Lost Sky

100 miles in any direction and
                                            the sky still has plenty of time,
and so is in no hurry to remember,
                                                  offer a clue
as to which life this is—
                                   sauntering along

in a fine straw hat, summer trousers, and shirt
the color of stones lining the cart-wide streets,
anonymous against the faded building sides,

where the caneries and finches—set out
in their twig cages for the sun—and I
                                                      whistle pieces
of an aria beneath the unencumbered roofs,

thinking perhaps in terms of the heart,
of stones absolved by the sea. . .

Winter is hardly anything
                                    here, a white
midday moon, a sliver of ice on the blue
is as close as it comes—
                                    a wind
is serious every so often,
                                    the hills shrug
their shoulders beneath their old coats
of chamomile and fennel,
                                    each morning a mist
of acquiescence lifting out to sea. . .
                                                    And soon
the green shutters will close after the lunch hour,
     and there, where a bright breeze breaks
off the bay
               igniting the high garden wall,
you turn once more to praise the loquats and gold
            hands over your eyes like a prisoner
just released into the blinding light of noon. . .

But now the linnets have abandoned the leafless
civic trees, their branches
                                     pointing every
which way above the horizon.
                                            4:00, the city dead
asleep, and you find yourself at the tables
in front of the American Bar,
                                          waiting reasonably,
as is the custom, for the waiter on duty
to stub his cigarette and set,
next to your folded Herald Tribune,
a glass of fino, as thinly amber
                                            as the coattails of daylight
trailing over the roof tiles
                                    to the west,
where, for a minute or two, all the old
theologies circle,
                        like pigeons, like rings
of the elect, to the sky—
                                     like the remedies of dust,
dispensed each day
                            at this time from the stuffed pockets
of the ragman,
                     shuffling alley to street, a man
of apparent contentment, who smiles and tips
his sun-bleached captain’s hat
                                            each time
he sees you, God-knows-what in the sacks
on his creaking cart.
                             You have half a dozen phrases
to fall back on—
                         one for him in the afternoon,
and one for the newsstand,
                                        tabacalera, fish market,
and the bar—
                    one for the past you say to no one,
but that old high Latin
                               will get you nowhere now—

not comfortably back down the burning
road to home,
                    or to the Augustine City of God, and who

would you recognize there,
                                        though you speak,
beneath your breath to someone
                                                beyond the shops,
someone not among the shopping crowds
soon drifting down the streets?
                                            At 5:00 as the lights
snap on
          across from you, only the usual
ghosts of the evening hour return—
                                                    sparrows the color
of October, chorusing in praise
                                             of the constellations,
the offering of crumbs
                               wind-blown on the chairs
and ground. . .
                     and in the pines at sunset,
                                                           that region
of memory
               dimming once again with a longing
                                                                 for something
as indeterminate as the latticwork of clouds,
                                                                 a plume
of black smoke dissolving
                                      into the last striations
of the blue,
                as it exhales through your bones and skin
and you begin again
                             the little poem of the soul, recalling the lines
for the spirit
                 at last content somewhere, floating
                                                                    through the streets
aimed no higher finally than the sugared light,
in the bakery windows—
                                              bright thread rising,
              through the increasingly familiar dark.

Star Apocrypha, Northwestern University Press 2001.