The Child & Time

Published : Tuesday, August 28, 2007 | Label:   Poems  

For Henry

1
When I sit these days—
Or walk—
And wait for a poem
Mostly it’s a child that comes.
Saying, for instance,
Just past the rabbit in her sorry cage,
The convolvulus and the white roses,
I carry you?
Putting words in my mouth
And offering up the burden of himself in response.
Or at evening in the kitchen, saying
Where are you taking me?
Claiming my index finger in his small hand,
Leaning at forty-five degrees toward
Wherever that may be
And stumbling me outside,
Where we stop, and he makes me look up:
What can you see in the sky?
What can you see in the sky?

II
When I want a line
What I get is a boy
To reel back in from
Grief
Where a dream
Or a cutting tooth
Has drowned him.
What I get is a cry in the night.
What I’m asked to do is to beat out a rhythm
On his body—
As though I were his heart
And he were my soul—
And to sing and make it mean everything
And let it save us both.

III
This is the poem I wrote tonight.

I sat in bed reading my friend’s quiet poems. You lay asleep beside me, the doors of our bedroom open, the balcony a stage, the drama over, and out on the street the humid night had fallen still. In the figtrees of Arcadia some bats were wakeful yet. In his room at the end of the hall, at the back of this long and slender house, our boy half woke distressed. Something disturbs him some nights. He scratches at his stomach and squirms and cries but only half opens his eyes. And so tonight. Down the honeyed hallway I went to him and lifted him up and carried him creaking downstairs into darkness. I talked gently and wished him back to sleep, but he only cried harder, until I grew exasperated, my peace shot, and I held him firm and rattled him out of it, shook from him the dream. And somehow that worked, as sometimes it does. Upstairs I heard traffic sighing on Wigram Road as I knelt with him and lay him back upon his mattress, settled into sleep again, and pulled the green blanket over him.

This is the poem I wrote tonight.

IV
At the end of the street there’s a cliff,
And at the foot of the cliff a horse track
Where on Friday nights the trotters race.
And this is the poem the boy spoke,
Looking up at me from his buggy,
As we came home from watching, that first time,
The horses take the final bend of the final race of the night:

Horses racing buggies come-on

The child’s the string that played those words,
In whom that race was run.
Now he’s the syntax of the broken phrases of his sleep.
And I am the man beside you again,
Reading the poems my friend has written.
I am the very night.

V
I wake on the couch where I have fallen asleep hours before with the boy.
This is long ago, before we were here.
I wake with these phrases ringing:
Out of the bookish hours of the night,
Out of its elegant equations.
And I rise into the first amber moment of morning.
I look down from the kitchen window,
And everything is still and old and early.
The hoop pine is fossilized
And strung with dreams,
Here since long before the land was here
And here again this morning,
And the antique limpid air
Is become a resin in which
Something is entombed.
Back by the bed,
The alarm clock has finished its reading and done its sums,
And it wakes with the answer:
It’s time, it tells the morning.
So that the light and my boy can go on sleeping,
So that nothing will ever change,
I slip back and stop the clock.
But already it’s too late.
The day stirs.
Time has found it out.

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