Poetry Month: Day Nineteen

Today was summer and it was beautiful, but it wasn’t right. I woke up because of the choking humidity and wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep. But I was too warm to be comfortable and the light coming in my window was practically green, so there would be none of that. Even as my skin started to freckle and burn all day, there was a constant cool wind that said a storm was on its way, and to make sure the windows are shut. I’ve left mine open and put my Our Lady of Guadalupe candles in the window, but the birds start singing only to stop again, and there aren’t any crickets out yet. It’s all just very unsettling.

To calm my season-related anxiety, I’m reading aloud to myself the poem that gave my first blog its name. If you think you know everything there is (or everything you care to) about the Beat Poets, but haven’t read any Kenneth Rexroth, I’ll ask you to use the next five minutes or so to reconsider.

When We with Sappho

“. . . about the cool water 
the wind sounds through sprays 
of apple, and from the quivering leaves 
slumber pours down . . .”

We lie here in the bee filled, ruinous 
Orchard of a decayed New England farm, 
Summer in our hair, and the smell 
Of summer in our twined bodies, 
Summer in our mouths, and summer 
In the luminous, fragmentary words 
Of this dead Greek woman. 
Stop reading. Lean back. Give me your mouth. 
Your grace is as beautiful as sleep. 
You move against me like a wave 
That moves in sleep. 
Your body spreads across my brain 
Like a bird filled summer; 
Not like a body, not like a separate thing, 
But like a nimbus that hovers 
Over every other thing in all the world. 
Lean back. You are beautiful, 
As beautiful as the folding 
Of your hands in sleep.

We have grown old in the afternoon. 
Here in our orchard we are as old 
As she is now, wherever dissipate 
In that distant sea her gleaming dust 
Flashes in the wave crest 
Or stains the murex shell. 
All about us the old farm subsides 
Into the honey bearing chaos of high summer. 
In those far islands the temples 
Have fallen away, and the marble 
Is the color of wild honey. 
There is nothing left of the gardens 
That were once about them, of the fat 
Turf marked with cloven hooves. 
Only the sea grass struggles 
Over the crumbled stone, 
Over the splintered steps, 
Only the blue and yellow 
Of the sea, and the cliffs 
Red in the distance across the bay. 
Lean back. 
Her memory has passed to our lips now. 
Our kisses fall through summer’s chaos 
In our own breasts and thighs.

Gold colossal domes of cumulus cloud 
Lift over the undulant, sibilant forest. 
The air presses against the earth. 
Thunder breaks over the mountains. 
Far off, over the Adirondacks, 
Lightning quivers, almost invisible 
In the bright sky, violet against 
The grey, deep shadows of the bellied clouds. 
The sweet virile hair of thunder storms 
Brushes over the swelling horizon. 
Take off your shoes and stockings. 
I will kiss your sweet legs and feet 
As they lie half buried in the tangle 
Of rank scented midsummer flowers. 
Take off your clothes. I will press 
Your summer honeyed flesh into the hot 
Soil, into the crushed, acrid herbage 
Of midsummer. Let your body sink 
Like honey through the hot 
Granular fingers of summer.

Rest. Wait. We have enough for a while. 
Kiss me with your mouth 
Wet and ragged, your mouth that tastes 
Of my own flesh. Read to me again 
The twisting music of that language 
That is of all others, itself a work of art. 
Read again those isolate, poignant words 
Saved by ancient grammarians 
To illustrate the conjugations 
And declensions of the more ancient dead. 
Lean back in the curve of my body, 
Press your bruised shoulders against 
The damp hair of my body. 
Kiss me again. Think, sweet linguist, 
In this world the ablative is impossible. 
No other one will help us here. 
We must help ourselves to each other. 
The wind walks slowly away from the storm; 
Veers on the wooded crests; sounds 
In the valleys. Here we are isolate, 
One with the other; and beyond 
This orchard lies isolation, 
The isolation of all the world. 
Never let anything intrude 
On the isolation of this day, 
These words, isolate on dead tongues, 
This orchard, hidden from fact and history, 
These shadows, blended in the summer light, 
Together isolate beyond the world’s reciprocity.

Do not talk any more. Do not speak. 
Do not break silence until 
We are weary of each other. 
Let our fingers run like steel 
Carving the contours of our bodies’ gold. 
Do not speak. My face sinks 
In the clotted summer of your hair. 
The sound of the bees stops. 
Stillness falls like a cloud. 
Be still. Let your body fall away 
Into the awe filled silence 
Of the fulfilled summer — 
Back, back, infinitely away — 
Our lips weak, faint with stillness.

See. The sun has fallen away. 
Now there are amber 
Long lights on the shattered 
Boles of the ancient apple trees. 
Our bodies move to each other 
As bodies move in sleep; 
At once filled and exhausted, 
As the summer moves to autumn, 
As we, with Sappho, move towards death. 
My eyelids sink toward sleep in the hot 
Autumn of your uncoiled hair. 
Your body moves in my arms 
On the verge of sleep; 
And it is as though I held 
In my arms the bird filled 
Evening sky of summer.

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