Tangled reliquary under all surfaces.
Nothing moonlike occurs there
Only partial coves
How cool it must have been
the vat of the previous
Before these habits ordained the real.
Some of us must have seen each other
Naked in opulent dawn, our nerves
Drawn up as from an ancient well
Mossy, slick, unstuck at every seam
So we enter the sleeve of history
Out of which the magician pulls
His lawn ornaments: Dancer, Prancer,
Our Lady of Provocations, flags, targets,
The bluebird’s house.
On the adjacent field
A swarm of butterflies alights
On a bald tree. This is the Tree of Changes
Mentioned in the lost book of A.
Her auspice was a riddle,
Sphinx or no sphinx,
Whose meanings we can piece together
From her journals which were torn into bandages
To wrap the wounds of the dying.
Such wanton songs
Paginate empirical trust
And the ruse of the first place.
Not that story again, what we cannot say
To the sun as it dispenses its sheen
Out over the harbor, but only
How can you perform your agile sway
Without shelter and without us?
So the riddle of the disembodied name
Sets in motion its primal mischief
Sanctioned and forbidden in the vastly gone.
This would be a good day to go sailing
Or to wash the car, but I have
Neither boat nor car. There’s a plotless web
In the air like a banner pulling us along
Into something to look back on.
What if I wandered so far
Only to come here
To the relentless you
Have kept in store for me
Before the song, above the river,
All the names etched in stone
And only slowly annealed
To the spawning wind, in whose face
We will soon be included, having been shown
The near field’s shambles
And grace. Come here
Like a shoulder or a girl’s skipping step
Toward evening on a Friday,
Lapis amulet, Samurai sword,
Chinese silk stained with azalea,
A single earring the color of a toy globe
All stolen from a thing called April
Still wet with fresh rending. Come
Here in a language once learned
Only a few phrases remembered:
Bonjour, je t’aime, il fait beau.
Perhaps one of those popular, musical Sundays
Would save us, galloping at high speed in, out,
Only a glimpse from high up in the revised setting
Crowded with tyranny. So I wanted
Once again as a plaything, some jewel, box, horse
On which to come fleet of vision,
Glad to pretend. The cartoons sailed
Against the brocade, and the stairs
Were where the prayers were kept
Like instruments of torture
Basking in shade, the scent of new snow,
Locks of hair under glass.
The day, however,
Has spun upwards so it seems to be
A sort of chapel of divided light
And the season, punctured, leaks
Down on us old balloons from a faint dead planet.
And I had promised never again to try to
Put anything back together,
To obey the errant barge of upheavals,
Not to seek cause and effect in the prevailing wind.
But now shards of promise
Glint through the network of uneven shifts
Like the wandering voice of an ancestor
On the other side of the dunes. Bricks or dunes.
But what will I tell the children?
As in a photo of two persons dancing
There are some things we never will hear.
Shout and coo, shout and coo,
Each of us away. So one who is the one
Wants to sheath me in his ear.
Him sings his tunes
In the aberrant remonstrance. And I
Agree to this fear he tells me of
Whose words are what he cares to do.
Both hands are up in a moment
Not so much surrendered as bequeathed
To our common night. Dear dream,
Will you assist us, give pause
To any and all of these lessons,
Take us, each, into such fond technologies
That the thigh’s spasmodic hum
Frees action as well as solace.
But the eye’s horizon
Is dialectical and unreasoned,
Its gown disembodied because unsaid.
The blue floor calls itself June
And wants to lay me down
On its shine of now
And peel off the shadows
One by one until I am it.
Then sail into the air
Sheet after sheet
this and that
here and there
now and then
Only as real as what follows.
That the balloon man lost his head
That the screen fell to the floor
In a heap of landscape
That the clay pot
Lay in shards
That the dry flowers were cast
Across the rug, ancient seeds, crumbs
And the light reached all the way into the dark
As if handing it forward
From some child’s grave
From the curled soil’s boundaries
From whatever captivity
We wish to sew into artifact
But which, like the light just named,
Eludes us, frail and pinioned in the glossy tablets
Of alchemical reserve;
That the elegy is betrayed
As the child follows her hand to its sanctuary
And touches its core
And unriddles its riddle
In the beckoning need
That the cluster of disavowal gives way
And could not be shy
Ann Lauterbach has published ten collections of poetry, most recently Spell (Penguin), as well as several chapbooks and collaborations with visual artists, including work with Ann Hamilton, Lucio Pozzi, and Ellen Phelan. She has written on art and poetics in relation to cultural value, notably in a book of essays, The Night Sky: Writings on the poetics of experience (Penguin). She has written catalogue essays on Cheyney Thompson and Taylor Davis, among others, and has been a visiting critic (sculpture) at Yale. Her 2009 volume, Or to Begin Again, was nominated for a National Book Award. Her poems have been translated into French and German. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, The New York State Foundation for the Arts, Ingram Merrill, and The John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation. Since 1990, she has served as Co-chair of Writing in the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts and, since 1997, David and Ruth Schwab Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College. She has been a contributing editor to Conjunctions since 1984. A native New Yorker, she lives in Germantown, New York.