Ad Deum, qui laetificat juventutem meam.
In me my dead lie dying, faint and fading
voices held in the hollow of the curve of sea.
I see them now in mythic places lit
by the votive candle’s flicker, a penny’s worth
of light, censored of remembrance, that coils
and scents these aisles of time.
In the mix of memory and myth I see the house
high above the gray wash of dock side water
where unknown things drift and where, in childhood dream,
the erratic clang of bell floats in from harbor mouth.
Small waves slap soft against pitted pilings.
The curling water floats out the weed like hair
then purls black rock barnacled white and beige.
I wake to mist and morning dazzle; feel
the amber gaze of glass eyed gulls
perched on the gray slate roof outside
the room that smells of cat where my battered
wooden horse peers with painted eyes
at the mist wreathed rim of sea and sky.
On peeling, patterned paper, forever young,
God high upon a mountain top, a pictured cousin laughs.
Someone’s husband owned a farm outside a town
which held, wine sweet, the gloria of ancient bells
chaliced by Roman walls. Flowers burned in dew tipped grass
where I lie in the clovered carpet of my magic world,
sit on the bridge that grows across the stream
where silver fish nibble my naked toes. I dreamed
forevers in mayfly hours not knowing I would live
my love in one summer of a day then wake
to find my kingdom ruled by others who did not know
Faces, ill remembered; half forgotten places.
An uncle owned a factory. A cousin blinded
in a war. An aunt that no one spoke of.
Politician. Baker. Priest.
There is a tall sideboard; polished oak, brass hinges,
knives, pearl handles slotted in their proper place.
My changeling face swims in the silver bowls
of serving spoons guarded by trident forks
Neptune is carved on the cupboard door which hides
the shell thin china. He watches as I trace
his tendrilled hair till it tangles in a wreath
of weed. Tip-toed I can see the polished top
where, sepia in a silver frame, a tall man
with fierce mustache leans heavy on a cane.
I dreamed my friends in flowered spring
as lilaced May grew summer folk.
I played in the harvest of my peopled day,
in haloed smiles of Christmas faces
but all the names are jumbled or forgot.
Forgive. Forgive. I was springtimed,
busy being Arthur, too busy being king
to know your names, to be gentled by gnarled
fingers, the loving touch of pudgy hands
sweet with cake, the benediction
of slim fingers cool on summer skin.
Out of hearing’s touch your nameless faces
smile beside my bed. I strain to find you
in morning mist and dreams, to read your names
on the parchment of my hand, to hear you
in the kite’s sweet swoop, in the hum
of summer sky as I lie curled beneath a tree
reading of Robin and eat the comers
from each delicious page while a sleeping uncle
plays my friar, froth mustache painted on his lip.
I am last and left the task; separate the Carlies
from the Jims, the Ellens from the Anns. No one now
can tell the grammar of their way and make simple
the syntax of their days.
Grandmother, you would remember. Large with life
you would remember as you play your jokes
on my doting father. You are joking now
lying small beside your bed in the silken box
My father’s clever hands surely made for you.
The candle sheens on wood and polished brass.
I have seen my father’s hand mirrored
at the morning shave: smiled to hear in teacup talk
the ring and rise of mother’s lilt and burr
above the steam and I am child again, green-gold
beneath the timeless tree that grows in endless
hallow of evening play. My sister calls, her voice
floats in lilac air as my brother, returned
from school yard jousts, lifts me to his shoulders
to carry me up the stairs to the scented steam
of magic meals, to sweets, sweeter than any sweet
could ever be, and ever was again.
I am left the last, the one who joyed the book,
the tasted word on the nibbled pages of my world.
I am the remembrancer who forgot. In me
all that ever was, now is.
Mother, I see you tethered by the pain
I would, but cannot, even now, forget.
You wake from some past vision, see me
man in years, as raw kneed awkward boy
and send me out to play.
Father, you are done with jokes, with memories.
Photographs are gone. I find their silver bones
in cardboard boxes. You are silent now building
forgetfulness from scraps; a chessboard, the box
to hold the pieces that you carved, left without
a word. You read late. Light spills out
beneath your door and when you die we find
an open book beside your bed.
Sister, you are orphaned now to me,
to my love and guilty anger. You take so long,
so long, to die and I am tired in nightlight dark
and the blear and bum of days I stagger through.
You are white on white, barely mounding sheets
bleached and stiff with starch. I tend you,
as you had cared for me as child; feed you,
clean you, fill the silence of your fear
with sound to pass as talk. I am nodding, dozing,
rapped in a shawl of sorrow and of guilt,
when you ask, small upon your bed, if you are dying now.
I know (but I had always known) what you would do
and buried you, as we had buried mother,
on my birthing day.
Oh ladies, sich a gift ye gied me.
Brother, you can never know that once
I would have died to live as you; bright
where I was dark, swift where I was slow.
You drew away as each one died, remade the legend
of your life until we faced each other across
this last and common grave where you, my knight
in muddied boots who tamed the dragons
in my boyhood dreams, turned away to take
condolences from friends I did not know.
You took the marrow of our years; left memory
brittle bone. You took, until I thought there was nothing
left for you to take, and then you died
and took the mourning too.
Now all my life seems drifted dream,
a wreath of mist on a curve of sky.
The past I dream now seems a dream itself,
a candle snuffed, its little smoke shadowed
on the wall and I see my shadow on the wall
in my next-to-Sunday best, cloistered
from the playing day, fidgeting as a maiden aunt
rituals through her ambered joys and sorrows.
Throned uncles, folded hands on the blessing
of their bellies, nod indulgent in the drone
of family offerings.
I need your magic Merlin. Live me backward
through all my days to where the high, sweet sun
sings holy in the tree-ribbed vault
of arching sky. Live me back and I will sit
tucked in a comer, see tired uncles nod,
hear the click of needles as forgiving aunts
knit simple talk. Live me back that I may know
their names, hear my sister’s voice in honeyed air,
see the sparks as my brother clatters up the stairs
Mother, find me now that raw kneed awkward boy
you sent to play. Hold him. Hold him forever
flowered in the harbor of you arms.
Father, my fight bums late. I am silent
hewing things of cross grained sound,
painting pasts with words that I might
make live, a little longer, these dead who die
Children, let your houses sing.
In the beat, the metronome of time,
feel, uncounted, the cadenced years
as your children windchime down your days.
You are the staff, the notes they sing
in the mass that they must make.
Hold them, as I now hold, loved and loving
in the dying of my years.
I praise my children and my children’s children
and I sing.
Ite, missa est.