On the Towpath

from Houseboat Days (1977)

        At the sign “Fred Muffin’s Antiques” they turned off the
	             road into a narrow lane lined with shabby houses.
        If the thirst would subside just for awhile
	It would be a little bit, enough.
	This had happened.
	The insipid chiming of the seconds
	Has given way to an arc of silence
	So old it had never ceased to exist
	On the roofs of buildings, in the sky.
        The ground is tentative.
	The pygmies and jacaranda that were here yesterday
	Are back today, only less so.
	It is a barrier of fact
	Shielding the sky from the earth.
        On the earth a many-colored tower of longing rises.
	There are many ads (to help pay for all this).
	Something interesting is happening on every landing.
	Ladies of the Second Empire gotten up as characters from Perrault:
	Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, the Sleeping Beauty,
	Are silhouetted against the stained-glass windows.
	A white figure runs to the edge of some rampart
	In a hurry only to observe the distance,
	And having done so, drops back into the mass
	Of clock-faces, spires, stalactite machicolations.
	It was the walking sideways, visible from far away,
	That told what it was to be known
	And kept, as a secret is known and kept.
        The sun fades like the spreading
	Of a peacock’s tail, as though twilight
	Might be read as a warning to those desperate
	For easy solutions.  This scalp of night
	Doesn’t continue or break off the vacuous chatter
	That went on, off and on, all day:
	That there could be rain, and
	That it could be like lines, ruled lines scored
	Across the garden of violet cabbages,
	That these and other things could stay on
	Longer, though not forever of course;
	That other commensals might replace them
	And leave in their turn.  No,
        We aren’t meaning that any more.
	The question has been asked
	As though an immense natural bridge had been
	Strung across the landscape to any point you wanted.
	The ellipse is as aimless as that,
	Stretching invisibly into the future so as to reappear
	In our present.  Its flexing is its account,
	The return to the point of no return.