Henry Taylor

 

AFTER A MOVIE

...........The last small credits fade
as house lights rise. Dazed in that radiant instant
of transition, you dwindle through the lobby
and out to curbside, pulling on a glove
.....with the decisive competence
...........of the scarred detective

...........or his quarry. Scanning
the rainlit street for taxicabs, you visualize,
without looking, your image in the window
of the jeweler's shop, where white hands hover
.....above the string of luminous pearls
.............on a faceless velvet bust.

..............Someone across the street
enters a bar, leaving behind a charged vacancy
in which you cut to the dim booth inside,
where you are seated, glancing at the door.
.....You lift an eyebrow, recognizing
............the unnamed colleague

...........who will conspire with you
against whoever the volatile script provides...
A cab pulls up. You stoop into the dark
and settle toward a version of yourself.
.....Your profile cruises past the city
...........on a home-drifting stream

...........through whose surface, sometimes,
you glimpse the life between the streambed and the ripples,
as, when your gestures are your own again,
your fingers life a cup beyond whose rim
.....a room bursts into clarity
...........and light falls on all things.

 

LANDSCAPE WITH TRACTOR

How would it be if you took yourself off
to a house set well back from a dirt road,
with, say, three acres of grass bounded
by road, driveway, and vegetable garden?

Spring and summer you would mow the field,
not down to lawn, but with a bushhog,
every six weeks or so, just often enough
to give grass a chance, and keep weeds down.

And one day--call it August, hot, a storm
recently past, things green and growing a bit,
and you're mowing, with half your mind
on something you'd rather be doing, or did once.

Three rounds, and then on the straight
alongside the road, maybe three swaths in
from where you are now, you glimpse it. People
will toss all kinds of crap from their cars.

It's a clothing-store dummy, for God's sake.
Another two rounds, and you'll have to stop,
contend with it, at least pull it off to one side.
You keep going. Two rounds more, then down

off the tractor, and Christ! Not a dummy, a corpse.
The field tilts, whirls, then steadies as you run.
Telephone. Sirens. Two local doctors use pitchforks
to turn the body, some four days dead, and ripening.

And the cause of death no mystery: two bullet holes
in the breast of a well-dressed black woman
in perhaps her mid-thirties. They wrap her,
take her away. You take the rest of the day off.

Next day, you go back to the field, having
to mow over the damp dent in the tall grass
where bluebottle flies are still swirling,
but the bushhog disperses them, and all traces.

Weeks pass. You hear at the post office
that no one has come forward to say who she was.
Brought out from the city, they guess, and dumped
like a bag of beer cans. She was someone,

and now is no one, buried or burned
or dissected; but gone. And I ask you
again, how would it be? To go on with your life,
putting gas in the tractor, keeping down thistles,

and seeing, each time you pass that spot,
the form in the grass, the bright yellow skirt,
black shoes, the thing not quite like a face
whose gaze blasted past you at nothing

when the doctors heaved her over? To wonder,
from now on, what dope deal, betrayal,
or innocent refusal, brought her here,
and to know she will stay in that field till you die?



Aimee Jackson
Triplet

gouache; 31" x 17.5"; 1993
more work by Aimee Jackson

 

 

 


ELEVATOR MUSIC

A tune with no more substance than the air,
performed on underwater instruments,
is proper to this short lift from the earth.
It hovers as we draw into ourselves
and turn our reverent eyes toward the lights
that count us to our various destinies.
We're all in this together, the song says,
and later we'll descend. The melody
is like a name we don't recall just now
that still keeps on insisting it is there.

 

RISING A ONE-EYED HORSE

One side of his world is always missing.
You may give it a casual wave of the hand
or rub it with your shoulder as you pass,
but nothing on his blind side ever happens.

Hundreds of trees slip past him into darkness,
drifting into a hollow hemisphere
whose sounds you will have to try to explain.
Your legs will tell him not to be afraid

if you learn never to lie. Do not forget
to turn his head and let what comes come seen:
he will jump the fences he has to if you swing
toward them from the side that he can see

and hold his good eye straight. The heavy dark
will stay beside you always; let him learn
to lean against it. It will steady him
and see you safely through diminished fields.

 

THE SAVAGE GOD

A. Alvarez
came to know what bizarre is;
he found himself feeling so odd
he sat down and wrote The Savage God.

Lucan
took an
elegant knife,
opened a vein and bled out his life.

Eustace Budgell
found that writing pure sludge'll
earn a few lines in Pope's Dunciad.
He's lost the luster that once he had.

Thomas Chatterton
shunned being spattered on;
he helped himself to some arsenic
and kept his cadaver more scenic.

Vladimir Mayakovsky
was scornful of golf club, of kayak, of ski,
and of sporty aristocrats who let
poor poets lose at Russian roulette.

Hart Crane
plunged into the bounding main.
His situation could not have been graver:
his father invented the candy Lifesaver.

Cesare Pavese
didn't exactly go crazy,
but suffered forty-two years
with vague, powerful fears.

Vachel Lindsay
heard the wind say
there's a time to die
and took a big swig of lye.

Sylvia Plath
trod a different path
more on than in the shoes
of Ted Hughes.

Into the traffic Randall Jarrell
jumped, stumbled, or fell
while sane, drugged, or delirious:
it's mysterious.

Richard Brautigan
couldn't catch the rich trout again
so he turned toward the haywire harms
of alcohol and firearms.

Paul Celan
tried to revive his vital élan,
but the attempt being vain
he jumped into the Seine.

John Berryman
hailed the grim ferryman
at a point from which his descent could be reckoned
at thirty-two feet per second per second.

Lew Welch
failed to squelch
the little voice inside that said
he ought to shoot himself in the head.

Weldon Kees
parked by a bridge an rode the breeze.
It would be better by far
to have found Kees in the car.

 



Henry Taylor received the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for this third book of poems, The Flying Change. His other poetry collections are Brief Candles: 101 Clerihews, Understanding Fiction, and, now in one volume, The Horse Show at Midnight and An Afternoon of Pocket Billiards. He is professor of literature and co-director of the MFA program in creative writing at American University.

Published in Volume 3, Number 2, Spring 2002.