Saturday, October 30, 2010

Looking for Sheila

or Sarah or Cynthia or some sibilant other
feminine ending "Time is the prose
that writes me down," to go with this:
Why this is Hell, nor am I out of it . . .

Dawn of the sixties. Old brown clapboard
Parrington Hall with its stone veranda
not far from the avenue where I last saw
Roethke, entering the café with Bluestone

and I had nothing to say I had not said
already, the thank yous, the encomiums,
and soon Roethke would die; Bluestone’s
work in film crucial to my dissertation.

But nothing can bring back the woman
I wonder is still alive, whose great line
of poetry has gone with me everywhere
I was alive over the last half-century.

No one knows her name. As the poet
I asked replied, We were so full of life
and did not add, How could anyone be
remembered in Shakespeare’s shadow?

Unless Marlowe were Shakespeare,
unless Sheila or Sarah or Cynthia or
. . . what her line of poetry meant
lies where all of her poem has gone.

I remember she loved The Jew of Malta.
Marlowe’s Faustus for me: why not care
Mephistopholes has all the answers
that will cost you no less than your soul.

Why this is Hell, nor am I out of it . . ."
Time is the prose that writes me down."
He walked into the office. His tennis limp
followed him in. Big bear of a man. Roethke

saw sitting there one to whom he thoughtfully
remarked, "Sometimes you wait half your life"
and I have, you have, we all have, the country
waits still. I was twenty-four the day he died.

Ms. Bishop came up from Rio for a year.
She wrote to Lowell about Roethke’s city.
She walked among the graves at Mukilteo.
She strolled the beach at Alki. She flew home.

The year before she arrived in Seattle to take
Roethke’s chair, the most natural poet of all
the young gifted with a voice they must find
once they found shepherds to tend their lambs

was not waiting but ready to learn what Bishop
taught her, and David Wagoner shepherded
her toward Elegies for the Hot Season,
the first book to engrave her name on its spine.

Brazil was always the beloved country
of the poet of maps of the illumined dark.
Elizabeth! her beloved cried. They embraced
on tarmac, renewing what little time was left.

Every poet dies with time, as do the poems
poets leave unfinished. Or so the odds are.
Lace your drink with literature. Wrap flesh
that’s left around the flesh that loves you.

If this is the midpoint, what will the end
be like, and will the day be warm or cold?
Each morning rise and learn to walk again
as far as the desk where little demons blink

on screen and fingers fit themselves to keys
where once you wrote in longhand and said
all of it aloud as many times as necessary
to memorize what you had not yet written,

it was strange now the way your words went
neither west nor south nor east nor north
but here, where I hear a wispy slip of a lass
say, "Time is the prose that writes me down."

               (for Mike, Joan, Henry, and Sandra)

(8–30 October 2010)

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