copyright © Sylvia Spencer Petrie
BOY IN A FAR COUNTRY
A trifle turned my head, and there it was:
frivolous with light, crisscrossed with streams
that raced their running banks, confused with blooms
stung by hired bees to colored towns,
a sudden land of wings that flew like birds.
(But farther in the forest, busy night
hangs her purple mischief on the trees,
and Long John Silver stumps the pirate glades
scything black-eyed Susans with his leg.)
There, within a bird-shot of their hearts,
a boy and girl once chased the stiff-legged clouds,
tamed the rolling hills, ran down the wind,
and dared the sun to do them into gold.
I would not turn young virgins into flame;
but time will hear its ribald pranks retold.
Once in a berry bush where bears were not,
a boy and girl were picking royal blue,
and even to their ears were kings and queens,
when in flew a backward thief who could not tell
a flower from a boy, and gave a sting
where pain cannot be covered by a blush.
All sympathy and tears, she would have spent
her very bluest plunder for his ease,
but hurt with a more-than-mortal wound he ran
to quench his scarlet image in the lake.
Night drew off the valley’s face of dreams.
He never circled back. Some said Le Fey
took him in her swan boat like the king,
and some that Long John pressed him off to sea,
but I, who knew the boy and still can find,
when trifles turn my head, that country,
imagine that no magic filched his heart,
although I call his name and hear the hills.
SONG IN THE FACE OF ENDINGS
Dearest, when I can see
the end of you-and-me—
the dark tears swelling out like buds
on the tree of ecstasy—
and think how all things waste,
how nothing we love can last,
how even the very rocks and stones
hurry into the past—
what is there to do but stare
into the blank-faced air,
and with an unbelieving mind
and feelings’ madness swear
that what I know’s a lie—
that this being, you-and-I,
once having bloomed upon love’s blackening tree,
shall always be.
IN THE DRESSING ROOM
Snow from the branches,
the jewelled tiara of twigs—
Once more the trees stand bare,
looming, a crisscross tangle of heads.
Bushes beside the road,
like whips unstrung,
pools in the fields, brown-faced,
the ground frizzled with tufts—
I am not immune
to wintry theatricals,
the white descensions of clouds,
or the slow, upward pushing
But now in this nameless season
with the starched backgrounds of things—
grainy pavements of roads,
black earthen wounds,
the caked refuse of leaves,
and the way the light falls strictly
on houses, faces, woods
and will not lie.
THE OLD PRO’S LAMENT
Each year the court expands,
the net moves back, the ball
hums by—with more spin.
I use my second serve,
lob deeper, slice more,
stay away from the net, and fail
As any fool can tell
it is time
to play the game purely
for the game’s sake—to applaud
the puff of white chalk,
into the warm corners of memory,
invent new rules, new games
Under the hot lances
of the shower, I play each point over,
Wisdom is the natural business
of old men—
to let the body go,
the rafters, moth-eaten and decayed,
But nightly in dreams I see
an old man
playing in an empty court
under the dim floodlights
of the moon
with a racket gone in the strings—
no net, no ball, no game—
and still playing
Having come to this moment backwards
it is time
to accept my life.
Not as it should have been
What I am, and am not,
what I did, and did not do—
regrets, humiliations, failures—
all the meaningless meanings
of my life, embraced
in the finished
As in a landscape, trees
clumped here and there, a barn
propped on a sloping ridge, brown cattle
a patch of silk-white clouds,
when caught in the slanting rays
of a half-down sun, all seem
suddenly to cohere
in the stark beauty of evening.
When the weights of the body droop
towards the end,
and the mind’s weights and the spirit’s weights
weigh down, both mind and soul,
no wonder minor clouds
green lilac fronds,
the upright tops of oaks.
Solemnities must fall
and bend the flowers,
thresh the memories of trees
to dead wood,
and scour the skies with supernumerary thunders,
lightning and wind;
but admire the answering pomp
of freedom, the whistling arc
of stars, exploding into the heads
of many flowers,
trailing long arms of scarlet, green
and dissolving with such fine delicacy
PLATONIC POEM TO A YOUNG GIRL
I wished to hold your face between my hands—
and feel the light stream through my fingers—warm,
lustrous, sweet—like light from a lantern’s heart.
Now through the fingers of another man
your beauty moves—more passionate, more free—
and escapes—as through your own linked fingers
it must slip out, dissolve, turn dark, be gone.
Suns spend their giant powers on the night,
their fiery wattage dwindling into points;
and even the stones, trapped in unyielding forms,
long for the rain’s downfalling, the hands of winds.
Desire is a dying into air.
Love leads us out—out of our own strict forms
toward other forms, that as we touch them melt,
ray out like suns and are lost—but whose rich light
falls backwards, shining, into the lantern’s heart.
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