Sport 25: Spring 2000
Cecilia Bartoli sings in the living room.
The brandy balloon with brandy and milk
invites the reverent handling of a chalice.
O clear alchemic warbling as if
a soul might tug on a string and stay
glass empty of its libation and milky.
Over the white bedcover and sheets comes
the idea of angel wings, the force
of heavenly persuasion, the escape
through so many competing jostling atoms
the path opening at your feet, the few scratches
your bewildered subdued voice on the phone.
Days, hours, perhaps mere minutes before
standing firmly, one hand braced, one free
to point or balance or gesture or conduct
your step will come and who will see it?
And after you have stepped and fallen
got up, and decided to step is better
and falling will falter, and on and on
the steps will come and run together
until the years like gates are stepped through
and the days like doors, the weeks
and everything opens, a tread
makes arches, altars, entrances.
Past midnight and to be discovered as
an imposter: not the mother who usually
comes to reach arms into the cot
but a grandmother in a long white nightdress
who has to stand silently while your eyes
close to blue resentful slits, flicker
then watch again: how long
can that slit last? And will someday
this be the image of a ghost?
On your second wakening I take
the little bottle of goat's milk from the fridge
warm it and carry you to the rocking chair
some ancient grandmother knowledge and you
scorning the bottle plunge against my breast
both a protest and a compliment
and as the light softens imperceptibly
we go on rocking until you accept
sleep again and the guardian by your cot.
I lay all night on a sleepless pillow:
that odd example from a grammar primer
comes to mind as I half-fall, half-roll
out of bed in the early morning
and feel my way for a glass of water.
Sleep, that heavy, storm-tossed thing,
seems like a dark dense heaven
in which some catharsis must be passed:
holding a bridge against foes
swimming for hours in choppy waters
having faith and firm endeavour
for which sleep will stab and release
you. But here by the kitchen door are stars
deeper than sleep could ever take you they
burn into the element they come to cool in
the opposite of us: they burn to go out
in a billion years' time, whereas we
seek a few hours' oblivion to begin.
Angrily I take out the soft honey-coloured rubber
and leave crumbs on the pages where
rhymes are circled and margin comments
and, once, an inferior, imitating poem.
Who has needed to explain these poems
with underlinings? Not Mary Oliver*
who wrote them, taking into account
the spaces and the space around the spaces.
* Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, 1992.