from My Byzantium, a poem written around 1997.


Byzantium falls like a sour apple,
and light falls softly on the eyes
of the young girl in Vermeer's
most august gaze – in the blue
turban, turning to look, or
turning away. One pearl
gleams in her ear.

On Veteran's Day
the yellow leaves fall from black trunks,
a hollow sound empties the capital,
the train moves slowly, Citizen Cain
is jealous of his rival's powers
of enunciation, he wants to sit up front
on Airforce One and talk to the
Stones, he vows to cast his seed
every which way, the way rich men everywhere
anchor their arks on air, namecalling,
mudslinging – bagmen, bag ladies,
their lot cast on the periphery
of the supermarket, are invisible
until they begin spitting crosshairs,
and the whole city turns,
slowly, pinned
on a gargantuan
the intentions
of the rabid millenarians
remain unknown –

Headshot. Cut to flashback.
– targeting, on television,
the brain of a rabbi – Jack
Oswald Ruby, the look
of a trapped rabbit fading
in the hallways of the Hermitage –


Beneath the layers of detached leaves
there is always something older, deeper, more hidden:
under the piles of grounded macintosh turned
brown, a trace of Blackstone's yellow sweeting –
the first American apple, planted
by a shy Anglican hermit
on the slopes of Study Hill (in Cumberland,
near the graveyard of the first American
shopping center).

The day dies, the year
dies, a conjunction of evening star
with star; a dim light
through the lilac dusk fibrillates
on the sickbay window into
countless tiny paths, meandering
threads – how many
stranded together
to form the small island
of a painted smile? The waiting
eyes, beckoning, withdrawing, innocent
beneath the blue turban?

On Veteran's Day
I recognized your insignia,
but underneath lies another
trinity, another constellation
gathers in the looming dark.
Apples mouldered in the shadows
of the traces of the Byes'
abandoned farm; that bird I
looked for, hidden in the shiny
fur of the Hermitage, warbled
a death-song, kind,
perfect; I wanted to curl up
and sleep under the falling snow,
sleep with all the peaceful shapes
in the stillness of Vermeer's studio, under
the frosted glint of a single pearl;
sleep with the whole world falling asleep
in the snowbanks, on the shortest day,
sleep in the grave where John Donne sleeps,
in the oldest graveyard, in the drift of wheat,
numb, senile, a drowsy despot, nestling,
eyes closed with snow-white lime,
with the scent of snow-topped
apples. . .

Never again
to face those insignia
of the real, the unbooked
war – in the weariness
of imperial dusk, where veterans
share their dying with speechlessness,
between Crusader and Saracen,
crescent and cross mingling one
ruby drop of blood from the chest
of a hermit thrush.

But there is always something deeper, a little deeper,
in the waste places, along the roadsides
of abandoned barns and factories,
persisting, faintly; trying
to come back –
among the bent
roadsigns left behind,
waiting, subsisting, imagining
eyes that penetrate
through the petrified
screens –

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