View #27: Inspiration Point

Was it the desert's
thin air? The higher we climbed
the deeper the silence


Dark soul and dark soul --
still, the gorgeous light followed
loyal as a dog


Outcrop like a cloud --
and two uncertain gods, floating
on creation's edge


Dewdrops, finger-teased
from the tiniest crevice,
and we --crazed, breathless


In a thicket we
stripped -- the more naked, the more


Great inspiration,
you were cruel to touch us
as if you cared


Remember hiking home when the bourbon sun
was maybe three fingers above the horizon --
you were hauling a paper sack of groceries --
and someone called out to you, it came
from across the street, but you didn't know
where at first? Then you saw where:
the woman lifting a white shade
behind her black iron bars. Remember how
your crossing the street, from shade
to sun, made your shadow long,
and you were glad to retrieve
the little pink spoon the woman's daughter
had dropped in the street--and the woman
grateful but the young girl caught somewhere
between scrutiny and wonderment?
Later, putting away the red pears
and the provolone, a white onion,
a sunburst squash--everything with a name
and a place to which it belonged--
you realized why you'd been convinced
that you were invisible: you lived outside
your time. Your era was not inconsequential
but your name seemed to be. And yet
walking around without a substantial name--
as you did, nakedly, in a city you called
your home--you could still be given a respite
from this peculiar disembodiment.
No evidence indicated you were ready
for the award committee of posterity,
a monument erected to your best attributes,
every good wish and uncorrupted
felicity coming back to you. Not for you
the adoring millions, nor the hundreds,
not even the mailman repeating your name
as if it were a mantra or a patron saint's.
And yet you could be called by someone
in need, whom you might never see again,
or who might fail to remember you--
fail to give you your due--you could be called
and you would choose, almost
without thinking, to answer.

Two For the Fire

1. Late Spring

The old wooden witch they call Winter in the old country,
paraded through the cobbled streets
to the whistles and shrieks of an adoring throng,
all eyes on her all the way to the bonfire
(originally, a bone fire)--I was tempted
but passed on the chance to think
her hair was as long as yours,
her stick limbs as thin as your living
bones, draped in a lacy nothing...

But then, held aloft, exalted in her high
reign above the frenzy of women and men,
and children permitted to play at being women and men,
spirits and small explosives at their disposal,
she began to turn from side to side--
not under her own power, of course,
she was being turned--and I was helpless
to keep from thinking of how you would dance
for your rapt, gratifying audience
of one: after midnight, the wine drunk,
the candles lit, delirious wail
of an ancient reed, the bass line and drum
a euphoric thrum not so much heard as felt,
moving you to shed one layer after another,
the attention you craved and I gladly gave
moving you to reenact the provocative ways
I had touched you, and would touch you again--
a ritual you would come to call "healing"--
until I believed there was no intimacy
we could not, in our time, approach
and enter--just as winter, lingering as it was,
inexorable-seeming, relented at last
to the felicities of March: the sun magnanimous,
the pale poppies revealing their secrets,
your pale legs revealing your secrets,
brief season of opening...

The evil queen of winter sits on a throne
designed for burning. Her loyal subjects have gone
eerily quiet. Long flames scorch everything pale
and beyond the pale. The silver streak
in her dark hair. The cold hands. The face,
impassive as ice. And the heart--
if a heart were there.

2. Eros and Agape

What you would use
to cross your most dangerous chasm,
praying along the way
a fearless traveler might join you--
and when one did, how high
you'd get (or so you'd say),
an astonishing spasm
engendered more by anguish than joy,
a long in-coming cry
to wake the dead and worry
the neighbors: the wail of one lost
and then found, who would not be
abandoned--what you used to cross
your most dangerous chasm,
and reaching open ground, then a secret path
where fellow traveler couldn't find you,
what you dismissed out of hand
and heart, what you left
burning behind you.

© Copyright Thomas Centolella

Reprinted from "Views from along the Middle Way" with permission from the author.