
left son and wood and carpenter


“What change is in your pockets?” I, the grave-
robber asked. I set a peach on the landing.
It withered with the rest. Pillows paved
the yard. Light, as feathers, fell, lightly candling
us at the feet of stars. The unearthed earth
cooled up on me, and while I was unsleeving
your jacket to give it some of my warmth,
I said, “Exactly eighteen years of grieving
must mean something.” I double checked my watch.
No one was here. The sleeves with flesh pink lining
fell damp and cold. I went to fetch the peach
I’d left when I was twelve years old. “Remind me,
what does anything mean?” sang old Robert
the dysphoric beneath the willow tree.

IX. Memory

Quiet me: show me a landing in the woods 
where he is painting: a tree arched above 
as if it holds him up with strings:
he makes the stairs from stumps climbing the gray
brush tinting the low hill and plasters ice
on the slats and roof: over the windows 
he draws a blank and bottomless horizon:
we become him in July: we cover the inside
with sheets: run on the porch as if on stage
and speak only to the tree: when ice
separates from its leaves: with pin-hole pipes
forming as the water drains: it sings wind 
through every narrow corridor of breath in 
you: life a shiver: a brush clinks in the tin

X. Ice Sheet 

Push on the frozen thing: and you will change.
Fingers warm: empty their warmth on slight dents:
wet finger-rests for notes on a recorder.
Press longer and clear sockets open outward:
they taper at the edges: barely gaining depth: 
I look for eyes in a hollow: I look for music 
on the window: tears under the rug
and a stream nowhere: soon enough I’ll drain 
this hand completely: I’ll be numb: it’s useless:

How can you make the dead cry.
I’m breaking my room. The cement dried
recording the hand of an absentminded child
or parts of the face of an older man’s head.

XI. Father’s Song

I had a clock it woke all day
in hiccupped white embattled cries
I broke my glasses on the street
to blind my sense of dignity
and wrapped the sheets as knocking on
a filmy door as knocking on
a rough body of water
a dust sheet pinned over
a soft pedal organ I once
moaned long over life
and my palm fitted most
of my son it was as if
some discord kept my feet airborne
and my head planted down in quartz 

Jonathan Thirkield is the author of The Waker’s Corridor (LSU Press). He teaches programming at The New School.