In the Museum:

Sketches from the Antique

Sarcophagus

Sarcophagus with Four Seasons

No, it has nothing to do with Nature,

although one suave leg kisses another;

arms embrace the fruits of the earth;

waist and hip slide back into bliss.

Do quiet eyes remember?

Within the unlit space all is swept clear;

antique pride dismisses disgrace.

Lines descend, vertical to horizontal;

twelve cuts make the year.

Each plane slides into place:

five; and six; a fitted bevel

leaves no room for fear.

I am astonished when looking inside;

how little I remember;

as if you had never died.

Inscription


Lines of metal thread through stone,

laced and knotted, suggesting a face

in certain lights –

but easily effaced

by rain or night’s descent

to eyes dammed and flooded

beyond the reach of sight,

withdrawn to stone, blind

at long last, before

the hand’s kind gesture of repose.

Landscape Obscures the View


Revered beyond words: the unspoken earth,

painful wood, dust adrift, compel the heart,

demand obedience suddenly

from the unprepared.

Inhuman; unreasoning;

they claim my sight as if theirs by natural right,

and I their casual artifact;

then flee

behind a monumental slab: scratched, blank;

scarred voice, futile hand,

unaccountable hope.

Urn Burial

You wished to be allowed

to return to dust –

balked over and over again,

against the insistent wheel;

crying in red and black;

amid flame, enclosure,

and the searing branch.

But she, with terrible eyes, refused,

extending her arm around

your body, making it stand

forever, or approximately:

full of grief, ash, the bony splinters

of your friend.


Disquieting Garden

Evaporation draws the scene

in spite of the refraction

of a name,

dissolving rays haunted

by statues hovering vicariously

above their plinths;

drifting away from uneasy

alcoves and niches

emptied by fog.

An ear, a curl at the nape,

granular eyes cast warily

down swagged robes

rinsed with rust or soot;

the brief contribution, too,

of a morning dog.

They raise their instruments

as usual, having forgotten

after all these years

their use, to persistent

condensation: and pluck,

insistently thrum

a weightless song.


Augury at Antioch, AD 299


The landscape is imaginary, littered

with weeping giants, snake-coiled stairs,

the athletic arms of goddesses twisting,

knotting their smoky veils, enraged.

Cattle shift in and out of black pillared

shade, indolent eyes and oozing nostrils

insufficiently aware of the knife.

In the end, liver and heart, abashed

intestines, forgot. Inert, uninscribed, they slid

to voiceless hysteria beneath the ornate grief

of arches realizing their symmetry.

The emperor, in jeweled slippers,

uncovered his head;

fled.