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Letters of the Law

Published 1994; available from Small Press Distribution or Amazon.

Foreign Gender

for Susan Howe

Walking tonight, I wished
for some of the wild flowers we gathered
that were choice. To become wise

work in the company of such virtuosos
while day lasts, dark to work
in a night "whose effort leaves

no sound." You spoke Dark and became
a countryman. His chariot wheels
within the remembering crowd

none heard, home is whose message.
All in twos but you alone. I shall
my pilgrimage unravel, outset

and continuance, perplexed in
their snarl while the unknown die
first. In thought the self.

One fewer bird sings each spring
projects curling from immortal flames
of thought-death, whose hope is real

a day gone, one day less. All falling
things resemble others. Struggle
cites fictitious shores to prove

the leaf that curls from transience,
vertical branch identical as snow-
fall or footfall in the snow. A wreck

bobs in pleasant waters, near where
bitterly whipped, sand still is safe,
"but I love to buffet the sea."

Confidence in daybreak modifies dusk.
"Then will I not repine, knowing that
bird of mine, though flown - learneth

beyond the sea, new melody for me
and will return." A face in a phan-
tom niche cannot tell time

is short, lips sealed, the open
revere the shut. One song in
the far woods, one flight, cage

and bird, one dainty sum. Bareheaded
under the grass, the dead go
with the ground. Give it to me

I am strongest. That trinket is strange
that each wears and none may own.
Though I think I bend, something

straightens me; harbors multiply,
and the sea is not reduced. Syllables
ripe as grapes are deathless kings

whose subjects devour the unknown, our
largest need. My mind has lost
its friend and cannot begin again

to remember. There is no world. None
can assist another's night, opening
and shutting its hopeful eye, a

fragment whose obligation to enchant
is binding, for there are no wholes
below. Give me our severe

earth that cannot tell how eternity
seems, its power further to surprise
what it has caused. We bear dear form

through a wilderness of letters whose
origin is the sky. Light concludes
in a shape, disclosing great confidences

in departure. Overwhelmed to know,
I am not sure. Is there another life
where vane defines wind or wind

defines vane? Not what our stars have
done, but what they are to do detains
the sky. How strange to change

one's sky, unless its star go
with it. We are aboriginal to the sky.
We call back its largest need.