From WTP Vol. V #9
By Richard Hoffman
At first I held out my hands, then my arms,
to welcome and hold
all that was offered. In time I learned
that none of it could be abandoned.
Having wanted so much, having accepted so much,
now possessing so much,
what could I do but carry it? I learned
how to walk slightly bent and adjust my gait to the terrain
and to the pace of those I love.
A song about a song is a kind of prayer,
and I needed to pray,
but failed for the need to be sure I was heard,
nor had I some other way
to be grateful, nor to imagine another motive
for bothering to be.
To see the amber moon whiten
rising in the darkening sky
requires peace, and even now
a lover to tell you your head
grows heavier drifting into sleep.
Who else might spare you
from becoming someone else
again? Who else offer refuge
now from self-injury? Love
is required, yes, but also fact:
the moon from night to night
changes as if our own vast
shadow, otherwise invisible,
were passing over it like memory,
but that’s illusion— our shadow,
though dark and far-reaching,
has nothing to do with it —
and love, I have come to believe,
has little to do with memory,
and what it calls for one has
in the present or not at all,
so I can say only that tonight,
as you quieted, and your breath
slowed, your tired white head,
resting on my shoulder, seemed
heavier and even dearer to me.
And the ragged birds of grief had their work to do as well,
our misereres their summons, our indignation,
our tears their signal to gather and wheel,
while down below, where we cannot
and do not wish to see, our beloved is still
not entirely earth, still largely memory.
So now I know memory
has distance in it,
something like pleasure
in seeing the rain
a mile or so away across the harbor?
come steadily closer,
or looking up
from under the lamp on the bridge at snow
that appears to come unending from the darkness,
swirling like summer’s moths,
then, as it nears,
(and as it nears it comes faster
or seems to)
I resign myself
to breathing the air Gautama
and Stalin, during their brief seasons,
shared with the trees
because now I understand I was unfaithful
to the wordless oath I swore in my mother’s womb,
to never not desire to be,
and so ineligible, for all that time, for joy.
Here hibiscus blooms midsummer
and I try to conceive of time
without numbers, as nothing I can ask
to identify itself in any language I might understand:
how long has it taken
for the ivy, trembling on this crumbling wall
to have climbed this far? The wind
would tear the leaves from the vine
if they were any other shape. And we
require of ourselves and one another
too many things we imagine necessary.
Richard Hoffman has published four volumes of poetry, Without Paradise; Gold Star Road, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize and the Sheila Motton Award from The New England Poetry Club; Emblem; and his new collection Noon until Night. His other books include the celebrated Half the House: a Memoir, published in a 20th Anniversary Edition in 2015, the 2014 memoir Love & Fury, and the story collection Interference and Other Stories. His work, both prose and verse, appears in such journals as Agni, Barrow Street, Consequence, Harvard Review, Hudson Review, The Literary Review, The Manhattan Review, Poetry, Witness, and elsewhere. A former Chair of PEN New England, he is Senior Writer in Residence at Emerson College in Boston.