the muse apprentice guild
--expanding the canon into the 21st century




FIVE WORKS
BY CHARLES FISHMAN

GALIXIDI NOCTURNE

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.

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MOOSE-MOON, MONTANA

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

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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

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Virginié

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.

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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.


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