No Way of Knowing

from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975)

        And then?  Colors and names of colors,
	The knowledge of you a certain color had?
	The whole song bag, the eternal oom-pah refrain?
	Street scenes?  A blur of pavement
	After the cyclists passed, calling to each other,
	Calling each other strange, funny-sounding names?
	Yes, probably, but in the meantime, waking up
	In the middle of a dream with one’s mouth full
	Of unknown words takes in all of these:
	It is both the surface and the accidents
	Scarring that surface, yet it too only contains
	As a book on Sweden only contains the pages of that book.
	The dank no-places and the insubstantial pinnacles—
	Both get carried away on the surface of a flood
	That doesn’t care about anything,
	Not even about minding its own business.
	There were holidays past we used to
	Match up, and yep, they fitted together
	All right, but the days in between grow rank,
	Consume their substance, orphan, disinherit
	But the air stands in curtains, reigns
	Like a centennial.  No one can get in or out.
	These are parts of the same body:
	One could possibly live without some
	Such as a finger or elbow, but the head is
	Necessary, and what is in doubt here.  This
	Morning it was off taking French lessons.
	Now it is resting and cannot be disturbed.
        Yes, but—there are no “yes, buts.”
	The body is what this is all about and it disperses
	In sheeted fragments, all somewhere around
	But difficult to read correctly since there is
	No common vantage point, no point of view
	Like the “I” in a novel.  And in truth
	No one ever saw the point of any.  This stubble field
	Of witnessings and silent lowering of the lids
	On angry screen-door moment rushing back
	To the edge of woods was always alive with its own
	Rigid binary system of inducing truths
	From starved knowledge of them.  It has worked
	And will go on working.  All attempts to influence
	The working are parallelism, undulating, writhing
	Sometimes but kept to the domain of metaphor.
	There is no way of knowing whether these are
	Our neighbors or friendly savages trapped in the distance
	By the red tape of a mirage.  The fact that
	We drawled “hallo” to them just lazily enough this morning
	Doesn’t mean that a style was inaugurated.  Anyway evening
	Kind of changes things.  Not the color,
	The quality of a handshake, the edge on someone’s breath,
	So much as a general anxiety to get everything all added up,
	Flowers arranged and out of sight.  The vehicular madness
	Goes on, crashing, thrashing away, but
	For many this is near enough to the end: one may
	Draw up a chair close to the balcony railing.
	The sunset is just starting to light up.
        As when the songs start to go
	Not much can be done about it.  Waiting
	In vanilla corridors for an austere
	Young nurse to appear, an opaque glass vase of snapdragons
	On one arm, the dangerously slender heroine,
	Backbending over the other, won’t save the denouement
	Already drenched in the perfume of fatality.  The passengers
	Reappear.  The cut driver pushes them to heaven.
	(Waterford explodes over the flagstones.)
	At the same time that we are trying to spell out
	This very simple word, put one note
	After the other, push back the dead chaos
	Insinuating itself in the background like mists
	Of happy autumn fields—your money is dead.
	I like the spirit of the songs, though,
	The camaraderie that is the last thing to peel off,
	Visible even now on the woven pattern of branches
	And twilight.  Why must you go?  Why can’t you
	Spend the night, here in my bed, with my arms wrapped tightly around you?
	Surely that would solve everything by supplying
	A theory of knowledge on a scale with the gigantic
	Bits and pieces of knowledge we have retained:
	An LP record of all your favorite friendships,
	Of letters from the front?  Too
	Fantastic to make sense? But it made the chimes ring.
	If you listen you can hear them ringing still:
	A mood, a Stimmung, adding up to a sense of what they really were,
	All along, through the chain of lengthening days.