What is This?
For Alexander and Amanda
June 5, 2011
When we took a leisurely walk
Around your neighborhood
One sunny afternoon
We paused at a stranger’s yard.
What caught your joint attention
Was, itself, a stranger:
A green, globular fruit
Suspended from a vine.
You stopped to study it,
And again what it might be,
As though the mystery
Of all things yet unknown,
Had gathered in that yard.
As, indeed, it had.
And as the two of you
Extended into pure
Nothingness your lines
Of thought, not yet converging
But not diverging either,
You became not two, not one.
And what I would wish for you
Is not the enraptured gaze
Into each other’s eyes
But that congruent look
At what the passing world
Is beckoning you to see.
What is this? I would bid you
Ask of what you meet,
Whether it be a fruit
Or fragrant foreign plant
Or inexplicable child.
Call it if you must an instrument,
this meter that has served me through the decades,
its pulse an echo of my temperament,
its low-relief a match for my reserve.
But who is playing whom, I’d like to know,
feeling again the surge that would propel
the calmest, clearest mind into a maelstrom
and launch the steady heart into a vortex
where anyone could drown. In Monaghan
one April morning, I took an aimless walk,
wanting nothing more than to be rid
of aging fears and unforgiving voices.
Instead, I found the carcass of a creature,
a mess of skin and bones that might have been
a dog or newborn lamb, for all I knew.
Not what I’d expected—not at all—
nor what an April walk in search of nothing
might reasonably entail. So if I tell you
that walking steadily in prose or verse
is neither safe nor proof against disorder,
think of that ugly, desiccated body,
which, I understand, was part of nature
but nonetheless unsettled me for hours,
despite the even tempo of my steps,
the tranquil rhythm of my exhalations.
Give me, if you will, a little time
To understand how meanings come and go,
Resembling ants converging at an anthill
And then dispersing, each with work to do.
Meanwhile, the anthill rises and expands.
The sun comes out. The days grow ever shorter.
Give me time to sense how meanings perish
Like plums left unattended in a bowl.
Because their lives were finite in the first place,
That spreading mold should come as no surprise.
So it is with meanings, I suppose,
Though how and why I’ve yet to understand.
Copyright © Ben Howard 2015