BY CHARLES FISHMAN
Greece was the blue-white morning
that darkened as daylight dwindled.
Each gateway offered a shrine,
each garden the ruins of a church.
In small villages, insular as shells,
we stepped into alleyways too steep
for lingering, though a hearth
burned in the hills and a highway
circled the cliff. We drove on roads
that disappeared into a black
and starless sky, then huddled
in unlit courtyards, on wind-swept bluffs.
In Galixidi, moonlight washed a grave
some nameless king still slept in,
and the ancient blood of Greece
flooded each steeple and nook.
The tide at sea's edge tugged us:
here was the realm of the gods.
The road was unlit
except for the dim spotlights
aimed by a few stars
This was Montana, 1962:
year of coming darkness
year of promise and good news
On my way back home
I would meet you, your lost face
greeting me at the door
to a new life: our long stormy loving,
heavy weather of many decades
But that was after my return
from that night spent
on an abandoned highway
waiting for the deity to pump gas
and get our wheels turning again
on the black asphalt
That was long after the moose
knocked against the window glass
with its skull and asked to be
taken in—taking, instead,
the almost perfect darkness
of the universe in with its antlers
I had room in my heart to shelter
nature then, the quiet of a billion
acres of living forest
Sure, it scared hell out of me
when that moose nosed open the door
when its beard rasped my shoulder
But that was long before I rubbed
my beard against your musky body
before you knew no one else
could breathe the moon in you
before we lay down in darkness,
baying like star-blown wolves
IN DILMUN, THE CROWS
In Dilmun, the crow screams not,
the dar bird cries not dar-dar,
the lion kills not.
—an ancient text
Nor do the dates weigh down the palms
that have kept their silences for centuries
Water will not burble through the desert's
yellow sand nor will gazelles leap gracefully
into the cooking fires at twilight
In Dilmun, fish cry not in the gulf
of the pure spirit nor do they fill the sea
with abundance with a swift and rhapsodic
beauty Not copper but salt wind
edged with tincture of plutonium Not bronze
but slivers of singed glass And the wolf
licks the pelt of the lamb
Once, this was a thrice-blessed land
where crows sighed instead of cawing
where the lion languished in her den
and pearls grew plump as dates.
Why was this Eden abandoned?
Did its gods abscond with the rain?
Did the aging priests and temple deities
hear the dar bird singing? Did the burial
mounds bleed with coppery greed?
Or did the fish-eyes of pearls peer
too inquisitively into the future?
In Dilmun, the graveyard prospers
the journey towards death screams
with the blackness of crows Water
weeps not in the scorched silence of desert
gazelles leap not And lions kill
You are gone now, an absence,
a relief, but a sadness, too:
our Belgian (as we were your
Americans). For two weeks,
we housed you, fed you, gave you
our daughter's room. And we tried
to speak with you, though our words
were not sweet in your mouth and our
tongues could not dream in your first
or your second language. Virginié
. . . what a lovely name! There seemed
to be no harshness in you, no edge,
only distance and mild surprise, polite
curiosity and Spartan appetite—
a diffidence. You had no yen for
embellishments, but you could not leave
without tears. Virginié, we tried to give you
our sense of pleasure in this Island,
but the weather was darkness and mist-
such a gray and chilly April, nearly
March! You must have wondered
if we knew the discourse of sun.
Would we ever learn to embrace you,
as you were, in your own quiet idiom,
and not as we would have you: brash
and ebullient as ourselves? Virginié,
you would not make it easy for us,
and we named you: aloof one, she-who-
keeps-to-herself, neither kith nor
countryman, but she-who-will-go-home.
Stranger, outsider, our shy visitor,
how clearly could you see us—our distance
from peace or love? our fits of ease
and crashing tenderness? Could you hear
the rough rasp of welcome in our throats?
Virginié, I think you remembered to take
everything home with you, except this sadness
and your name.
A FIFTY YEAR OLD MAN
FOR SHAUL PORAT
New women for old, for the one
woman. For her singular
presence, expensive similitude.
It was her voice you heard
for close to thirty years. Now,
their young, their insouciant
voices approach you. She kept
you in your place; now the place
has left you. A date palm rises,
then splits in your body . . .
a soft bare tanned shoulder jimmies
memory, a sad truce of leaves
darkens underfoot. What is a man to do
with his silence, his multilingual
heart, his mind that will stay restless,
even after the gut grows soft? Failure
breathes on your neck, your knees buckle,
but you're plugging on: from Metulla to Eilat.