THE UNKNOWN POETS
Who, glimpsing her crow silhouette
against a lamplit wall that night
of fog and mizzle, would ever know?
A damp trudge home with headcold sniffles,
which had been maddening to stifle
during the long hour while a famous
name recited to a packed house.
The mirror gives her a strange look
so she reopens his new book
and tries to read. It’s useless, though.
You’d almost prefer something uncouth.
If asked, she’d turn from the bookshelves
to say, We write of course for ourselves—
and no doubt blush for the half-truth.
The laureate he most admired wrote
back, just once. A world of finesse
in small black script! The other letters
went unanswered—which hurt, but then
it freed him from at least the guilt
that goes with stealing time from writers,
who need their hours at the desk.
Bless Dickinson! He told a friend
the story of her handmade booklets.
His own raw efforts cried and pled,
so at last he got them printed and bound
at the copier’s: one blue, one red,
one black. Felice, after he died,
would read them, once. And when she died….
Original but solemn, you didn’t
know a soul, no one who read much.
Sometimes perception stood and spoke,
and the ground buckled, planets wheeled—
but feeling alone’s no guarantee.
What to do with all these unsent
messages, put them in a bottle?
Plenty of empties lay around.
A page took down the pangs, line
upon line. And then? Then turned. Was gone.
At dusk, high treetops strained against
word and structure, each backlit leaf
rattling, shooting the dark rapids….
And day dawned with a perfect stillness.
(from Present, 1997)