from Light So Late

By Bill Coyle

What struck me most was not my father’s fall
while he was going for an evening walk,
or his not being able to recall
falling—that I could put down to shock—

but that he went in to the hospital
with only a dull aching in his side,
and no one nagging; not his style at all.
Good thing he went, though: he might well have died.

They took him quick, got him x-rayed and scanned.
A chest tube helped the lung to re-expand.
Two days in the ICU, and he’s
permitted to go home but has been banned
from spending every good day as he planned
this summer, in the garden on his knees.

As for us, speaking selfishly, this means
we board our flight with relatively clear
consciences, flip through inflight magazines,
marvel it’s already been a year.

Soon we see on the hundred little screens
positioned at eye-level on the back
of each seat’s headrest the unlikely greens
of Iceland, and its basic, basalt black,

making it look as though all the minds on board,
numbered and separate, are of one accord.
You and I, Love, have been on different pages—
in different books—too long, can ill afford
to waste more time now we are winging toward
the desolation of our middle ages.

*

Like a bad joke this 100% post-consumer
waste “Decomposition Book” I bought at the start
of the summer in a health food store in North Conway
now, in Stockholm, in early August, is falling apart.
No sooner have I finished copying over pages
of unused lines and ideas from the previous one,
than I have to do it all over. (Not that I have to,
really—I mean, no one’s standing over me with a gun.)
Some lines are just punchlines waiting for the right setup:
I can’t recall the last time I was blackout drunk,
others just lists of potential rhymes and a topic,
here charm alarm fear appear filed under chipmunk.
There are the found poems that, however much I like them
myself, seem not really poems, or not really me, I guess:
iTunes noting vis-à-vis an Alice Coltrane album
that it’s “importing Universal Consciousness”;
there is a healthy dose of Christian Platonism,
as always: Nature is her own iconoclast;
there is, as always, one after another helpless
defense of living (at least part time) in the past.
I’m conducting this salvage operation out on
our borrowed balcony while you are in the shower.
Neighbors are watering or just sitting down to dinner,
swallows hunting, the sun ripening, despite the hour.
From over the corrugated roofs on the amber
light come shouts and bright young laughter bound for the bars.
Several species of gull drift in the lower heaven, sounding
like clowns or spoiled children or bottleneck guitars.
Decomposition. Turning the pages I encounter
failure and unfulfilled promise everywhere I look.
The water is a hop, skip, and a jump away. If
it weren’t so un-green, I’d be tempted to drown my book.

*

Maybe it’s not a total loss:
Folded up in the back’s this sheet
of lines that never felt complete,
but that I couldn’t bear to toss.

Maybe they just need the right setting,
or they or I needed to age.
Maybe I’m desperate. Hard to gauge.
So many things slip through the netting

of space-time and are lost to sight,
it’s not as though I can afford
ever to heave overboard
the record of a day so bright.

Fragment or not, I bring it back
and set it in a transparent case
with its approximate date and place
of origin on a small plaque:<

*

Slite, Gotland. August 2007

The past three days the wind has blown offshore,
leaving the water here
warmer than the air
and clear
to a floor
ridged like the desert seen from a great height
and grazed by shadows of transparent
little fish in tight
formation hanging fire in a current
too miniature and mild to quite
feel
but judging from appearances—
by how, holding their ground, they veer
a body length to left or right,
hang veer, hang veer, repeat, repeat, repeat,
yet nonetheless
seem motionless—
judging from all of that, quite
real.

Out beyond the border,
a big ship balances on the horizon,
I christen it The Idea of Order
at Slite Strand and let it go,
happy to feast my eyes on
all I see
in front of me.

I turn to speak but you have dived below.
A minute or so
I see the blurry outlines of you flow,
then you pop back up, shining and concrete.

With all that I may never understand,
this much is clear:
the coin-sized flounder that appear,
taking flight
at my approach, my own two feet
brilliant and bone white
and covered in a net of light
among the nibbling shadows on the sand.

*

The stone stairs of Stockholm apartment buildings
so flecked with fossils taking them feels like
ascending or descending through layers of sediment
in the building we’re staying in Bible-black
limestone quarried from the island of Öland
the stuff of stairs floors or tombstones
turns of the staircase curves of a conch shell
clockwise from the top counter from the bottom
each step notched with what we find on the Net
are the cone-shaped casings of the squid orthoceras
six inches the longest telescoped segments
graphing still their gradual growth
lines as legible as if lately engraved
by an artist who then breathed and brushed the dust away

Each morning yawns the abyss of years
400 million it makes the head swim
individual impressions if not persons presences
you can trace them with a fingertip you can touch Time
And the mind that ocean mills with metaphors
the harvested horns of a herd of unicorns
a crime-scene crawling with chalk outlines
searchlights sifting the night for Nemesis
comets perpetually portending peril.
(a relief the light it’s light so late still
that falls from the windows on all but the first floor)
At the bottom you comment how cold it is, cold
like a current you wade into among warmer water.
A push and the door deepens into day.