Eleanor Wilner

Facing into It

for Larry Levis

So it is here, then, after so long, and after all—
as the light turns in the leaves in the old golden
way of fall,
as the small beasts dig to the place
at the roots where survival waits, cowardly crouching
in the dark,
as the branches begin to stretch into winter,
freed of their cheerful burden of green, then

it comes home, the flea-ridden bitch of desolation,
a thin dog with its ribs exposed like a lesson
in mathematics, in subtraction; it comes home, to find its bowl
empty—then the numberless
things for which to be grateful dissolve
like the steam from a fire just doused with water
on a day of overcast grays, lined
by a cold slanting rain—
it is October, that season when Death
goes public, costumed, when the talking heads
on the TV screen float up smiling at the terrible
news, their skin alight with the same strange glow
fish give off when they have been dead a week or more,
as the gas company adds odor for warning
that the lines may be leaking, the sweet smell of disaster
hanging, invisible, in the air, a moment
before you strike the match—

it is then, brother, that I think of you, of your Caravaggio,
of the head of Goliath swung by its hair,
wearing the artist's own weary expression,
exhausted of everything but its desire
for that beautiful David he used to be; and I think
of all the boys walking the streets
each carrying the severed head of the man
he will become—and the way I bear it is
to think of you, grinning, riding high in the cart leaving
the scene, a pair of huge horses hauling the wagon,
a fine mist rising from their damp shoulders,
unconcerned with what hangs, nailed
to the museum walls—luckily
the fall of Icarus has nothing to do with them,
nor the ruined Goliath who fell like a forest,
nor the wretched Salomes with their blood-splattered
platters, nor the huge stone griffins sobbing
at the gates to Valhalla as the litters are carried past ...

the dark eyes of the horses are opaque with wisdom,
their hoofs strike the pavements with such a musical decision,
the derisive curl of their lips is so like the mysterious
smile on the angel at Chartres, on Kuan Yin, on the dolphin,
as they pull the cart safe through the blizzards
of Main Street, the snow slowly swallowing the signs
though the crossing light beckons—
a soft glowing green like some spectral Eden
in the blank white swirl of the storm.

The stallion neighs once, sends a warm cloud
of breath into the snow-filled air,
and the mare isn't scared yet—at least
she's still pulling. There's a barn out there
somewhere, as they plow through the light's
yellow aura of caution, its warm glow
foretelling what hides in the storm:
a stall full of gold, where the soul—
that magician—can wallow
and winter in straw.
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