VALENTINE'S DAY, 2003
By the heart, the heart is shaped for use.
Sweet Valentine, think on thy Proteus.
Heart and shaper of the heart.
One a swift violent muscle,
the other pure impetus: digitalis
of metaphor setting the changing
pace. Steady waves on the hospital chart
or a spin in Death's speedboat—
Consider the dangerous white wake
in which we surface.
Wish me partake in thy happiness
When thou dost meet good hap
The first plane flies into the building.
The second into the heart's history.
And in thy danger
If ever danger do environ thee
Your death and the world's dying
seem, to me, one. Bomb strapped on
the chest, left side. A man stepping off a lit deck
into singing air.
Commend thy grievance to my holy prayers
For I was the one you loved
though each act of terror took away
the perspective of measured breath.
For I will be thy beadsman, Valentine
Beadsman now and this beating heart—
as the speedboat turns back across its own churning wake.
Terror and love, word & gesture, our hap. This sweet awful day.
That their statues are broken,
that their temples are empty
doesn't mean that they are dead, the gods.
The gods never die—but memory
clears itself like the sky over Ionia—
Ionia the dream that is always forgotten
at dawn. The eyes of the god, the upturned
eyes, take in everything, nothing escapes
that gaze—then it is all enveloped in fire,
invisible fire of waking, the shudder of
returning consciousness, the lit blades.
But once I caught the winged figure, indistinct,
ascending. I saw him turn back and stare at me,
not able to erase what he knew I'd seen. His eyes
implicated in the loss, sudden pathos—then disappearance
over the bright hills.
Was I sleeping, while the others suffered?
You asked, because you were Vladimir
And it was your turn to speak, to cry out
Astride the grave, a difficult birth …
Then I was terrified of you and your
transient's heart, your hat pulled down
to your eyes, bewhiskered, old—your
gaze young, demented, blue. It occurred
to me that we'd never come to a crossroads.
Or we'd always come to a crossroads. The
two tramps were waiting, but we never
waited for each other. Habit is a great
deadener, Vladimir said, but we never
lived with habit. You sat up in bed,
you howled as I philosophized, your face alight.
Leaves fell upward. We laughed, weightless,
pulled down by gravity. Each day was unlike
the others. For years at a time, years at
a time, remember? Or not.
Nothing in our lives was ever usual.
Copyright © 2008 by Carol Muske-Dukes. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.