(She who taught me to “listen hard” in the tradition of Anne Sexton and so many others before us. I slipped this poem under her screen door on a late-summer night in 1996 — and share it again today on what would have been her 66th birthday.)
One night let’s invite da Vinci and St Francis of Assisi
to drink red wine from half carafes,
sit by the fire in this glacial room
where the soul of the world’s in orbit,
try to forget that each gift could be the last,
Do anything to stave off the inevitable:
Store evaporated milk in reusable cans,
keep pens and paper and candles at hand.
Late, when the guests have passed out, let’s drag the dead
weight of distraction from the living room chairs
and wait for the night to cease, for day to end,
for time’s implosion.
It’s a private affair—
the uninvited do not even perceive the web
the host of characters at the table,
the guardian spirits lurking,
the unlocked doors of time collapsing,
the fire of dreams, the disguise of flame.
They can’t fathom the orgies and nectar flowing
around this house some mornings,
the bands of birds here, plump and raucous,
who are memory, who are greed.
The men who did not know her yet
Carried her body across this field
Where my house now stands. She hovers.
The bell counts.
She was called back. I was called forward.
Wearing cotton tunics,
let’s stand on a cliff beneath the watery sky:
clasp hands, swan-dive.
We who go like spies through the world—
we can be the winning pictures,
the lost negatives, the grateful scribes.
Miss & love you, Deborah. Happy birthday.
February 6, 1950 – April 10, 2009