I heard whispers in the distance
But it was only snow falling
On the wings of crows in trees at night.
I think you missed me once, before
We listened to the ocean and
Its sounding out of names on the sand.
Now we know nothing, more or less,
But how to describe the moment
Of a gull landing on a grey pier.
The sea here is not yet frozen.
It is restless and flecked with white.
I taste it on my lips, slightly bitter.
The sky is clear tonight. I see
The moon running away with you.
About the particulars of a thing they are often wrong
At first, the physicists: beginning, as they do,
With the poorly understood. But they have the advantage
Of equations out of which they build and test
Theories to play out in quantum and gravitational fields.
And the numbers, more exact than any brush
Flourishes of masters old or new, do render
Past, present, and future positions of bodies heavy with inertia
And of their shadows perfectly against the faces of suns
And on the hunched and nebulae-draped
Shoulders of distant galaxies shivering in darkness:
White sprays of air bubbles freezing into
The first thin ice of a winter pond.
You and I, however, whether us in particular
(And you know who I mean—I hear it
In that ribald riff of your laughter), or us in general,
Must work forever with approximations
Thinner even than metaphors of ice. Our ears
Our eyes our hands our hips must always proceed
Through guesswork. Only our lips ever shape anything
Nearly right. Our tongues are always tied.
The two names I know for you
I repeat over and over
Under my breath so low, even alone,
I can barely hear them
The one with round sounds
And the abrupt knot of an ending:
That one’s like a balloon filled
With the laughter of a warm room
The other is all angles and
Corners that won’t be seen around;
That one trails off into the remote
Hazy distance of a vowel
I hold both on my tongue
In the night, savor your salt and scent
I see your face in stillness,
Caught in the moment of a smile. And hear,
Faint in the low tones of the wind,
Your laughter across the miles between us.
It snowed some here yesterday.
When I told you, you spoke of windows, curtains
Opened, a fire in the night. Memories
Exist in movements of hands, lips.
Tonight I slept very little.
I listened to machines in the streets
Outside my windows. I couldn’t hear the wind.
The sun will come up soon, I suppose.
I wonder if your laughter will arrive
With it, a wash of bright colors.
Though the moon seems now
To cycle faster, faster,
Neither days nor nights
Grow any shorter with age
(Only my hair disappears).
This year I almost missed the asters,
Their muted purple hazing the hillsides.
Fortunately, once they ignite to bloom,
They burn for weeks; miniature stars,
Life span scaled down with everything else,
Collapsing towards their cores—must be
This increasing density draws me out
Briefly from my early hibernation,
Back to the shortening hours of sunlight
Before they, too, shrink away, dwindle
Down to insignificance. I stand here
On the slope everything will descend
Eventually. Even you will fall
With me among the cold ashes of stars.
It is autumn now, and down by the creek
The trees bend in the northwest wind and wait
For nights to bring frost with long, thin fingers
Wielding scraggled and wispy brushes to
Paint everything with the colours of fire
While clouds roil and stream away in dark wisps
Under the swollen moon crouched on thin legs
At the edge of its wide white web of stars
To hatch a pale brood of spiderlings
Who will spin soon, in long and twisted strands,
Winter storms that freeze the creek and drift snow
Over this grass yellowing and matting
On the bank in the weak afternoon sun
While I remember your lips warm in the night.