To See Through It
Horizon blotted out by fog, the world
blurs to a lowest common lump of cold
clay underneath one’s feet, a chilly nub
hooed and hallooed at by incessant foghorns.
They say it will burn off.
To burn this broth of rust and milk and salt
is to ignite a cloud, set fire to water.
Seeing the least thing clearly thus becomes
a hopeless goal. Yet—since there are no shadows
dancing in meadows—let me try to part
the blistery mist curtains, frame one face.
Omens of death have fluttered all week long
like starved mosquitos through the soupy air.
Let me pierce fogsheets down to the first scar.
A furtive slurp reveals the seamy side.
Spread seaweed dries to ochre of old brass,
gleaming yet dull, and salty shards of glass
appear like teeth. As if ten feet of water
could break the fogspell, fix the rare enamel
of precious days, I want it to be over,
the soggy process, thick nutritious smell,
the too slow rhythm of this heavy lapping.
Naked and bald, the beach is begging: Add
water and serve if you want brightness now.
All week high tide’s at night. A full moon pulls
a rope of pearls through blackness. In our skulls
a summer’s substance wavers under water.
We’re full of food and sleep. We brim with dreams.
No Change of Weather
Leprous-barked bushes lean and gleam with wet.
Matches won’t light and salt won’t pour. Keys stick:
piano, typewriter, even door.
Death in the house. The old tick tweezers straddle
idle in their glass jar. The orange cat
survives, arthritic. Stroke him and he’ll drool.
The page I write on now is of a piece
with the day’s air: is listless, floppy, cool.
In one wet week the summer leaches out
its shimmering of distance.
Cannot each sunny day or ten hours’ sleep
be stowed away in deepest secrecy,
restored at need by ‘open sesame’?
I want a way to store the beauty up.
To Sell the House?
Paris, Norway, Naples, Fryeburg: gaunt
white sharp-roofed houses, their For Sale signs braving
the twilight. One imagines empty attics
whose wooden floors were starmarked once in dust
by the cold delicate feet of mice at midnight.
Nothing is ever swept until a prospective buyer
suddenly looms from who knows where
to look the old place over.
His passage leaves a clammy signature
on each glass statuette. In every bedroom
he fogs the mirrors. And we still don’t know
what he decided (this was years ago).
We’re waiting, but his name is never mentioned.
Exiled ourselves, there are some things we exile.
Late in the Day
Atlantis sank, and Nineveh and Tyre
collapsed in earthquakes, whirlwinds, rains of ash.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were bundled out of sight.
The fierce brown sandstorm of that heavenly wrath
turned tribes to pretzels. Gritty civilization
kneaded through aeons to a yeasty mess,
you’ve soaked to mildness in our steely water.
Windshield-like, the palimpsest fogs over.
A cocoa-colored poodle
sprawls in our path like a prayer rug.
“Time to reread Cities of the Plain,”
you say as we go by through fog and rain.
Last night I dreamed of fire. Yes, again.
The wicked flourished and went sucking down.
For years of winters, weeks of precious summers,
the chaste old beds are empty.
Sudden, imperious, the young descend.
“If we can’t sleep together we take the next boat out.”
“What happens after I have gone to bed
is not my business, but she has the guestroom,
young man. You sleep upstairs.”
Still they come back, refuel, absorb their fill
of sea, sun, moon, of foghorn, mew of gull.
A watchful love awaits them and supports
their heavy bodies as the wind a gull.
Lazily soaring, they come down to earth
gently, in time for yet another meal,
to face a shrunken reckoning later, later.
Mother and Son
A star through fog; some sky. The table cleared,
I slip outside to glimpse the flaming fragments
and see them strangely through the window, candle-lit,
profiled: a man and woman locked in combat.
Years of interrupting one another
have worn them down to bone, a gradual amputation.
Nothing sad can touch him: my old age,
the rising cost of houses, the dog dead,
the neighbor’s daughter dying, loss on loss.
Doesn’t she see it’s Margaret she mourns for?
To give this mausoleum light and air,
first I’d get rid of the statuette collection.
A golden age is over. As the stronger will
flicks a chill wing in her face, I go back in.
Visit of Dorothea Brooke, Seferis, Orwell, Checkhov, Thurber
The ferry boat approaches, packed with souls.
Palely they squint through mist.
Voices rise and gibber over the leaden water.
Like the red bunting on her Roman tour,
woolly and red and spreading everywhere,
the soaking green ubiquity of trees
seems to the solemn woman an ocular disease.
Smyrna. My father’s house. I cannot bear
to see this place again: I knew it all.
The only dreadful changes are in me,
but everything is suddenly so small.
When can we leave the sticks and go to Moscow?
This weather is so strange. I hate this weather.
Why is it so hard to stay together?
And when the fog has lifted
how bland and pale the islands after all
appear as they rise in daylight one by one.
Low stony hills that dip their toes in ocean—
Burnt, Mouse, the Cuckolds, Squirrel, Negro, Ram—
only the names survive a change of weather.
The questioning souls go back in disappointment
to a mainland so plain today, so clear,
that nothing can be woven out of cloud.
Back in the house unclaimed as yet by the anonymous buyer,
we’re left alone. A little pool of silence
reflects us looking long at one another.
No need to name the gale that rocks the boat,
that rising gust choked down in every throat.
Rachel Hadas’s verse translations of Euripides’s two Iphigenia plays are forthcoming in 2018, as is a poetry collection, Poems for Camilla (updated 8/2017)